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WILD IN THE WOODS: CONFESSIONS OF A DEMENTED MAN/Floyd Skloot My twin, the nameless one, wild in the woods —John Berryman, "Dream Song 255" IAM DEMENTED. I have been clinically demented for a decade, ever since contracting a virus that attacked my brain in December of 1988. I display dementia's classic "multiple cognitive deficits that include memory impairment but not impairment of consciousness" and am totally disabled. You might never know, just looking at me. There are, however, a few tips to the naked eye. My brain damage manifests itself in specific motor malfunctions. So I walk like Phillip Dean in James Salter's classic 1967 novel, A Sport and a Pastime, who in a bad moment "feels awkward, as if the process of movement had suddenly asserted all its complexity and everything had to be commanded ." This is an accurate description of how I feel when I walk. I have to think about every step or else the whole process of walking breaks down. Like Dean, I walk "as if made of wood," only I do it that way all the time. IfI bend to pick up a dropped coin, I will probably fall over. I can be tripped by a gust of wind. Few of my shirts are free of permanent stains from spills or splashes, and there are squiggles of ink on everything I wear. Watch me accidentally ladle the oat bran I've just cooked into the sink instead of a cereal bowl or struggle to affix the plastic blade attachment guide to my beard trimmer. See me open the pantry and stare into it with no recollection of what I was after an instant before, or start a bath by rubbing soap over my still-dry body. Play cards with me and wonder why I discard an ace just after you've picked up an ace off the pile or suddenly follow the rules of poker while we're playing casino. Try to teach me how to operate a new microwave oven or program an unfamiliar calculator. If the cat moves across my field of vision, hear my conversation stop as I forget what I am telling you. If I ask you to pass the "steam wheels" just wait a moment till I correct myself and request the "cream cheese." If we drive together and I tell you to turn left, be sure to turn right. Dementia is a loaded word. To health professionals, it refers to "a precipitous decline in mental function from a previous state" and has clear diagnostic criteria. But to almost everyone else, it refers to doddering senility. Either that or craziness; the dictionary offers "madness" and "insanity" as synonyms. Dementia is the Halloween of illnesses, The Missouri Review · 37 a horror mask, a nightmare affliction, its victims akin to Freddy Krueger or Michael "The Shape" Myers. It is so fearsome because it is so transformative . The demented are seen as out of control or out of touch, as zombies, given over to primal impulses. Plug "demented" into a search engine on the World Wide Web and you get referred to sites like "The Demented Pinhead Figurine," "Lunatic Lounge, the Home of Stupid Human Noises" or "The Doctor Demento Halloween Show." We decry what we fear. We shroud it in myth, heap abuse upon it, use language and gesture to banish it from sight or render it comic. By shrinking its monstrousness, we tame it. So a new disease such as AIDS is known first as the gay cancer, or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is known first as the yuppie flu, officially trivialized, shunted aside. And there is little we fear so much as losing our minds. Synonyms for "demented" are "daft," "deranged," "maniacal," "psycho," "unbalanced." Or, more colloquially, "bananas," "flipped out," "nutty as a fruitcake," "out of one's tree." The demented are like monkeys, it would seem. I became demented overnight. Sudden onset is one factor that distinguishes my form of dementia from the more common form associated with Alzheimer's disease. For the Alzheimer's patient, who is usually over sixty, dementia develops slowly, inexorably. Mine developed on the night of December 7, 1988, without prelude and...


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