Assholes in Dementialand

One of my college students, Hillary, had come with me to a particular adult day center once a month for a couple of years. Today was her last day because she was headed to grad school at Syracuse.

One of the guys, who I will call Jameswas really attached to Hillary. He would rush in, pushing his walker to make sure he got to sit by her each time we came. He once asked her if her eyelashes were natural or if they were “imposters.” Talk about charming… Although he has vascular dementia, he has never forgotten a detail about Hillary. My male college students could learn a thing or two from James.

I make sure to take a picture of them together that day. I would tape it up in my office. It is right over my computer screen, and every time I look at it I smile. I also gave one to James and one to Hillary.

James has been to visit Syracuse two times in his life. He remembers what county it is in and the main highways that run through the city. I ask him if he thinks it will be a good place for Hillary to live for the new few years. He turns to Hillary and looks her in the eye. Long pause… I feel like he is ready to dispense a life lesson, and I’m right.

“Hillary,” he says. Dramatic pause. “No matter where you go in this world, 10% of people are assholes.”

He goes on to explain that 10% of people in Syracuse are assholes, just like 10% of people in Iowa are assholes, just like 10% of people in Korea are assholes. He tells Hillary to watch out for the assholes, but there won’t be any more there than there are here.

That was about two years ago. I cannot tell you how often I think about what James said. When I am in the checkout line in the grocery store and some jerk elbows his way in front of me, I think about how he’s in the 10%. The other day I was running on the trails and some idiot on a bike refused to move over to give me a little space as he passed. He’s part of that 10%. And I’m sounding sexist here. There are plenty of women in the 10% as well, like the employee at Culver’s who stares me down after I ask for a veggie burger as if I’ve ordered her to hand over her first-born child.

Somehow admitting that 10% of the world is made of assholes makes it easier for me to acknowledge I’ve run into one and then move on with my day. I try to focus on the other 90%.

As for Hillary, she is now almost done with graduate school. She loves hearing updates about James, who still asks about her every month. So much for that generation gap thing.

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