As a librarian, I encounter all sorts of people, from the smugly self-satisfied to those barely clinging on. This is a story of the latter.
R. led a wonderful life. He was involved in baseball. He’s met presidents and celebrities. He flew around the world.
And now he’s losing his mind.
He doesn’t remember how to do the simplest things, things which he used to do with no help. For example, he will type a letter at home on his laptop, put it on his thumb drive, bring it to the library, and print it out.
However, for the past 2 weeks he’s been bringing in his laptop. Why? Because he no longer remembers how to transfer a file from the laptop to the memory stick. He needs help doing that every time. And then, once he’s on one of our computers so that he can print it out, he needs help on how to bring up the document. He used to do all these things without our assistance.
I’ve seen photos of him with Ronald Reagan, Bob Hope, the Three Stooges. He milled around with the great and good. And now he scrapes by with enough money to pay his rent and buy bologna. I’ve had to loan him a few bucks on a couple of occasions because he didn’t have enough gas in the tank to get him home. And now, senescence is creeping in. His memory is shot.
He served in Vietnam, and yet never availed himself of VA services until he told me that he hadn’t been to a doctor in 20 years and I lit into him. Now, thankfully, he uses his benefits. But all those years without medical care most likely led to his present state, his mind slowly ebbing away, the simplest routines smashed in the shards of his memory.
I’ve never sat down with him and asked him what I want to ask so many of my patrons: What happened? At what point did a life hobnobbing with the rich and famous become one of barely hanging on? Was the past prologue? Is one’s fate fixed?
He’s in the process of organizing to move back to his home state. And we all wonder at work: How will he drive a U-Haul back? He’ll get lost in the mountains or drive over a cliff.
R. is not unique. A life can go from swimming to drowning in a moment. World beater to beating the streets. It may not happen to most people, but you shouldn’t place bets on it.