It was the night after Thanksgiving, and my entire family was at my aunt’s house in the Catskills. There was a big snowstorm, so rather than drive home, we decided we had better spend the night. Everyone got their room / bed assignments, one by one, until there were no more beds. Who got the short end of the stick? Me and grandpa. We had to sleep in the living room. Together.
For my grandpa, this was not a big deal. Ever since he got Parkinson’s disease, he quit sleeping in beds and started sleeping hunched over in chairs, because
- it too hard to move to a bed, lay down and go to sleep,
- it was too hard to get out of a bed in the morning
- he drove grandma crazy.
That night, I found out why.
You see, my grandfather takes a huge cocktail of pills several times a day — enough multicolored pharmaceuticals to satiate every tweeker in Hancock, NY for a month. And among them are several types of Parkinson’s medication, which make it so that he’s able to move and so that his normally incoherent mumbles are slightly more coherent. The side effect? They make him batshit crazy.
So while everyone else is off snoozing comfortably in their respective beds, I’m laying there, contorted in a ball on a couch that’s about three feet too short and sinks all the way to the floor. An old grandfather clock across the room tick-tocks the minutes away, and the wind outside howled eerily.
And two feet away from me, hunched over in the most uncomfortable wooden chair in all of the Catskill mountains was grandpa, softly muttering to himself. He was drooling all over his shirt (he can’t help it), and clutching a crumpled up ball of paper towel that he uses to wipe his mouth. During the day, grandpa would stare at his paper towel balls and remark about how beautiful the little “paper maché birds” are that someone keeps leaving all over the house. He would also complain about how “that little kid” would keep following him around (you know, the one sitting right there, next to you — oh that’s the pills talking); or spend hours hobbling around the house pulling down invisible spider webs that he’s pretty sure are all over the walls. His latest obsession was that there was a band of robbers who would sneak to our house every night, and start disassembling our cars to steal our engines, or break into his bedroom and steal his prized collection of antique cameras.
Anyway, I was finally on the verge of falling asleep, despite the howling wind, the grandfather clock and the incessant muttering — when my grandfather started yelling “Peter! Peter! Peter!” in his shaky voice…right in my ear.
At first, I tried to ignore it, hoping he’d get sidetracked by “that kid” or a paper maché swan. Outsiders might have read the urgency and alarm in his voice, and think there was a genuine emergency, but I knew better. Years of dealing with grandpa’s crazy hallucinations had made me more than a little skeptical. But the yelling continued. After another half minute, I realized that ignoring him was not going to work. I rolled over and demanded “What this time, grandpa?!”
I was expecting him to tell me that the robbers were making away with his camera collection for the third time this week, but instead, he blurted out: “There’s a possum loose in the house. Here, help me get ‘im.”
To show me he was serious, he lurched forward in a feeble attempt to stand up from his chair. I look around the room….couch…grandfather clock…pile of drool-soaked paper towels…NO POSSUM…everything was normal.
“Sorry grandpa, I don’t see him. He must have gotten away.” I knew by this point not to argue with grandpa about whether or not he saw something, but instead just to play along. He tried one or two more times to stand up, but realizing the futility of the situation, he hunched back over and resumed muttering — this time, looking around the room suspiciously, trying to spot the rogue possum.
Exhausted and still overcoming the triptophan from our turkey dinner, I laid down and quickly fell asleep. Dreams of sugar plums danced in my head. Finally, some rest.
But it was not to last. Suddenly, my slumber was broken by a powerful punch in the face, and some incoherent screaming. I bolted up. “What the hell??!!?” Boom! I got clocked again.
Ducking out of the way, I finally realized what was going on. There was grandpa, gesticulating madly, as he struggled in his chair. A few of his wild arm motions had managed to find their way right to my head.
“What’s going on, grandpa?”
“I got ‘im! Help!”
“What are you talking about? Got what?”
“The possum! I’ve got ‘im!”
Ahhh. I could see where the invisible possum’s neck would fit, right between his two clenched fists. The valient struggle continued, and I thought I’d wait it out, occasionally interjecting “Oh, too bad, grandpa.. looks like he got away. Let’s get back to bed,” to no avail.
He just went on choking the possum. “Well,” I thought, “It’s gonna be a long night.” I started looking around for another place to sleep, outside of his range. But when another of his wild, shaky arm motions knocked over the lamp on the end table, I knew I had to do something.
“What do you need, grandpa?”
“Help me up! We gotta throw ‘im outside. He’s got mighty sharp claws, this one!”
I stepped toward my grandpa, avoiding his swings, and started helping him up. Moving grandpa is not an easy prospect. Usually to help him stand, it takes me, pulling him by both arms, with all my weight and all my strength…and that’s when he’s not trying to subdue a wild possum. I got behind the chair and started pushing. After about a minute of heaving and ho-ing, he finally rose up. I acrobatically grabbed his walker and slid it in front of him, so that he didn’t just keep going, right over onto the floor. Grandpa managed to grab the walker with one hand, and I steadied him. His other hand was still shaking back and forth, clenching the possum.
Grandpa takes a long time to walk anywhere, and when he’s swinging his arm like a mad gorilla, it takes about ten times as long. As we made our way through the house, I kept staring at my watch, seeing the minutes tick by. Ten, fifteen, twenty minutes… At the twenty-five minute point, we had finally reached the back door. He still had the possum by the neck, but he had long since tired of choking it, and was now holding on to him limply. I wasn’t going to ask questions.
I opened up the wooden door, and then propped open the screen door. Cold wind and snow flew in through the crack. The wintry Catskills wilderness stared back at us.
Determination in his eyes, my grandpa inched forward and reached his clenched fist outside. With a weak little toss, he flicked the “possum” out into the snow drift and let go.
“Haha, look at him run Pete!”
“We got him, grandpa! …Now let’s go to bed.”