Janeth sounds ready to cry. A woman named Colleen has called her. She wants to meet with Jan at 12:30 tomorrow. She’s a home health aide or something. Linda’s coming, Ray’s coming, she’ll still be having lunch at noon, and what is she going to do?I offer to be there with her when Colleen comes.
“Oh boy,” says Jan. Oh boy doesn’t mean Oh boy! It means she feels overwhelmed by all the things that are happening at once.
“We’ll work it out. I’ll go to the dining room at 12:00 and we’ll go together up to your apartment. Linda won’t be arriving at the old apartment until one-thirty or two, and Ray will be there around two-fifteen. So you see, dear, it’s not all happening at once.”
Jan tells me she has been working on another puzzle and she got quite a few words, like “inhale” for “sniff,” but she can’t think of a four-letter word for heavy metal. Lead, I suggest. She says lead doesn’t fit with inhale.
“Maybe there’s another word for sniff, “I say. We agree that she needs her Roget’s and her dictionary. I will see that she gets them tomorrow.
I drive to Southern Artery Apartments to furnish a key for Linda. No one is on duty because it’s a Saturday. I go up to the apartment and leave it unlocked, just in case. I place the envelope containing the key on the glass counter in the lobby and hope it will be there when my niece arrives.
I head for Advantage House and find my sister finishing her lunch. It’s nearing 12:30, so Jan takes a frozen ice cream cone back to her apartment. Colleen is late. I open the crossword puzzle book and discover that Jan has completed several.
“They are addictive,” she admits. I say Yay to myself, knowing this addiction will not only be a rewarding hobby but also a therapeutic exercise for her brain. The phone rings. It’s Ray, telling Jan he’ll see her tomorrow. I hear a loud sputtering noise. Jan looks at me and raises her hands with the telephone in one of them, as if to say, “See what I have to put up with?”
“Was that the telephone?”
“No, that was me.” We laugh. There is nothing else you can do.
My sister must have been about five because her legs weren’t long enough to reach the buzzer under our dinner table. Its purpose was to summon the maid from the kitchen, but sometimes, as a special privilege, Mother let Janeth do the summoning. So Jan goes underneath the table. A moment later I hear not only the buzz but the unmistakable pop-pop-pop of a fart. Horrified, I look from one parent to the other. What will Mother say? What will our father do? They both laugh.
Colleen knocks on the door. She sits down with a clipboard and explains what her function will be. She will be asking questions about Jan’s health for the next hour and will take her vital signs. She asks what problem bothers her the most. My sister says it’s the difficulty she is having with her evacuations.
“Don’t strain,” Colleen says. Jan says she already has a hernia. This is news to me. Jan tells Colleen how difficult it is to keep her slacks protected from accidents. The pads aren’t adequate and she’s running out of them.
“I find patients do well with pull-on diapers,” says Colleen. Jan says they’re too big. I point to the package of small-to-medium pads that has been on yonder table, unopened, since she moved into Apartment 201.
“We tried the largest toddler’s size, and that was too small,” I say. Colleen suggests that Jan try a pair now.
My sister removes her shoes and slacks, and we see that she is wearing a pull-up that seems to fit her perfectly. “This is the product I was talking about,” says Colleen. “Try a Depends from the package.”
When Jan starts removing her diaper-for-grownups, Colleen and I see that she is wearing a pair of panties underneath.
“You don’t need to wear those,” says Colleen.
“I’m glad to hear that, they make me sweat.” She holds them out to us so we can see how damp they are.
Now she tries on the small-to-medium Depends I had bought weeks ago. They look like the pair she took off and are a perfect fit. We had had a frustrating conversation this very morning about the non-existence of a suitable product, and here was the Bluebird of Happiness sitting quietly on her lamp table all this time.
Colleen continues her questions, and Jan answers them when she can. I am able to supply the names of doctors when she can’t remember them. .
The nurse concludes the interview by taking Janeth’s blood pressure. It’s 120 over 70, excellent. She tells Jan she’ll be getting two brief visits a week for a short time, then they’ll be just once a week.
I drive back to Quincy and join Linda and Ray at the old apartment. Linda says there was no key on the lobby counter. Someone let her in to the building, and she was glad I’d left the apartment door unlocked.
