I don’t have any grandkids. I have an elderly uncle with schizophrenia.
Having an elderly uncle with schizophrenia parallels the grandparental experience in a couple of ways. Uncle Henry lives at a skilled nursing facility about four miles from me, and I swing by, pick him up in the truck, and take him out for pie or for a drive to the pier. When his watches break down, we go shopping for new ones. His schizophrenia requires a unique attention I’ve only noticed people taking care of kids exercise. Its a type of total thereness that’s not physically exhausting but exhausting and fulfilling on a level beyond your body. The spirit if you believe in that sort of thing. A major reason how come Uncle Henry requires so much patience is that schizophrenics are CONSTANT POETS. Humans aren’t meant to be constant poets. We’re meant to shift linguistic gears, from one type of language to the next, depending on the formality of our context, our moods, what time of the month our cycles are at or whether or not our cycle is still even cycling, whether or not its snowing. Most of us get to communicate our thoughts and emotions and our needs to other humans in ways that get those things across well enough.
I don’t think the same applies to many in the throes of schizophrenia. While my uncle takes atypical antipsychotics, he went unmedicated for so long that his brain has an unwavering, schizophrenic pulse. A conversation with him about airplanes turns into a conversation about how airplanes come from birds and birds come from trees and trees come from birds and birds are powerful. We can have a conversation about cars but instead of the word cars, my uncle will use the word hippos. Look at that blue hippo go…Conversations rapidly turn cosmic. Everything relates back to divinity and evolution. Dinosaurs, lizards, chickens, and complications.
Metaphors weigh down Uncle Henry’s speech. They cycle through his thoughts, replacing the concrete with abstractions that are beautiful but that frighten the uninitiated. Henry might say, to a waitress bringing him his breakfast quesadilla, “Beauty is in the eye of those who smolder.”
She’ll smile nervously. Her world is less thick with metaphor than Uncle Henry’s.
Uncle Henry occasionally apologizes to me for his language. He’ll say things like, “I’m not an adequate social communicator,” or “I’m being quiet to avoid complications,” or, “Sometimes its hard for me to make proper expressions when I’m talking to you.”
I think it is possible to decode Uncle Henry’s language if you enter it with love. And by love, I don’t mean greeting card love. I mean curiosity and openness and with your poetic palate ready. In that interest, I’m putting together an ongoing dictionary Henry’s Thicktionary, which I’ll continue to grow till my uncle dies. Hopefully, by reading his thicktionary, people will come to worship his relationship with thought and language.
Today, we started on A, B, C, and D. This is what we got:
A: Alligator: “They’re big. You wanna make friends with them but they have their own defensive mechanisms.”
B: Butch: “Robert.” (Butch is his brother’s nickname. Butch is also my dad.)
C: Chicano: “Americano.”
D: Dave Draper: “Dave Draper was dressed like a gladiator. We shook hands.”
E: East L.A.: “Back to Chicano.”
LEAVE WORD SUGGESTIONS FOR US IF YOU FEEL LIKE IT.