Big Daddy was raised in the South, surrounded by crime and violence, dirt poor. He didn't become a criminal. If you asked him why, he would either say 'good parents' or 'the grace of God'. He wouldn't take any credit himself- but he was a smart, tough-minded and dedicated son of a bitch. Deep down, he always thought that criminals were losers and he would never, ever be a loser. But he knows criminals.
He was something of a legend when I started working for the agency. Unbelievably strong, quick smile, good talker- he looked like a bowling ball with huge arms and short legs. He rarely fought: with his reputation, power and ferocious grin of battle-joy when he thought a fight was coming most of the tough guys wilted at the sight.
Something big has changed in the last two years. He lost a lot of weight, even though most of his mass was power-lifter muscle, not fat. He dwindled down to the size of a regular human. He started forgetting things- basic things about the job, things he'd already done or asked a few moments before. Lately, he has stood passively letting me as a (relatively) junior sergeant take the lead on crises in his area. Recently in simulation training I watched as he looked to his partner, a brand new deputy, and followed his partner's lead rather than go with his own initiative. Deep down, he knows that something is wrong.
We cover for him at work. There's a lot of sweat and blood and history shared with this man over the decades and we respect him. Whatever is going on (and we're all thinking dementia/senility but no one wants to say the words) it isn't his fault. This forgetful sometimes lost-looking old man isn't HIM, this isn't Big Daddy.
I'd like to believe that I'm writing this out of compassion, telling his story, but this is really about fear. There is an old Norse legend where Thor loses a wrestling match to an old woman. The woman was Time. Nobody beats Time. Right now, I'm watching a legend turn into a fragile old man. Someday it will be my turn.
I remember the security guard at the docks who turned out to have been OSS in WWII. The old, old jail guard who'd been a decorated ace in the Pacific theater, someone who I had read about in books and didn't recognize the name because this tiny old man couldn't have been the same as the dauntless hero.
That's our destiny, all of us who live long enough- to make our mark in the world when and how we can and then to eventually watch our bodies and often our minds fail until we are no longer recognizable as the men who made the mark.
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