Fading Away

“Speak up where I can hear you damnit.” Eugene slammed his tan tote bag on the floor.

“You’re supposed to be in bed Eugene,” I try to be commanding, but gentle.

“I got to go on my route.” His bushy brows squeezed over the hazel plastic frames of his glasses.

“Somebody’s on your route tonight so you can get some rest.”

“You people don’t give a damn about nothing but yourself. I’m liable to get fired from my job over this,” he stepped closer. An overdose of cinnamon from his cologne plugged my nostrils.

I stood up from my chair towering over his fragile five foot six body. He lost a few inches by hunching over when he was standing. His long-sleeved plaid shirt was tucked neatly in his pressed navy pants. He wore a brown belt with his name stamped on it, but the first few letters had faded over the years. One of his shoelaces dangled over his walnut colored shoes as he stepped back to retrieve his satchel. All I could do was walk away.

I peeked back toward him in the round security mirror hanging from the wall to watch him push his glasses properly on his nose. Then he turned around like a broken carousel and staggered toward his room down the hall.

I sat down in a chair just around the corner, still watching him through the mirror as he crept down to his room. He held his arms behind him like a skier that just pushed down a big slope. At least I was out of site.

In the distance a lady screamed, “Help me. Help me,” until she finally faded out when Eugene made it past her room.

It was only eleven o’clock at night and I had eight more hours left here. I was already beginning to wonder if this is where I needed to be. I wasn’t sure if I had the heart it took to work in a place like this. It was my second night as the security guard on the Alzheimer’s unit at the Care Center of Opelika.

The next few nights Eugene continuously walked from his room to the resident’s activity room, not really paying anyone else any attention, until he got tired from the exercise. He would wear his blue checkered house shoes and brown plaid pajamas, so I knew he wasn’t planning on trying to leave the building.

His cheeks were saggy holding the corners of his lips close to his chin. The bald spot on his head was slightly covered by his slicked black hair that had only begun to gray. In short sleeves, I noticed spots that could be freckles or moles or scars left on his arms.

I would get to speak to Eugene on several occasions during these times. I would usually ask, “How are you doing today, Eugene?”

He would slowly tilt his head up smiling. His stained cracked teeth looked like they would fall out when he ate, “I’m doing better than I been a being.”

“Well, that’s good. Maybe you’ll feel even better later.”

“Yeah, I hope so.” He’d usually have to hold himself up after walking the halls by grabbing the rail that ran along the wall.

He didn’t use a walker like most of the residents did, and he usually could stay up for hours without resting much.

It took nearly three weeks for Eugene to believe he had to go to work again, but he wasn’t as persistent.

“Eugene, your boss called and said somebody’s on your route. That way you can have the night off.”

He studied me for a few brief seconds accumulating his words. “Nobody told me nothing about this.”

“That’s what they told us.” I knew he didn’t really believe me, but he looked too tired to stand and argue.

“Well I’m gone need you to write that down on a piece of paper,” he stopped for a moment. Then he looked down to the floor to regain his thoughts. “So my boss will know that you people told me this.”

The nurse on duty walked up to calm him, “Don’t worry Eugene. We will.”

“Make sure you put that ya’ll won’t let me go on my shift. I don’t need to lose my job for this.”

For the next week Eugene would get up late in the night, dressed in navy and plaid holding his bag, ready to head off to work. I’d give him an excuse to explain why he couldn’t go to work. It was typically, “Somebody’s on your route,” or “It’s your night off.”

Soon after, he began to grow sick. He would stay in bed nearly all the time, getting up only to eat and wander a few steps out of his room.

When I came in one day he was sitting in a wheelchair staring at the floor. I stopped beside him to see if anything was wrong.

“How are you feeling today?”

He said nothing.

“Eugene. Are you feeling alright?” I almost blared to get his attention.

He looked up and slipped his glasses on. A drop of blood rolled from his nose down his upper lip.

“I don’t feel so well.”

It seemed like all his years of hard work had drowned him to his last breaths. I thought his life was harshly fading away. He hardly had the strength to talk, much less, enough to get up and walk around. His eyes drooped even farther down his face. Surely, God would not let him die in his mid-sixties, but Eugene had been allowed to live through this agonizing disease. He was already dead to the world. Eugene was just another person walking around, oblivious to where he was or what he was doing. Time passed and Eugene gradually overcame the momentary condition he was in.

After two months of working at the care center I realized how valuable life is.

Eugene walked up to me and grinned, “I just done something I’ve never done in my life before.”

“Oh, what’s that?”

He was laughing enough to muffle his voice, “I ate ice cream and crackers together.”