The first time I met him, when Mike and I first started seeing one another, he reminded me so much of someone dear to me that I felt as if I’d already known him for a long time.
Mike was living with his parents then, renting a large room on the third floor of the row house he’d grown up in, while looking for an apartment closer to work. We’d spent the afternoon together, and then he’d taken me to his room to show me his drum set and to play a few songs before I had to go home to my kids. Recently divorced and not used to dating, I was shy and unsure of myself. I wasn’t comfortable being there at all and was relieved when he played the last note and offered to walk me to my car.
Descending the stairs, I noticed just the toes of a man’s shoes, cheap, black, and rubber-soled. Then white socks, sagging around his ankles, came into view. His pants were navy blue. Since he was still seated, I couldn’t confirm that their seat was almost worn through, but I knew instinctively that would be the case. It’s just the same with the brown pair he wears when the blue ones are in the wash, I thought.
I watched him dig his heels into the footrest of his chair, easing the back upright so he could stand and offer a hand in greeting. A too-large brown belt circled his waist, welts of strain scarring the surface at various places, marking recent fluctuations in his weight. His shirt was a whisper-thin old thing, tucked inexpertly into the baggy pants he pulled up to a height only very old men find comfortable.
I felt a smile of recognition cross my face when his features came into view. Everything about him reminded me of my Uncle Louie. The fact that Louie was not just my uncle but my great-uncle, my personal godfather, and the only Italian in my big Irish family made him appear to be a man of epic proportions. He was shorter, darker, fatter, and far more interesting than any of the skinny, red-headed, freckle-faced men who chased after us when my brothers, sister, and cousins and I couldn’t contain our wild selves a minute longer and tried to uphold the age-old Celtic tradition of fighting like a bunch of hooligans.
Whenever I’d stay with my godparents for a weekend, Uncle Louie would let me sit on his lap while he drank a beer or a highball. He even let me have a sip now and then. I didn’t like the taste of either one but I never told him so. I had an idea in my head that sipping whiskey just naturally went along with watching the Friday night fights, and I wasn’t about to risk losing that privilege for anything.
While Uncle Louie’s gaze remained glued to the tiny black-and-white TV screen, I’d watch the crinkly lines around his eyes deepen each time he’d take a drag off his Camel cigarette and wonder how he got those puffy little bags to grow beneath his lower lashes like that.
My God, I thought as Mike began the introductions, even his chair looks the same.
“Dad, I’d like you to meet Bobbi.”
Shaking off the memory of one person in order to acknowledge the presence of another, I greeted the man who would become my father-in-law, convinced I’d seen something familiar in him. They have the same light in their eyes, I thought with affection.
Sitting in a hospital parking lot so many years later, I was just beginning to discover how very wrong I’d been.
Had he been pretending all these years? Is the real Rodger the one who announced to the nursing staff that I’m useless and no damned good? Does the medicine he takes every day allow him to be himself, or does it mask his true nature? Who is this man who lives in my house and paces the halls late at night?
As hard as I tried to block out the thoughts, I couldn’t stop the images from coming. Flashes of movie maniacs appeared, unbidden. Norman Bates from Psycho leered through a curtain of memory only to be replaced by rapid-fire clips of Jack Torrance careening through the halls of the Overlook Hotel in The Shining.
“Stop being ridiculous,” I said, shaking off the mood I’d created and starting the car.
As I turned onto the highway I told myself that my thoughts and the fact that I was now talking to myself in an otherwise empty car were more an indication of my mental state than his.
I knew from my research that schizophrenics aren’t the knife-wielding lunatics often portrayed in movies. Most of them are timid, introverted people who want to be left alone. Unfortunately, very often when they get their wish they end up homeless, in the hospital, or in jail. And sometimes, even when they aren’t left alone, those things happen.
Where did I go wrong? What did I miss and how can I make sure this doesn’t happen again? Those questions and more went unanswered as I covered the miles between the hospital and home, my mind and body too tired to cope with the guilt I felt at that moment. Despite all my good intentions, I’d let him down.
This post above is an excerpt from Confessions of an Imperfect Caregiver ©. Knowing I am truly imperfect inspired me to become a caregiver advocate and to create this blog.
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