As I prepare for the offical launch of Confessions of an Imperfect Caregiver on Saturday, July 26, 2014, I have been reading passeges of the book in order to revisit memories of him as a young man and to remember the years he spent with Mike and me. He is in our thougths and prayers daily and it is my sincere hope that his story touches you as deeply as it touched us.
The following excerpt is from Chapter 9 – Confessions of an Imperfect Caregiver.
Whoever wrote in Rodger’s chart, “Intelligence is estimated to be below average,” was very wrong.
Rodger was a serious scholar, described by his younger brother as, “a bookish teenager who took advanced degrees in mathematics and literature at an early age. He tried to help me with my schoolwork, but what came easy for him was very hard for me. He’d try to help me with algebra but he’d go so fast I couldn’t keep up.”
Rodger graduated Summa Cum Laude from college. He spoke six languages, including Latin, Italian, French, German, English, and some Yugoslavian. Remarkable for a man who grew up on a farm in Tornimparte, Italy.
“We raised or grew everything we needed to live. We grew our own wheat, and at harvest time all the farmers would go in together and rent a threshing machine. It would take a long time before all the work was finished, but we did it. Then the women make pasta and bread. Every day, my mother, she get up, make the polenta, and go to church. Then she come home and work all day. She cook, she clean, she open a store in our house. She do all she can to make money. My father, he’s in America working in the coal mines. Life is hard for everybody,” Rodger said.
The family farm included a vineyard, and their homemade wine was sold in the store alongside the produce and bread to keep the farm running and the family clothed and fed.
While Rodger kept the books for both the vineyard and the store, his younger brother helped more in the fields, with the harvesting, and in the gardens. Rodger also did his share of hard work. His shoulder was scarred from a deep cut he received while carrying heavy loads of grapes down a steep hill to be crushed and fermented into wine.
“It hurt like hell, but there was nothing I could do. I had come too far. I couldn’t go back, I had to keep going.” The cut to his shoulder must have been very deep. It damaged a vein in his wrist that remained enlarged and sensitive the rest of his life.
The more I learned about him, the more I admired him. There I was, caring for an extraordinary man whose native intelligence was far beyond my own. He had struggled to help his family survive while still little more than a boy, only to be struck down by an illness few people understand, the treatment of which left him with huge gaps in his memory, making it impossible for him to do anything but menial labor.
It became obvious to me that bits of his superior intelligence remained. Even after all the years of being drugged and probed and experimented upon, he’d managed to build a life and raise a family. Now, in his old age, the deficits were mounting. Sadly, the blessings of his youth, combined with the severity of his losses, would leave him aware enough to know something was very wrong but unable to figure out what it was or why he couldn’t do the one thing he wanted most—take care of himself. The lengths to which he’d go in order to prove he could do it would result in seven years of cat-and-mouse games that tried us both and bound us together through shared experiences that were at times funny, but far too often were frustrating and confusing for both of us.
“It don’t make sense,” was a phrase he used almost daily. More often than not, I had to agree.