Al has been sleeping almost constantly for the last two weeks. Most of the time he looks nearly dead, lying on his back, his mouth open, his face blank. Saturday, though, he was on his side and had the look of a crusty old man thinking about all the people who had pissed him off lately. That's the Al I know, and that's the Al I want to remember. And should he recover and find out I took this picture, I'll be one of the people who pisses off the crusty old man. "God damn it, Tom. Why the hell did you take this fucking picture. I look like shit," he'll say.
Al is slowly fading away. His ninety-second birthday is a few days away, and he has no desire to be around for it. "I'm almost ninety-two," he says. "Why do I have to put up with this shit?"
One morning a little over a week ago, I found Al on the floor when I brought him his morning muffins and coffee. He mumbled something about not knowing how he got there and not knowing how "the hell" he was going to get up. "I'm so goddamn cold," he said. That explained why he had a jacket covering his head.
James, Lucas and Juan answered the call for help and got Al off the floor and into bed. A short while later, a hospice nurse arrived to take Al's vitals, which were normal, and to look at his left shoulder and hip, which he said "hurt like hell." The nurse didn't find any marks, though.
The next morning, hospice had Al transported to River Towne, a nursing home. Al spent five days there. The hope was the nursing home folks would get him hydrated and find out if he had a urinary tract infection. Whether they did either is anyone's guess. Penelope, Annie, and Chelsea visited Al during his stay, and not one of them had single good word to say about the facility. Neither did Donna, the hospice nurse who came to see Al when he returned to Covenant Woods, nor did Daniel who has known Al for twenty years and who now works for hospice in an administrative capacity.
Since his return, Al has slept and slept and slept. And when he's awake, Al has been disoriented most of the time. He has had his moments, though.
A couple months ago, Al was having trouble remembering Chelsea's name. "Oh come on," Chelsea said, "You know my name. I'm Chelsea. I'm the sweetest one." Several of us, including Chelsea, were visiting Al Monday evening. When Chelsea said her good-byes, Al looked at her with his I-didn't-hear-a-goddamn-word-you-said look.
"I said, I have to go," Chelsea said. "I'll come by tomorrow to see you."
"Oh, please do. You're the sweetest one."
"Mr. Park, that's so sweet. Thank you."
"Well, you told me to say that," Al said.
Donna, the hospice nurse, was checking Al's vitals one morning when I delivered his muffins and coffee. Al took a bite out of a muffin and then stared at it for a moment. "What's in these?" he asked Donna. She said they looked like raisins or maybe blueberries. Al took another close look and said, "I think it's rabbit shit."
There were nuts in the next morning's batch. As Al was chewing on a bite of one - chewing is hard work for Al, who hasn't worn his dentures in several months - he picked up the wastebasket and spit into it. The pinging noise that followed led me to believe it was one of the nuts. Al confirmed my suspicion when he said, "Goddamn nuts. I think they're bigger than mine."
Friday, Amanda, another hospice nurse, was taking Al's vitals and asking him how he felt, did have any pain, etc, etc. Al, who was in bed at the time, announced, "I'm going to have a movement."
"Do you mean you have to go number-two?"
"I'm having a movement right now."
"How can I help? Do you want me to help you get into the bathroom? Is that potty seat still in your closet? You tell me, what we have to do." Amanda said.
"What should I do when I go number-two?" Al replied.
Amanda found the potty seat in the closet and put by the side of the bed. Al pushed the covers to one side, revealing the entirety of his body, save the part covered by his T-shirt. With Amanda's help he transferred to the potty seat and did his business in less than five minutes. Oh, that my 1948 model bowels were as expeditious as his 1924 model.
Once Amanda had helped Al clean his butt and get back into bed, she got on her knees to ask Al a few questions. Now, Amanda is an attractive woman, probably in her late twenties or early thirties, and she seems very competent. She also seems to prefer stretch pants, very tight stretch pants, so tight and form fitting that when she knelt down by the bed, her pants had nowhere to go but down. I tried to pay attention to her questions and Al's answers, but I kept getting distracted by eight inches of trouser cleavage.
I haven't talked to Al much today or yesterday. He was awake this afternoon, although almost completely oblivious to the four gentleman who were in the room when I got there. Ken, an old friend of Al's and the man who purchased his house when Al moved to Covenant Woods twelve years ago, was there, along with three of Al's friends from Savannah.
After Ken introduced me to the Savannah contingent, I went over to the bed, where Al was eating some soup. He looked up and said, "Oh, hi, Tom." "At least he recognizes you," the four visitors said almost in unison.
When Al finished the soup, he laid down, pulled a sheet up to his chin and went back to sleep. When I went to see how he was doing a few hours later, he was still sleeping. I'm certain he hopes he won't wake up.