I see that the two pieces of furniture I had labeled “Donate” are still there, but when I look at the chaos surrounding us, I figure they couldn’t be removed without explosives. In truth, the place is such a god-awful mess, I can’t picture our making a dent in it, even with Ray’s help, even in a thousand years.
“I think we should have Janeth write a check for some company to come in and take everything to the dump.”
At least the refrigerator is empty and plugged in, as requested by the management in the moving instructions. Ray unplugs the TV and balances it on his cart. Linda stacks as much as she can on the dolly she has brought. My contribution is to collect Jan’s Webster and Roget’s Thesaurus.
Ray puts the TV in his car, plus a shopping bag of size 6 shirts and slacks Linda has bought for her mother, and departs for Hingham. Linda and I decide we’ll stop for lunch at The Ninety-Nine. She didn’t take time for breakfast when she left Livermore Falls.
When Linda and I approach Jan’s door, we giggle over what we’d like to imagine might be going on between her and her friend.
“Maybe we’d better knock,” I say. “Maybe they’re making mad, passionate love.”
Linda claps her hand over her mouth. I tap on the door, and we hear a shriek from Jan.
“Don’t come in!”
“It’s Barbara and Linda!” I call. Oh, that’s different. Come on in. Janeth is in the middle of trying on the shirts and slacks Linda has picked out for her. Clothes are draped and hung and dropped on the carpeting. It’s beginning to look like home. Ray says he’s been telling her that everything looks very nice, but she doesn’t agree.
“This shirt,” she says,” looks like a pajama top.” She tugs at the sleeves that have no cuffs, the way a proper shirt does. There are two buttoned pockets on the bodice. There are pale green and yellow and pink stripes on the fabric. It is a twin of the one I’m wearing.
Unbelievable! I ask Linda to compare the label on the back of my shirt with Janeth’s. They are not made by the same company, but they are identical.
“This is my favorite summer shirt. It’s the coolest one I have.”
“I told her she looked very nice in it,” says Ray.
“But what about the slacks? They’re so green,” says Jan. We tell her they go with the green stripe on her shirt. A pair of dark slacks with a white pattern fails to get her approval.
“Would you wear those?” she asks me. I say I would.
Linda says, “Too busy, Mom?”
Yes, they’re too busy. She already tried those blue ones, and they’re too warm.
“They won’t be too warm next winter,” Linda and I tell her. Ray says he told her the same thing. At last my sister reluctantly agrees that maybe a few of her daughter’s purchases will do.
Ray says the TV is still in his car. He’d be glad to bring it in, but Jan thinks she doesn’t want it.
“No TV?” I ask.
“I never watch it,” she says.
“If you decide later you want one, maybe you could buy one from the management," I say.
Maybe, she says.
In tonight’s telephone conversation, I describe the discussion Linda and I had about the “mad, passionate love-making” that might be going on behind the door of Apartment 201
“When I knocked, you shrieked `Don’t come in!’” Janeth’s peals of laughter bring me back to the sister I used to know, the sister who loved a funny story.
I ask her what she had for dinner and can’t believe I’ve heard her correctly when she seems to say, “London Broil.”
“Yes, London Broil. After I looked at that paper you brought me about nutrition, I thought I’d try it. Everyone said it was very tender. I cut away the gristle, but the rest of it was good.”
This must be the first beef my sister has had in at least a decade. Thank you, dear Google.
Janeth hates the new apartment, says it's at the end of nowhere, people take much longer to get to her or don't come at all. I talked to Carla, and she's going to show Jan an apartment on the first floor, although she’s aware Jan doesn't want to be on the first floor. I know she would feel vulnerable because anyone could climb in her window. She even worries about people looking into her living room on the second floor.
Despite all the cute outfits Linda brought Janeth last weekend, she said this morning that she doesn't have anything to wear.
Janeth’s voice is seething with indignation. She is spitting out the words.
“They came to take away my laundry, and the bag was marked with the number 201. That’s the number of the apartment I was in before! They laughed when I said I was in 253 now, and I would bet I’d never see my laundry again. And what happens? Sure enough, they don’t bring it back, and when I ask where it is, they say it belongs to Advantage House! My blue sheets are gone forever.”
“Jan, the sheets I brought you from your old apartment were white. Remember how I put them in the bottom drawer of your bureau, so you’d have them when you moved from 201?”
There is a long pause while she considers this possibility. Then she says, “They took my two small dark green towels. They never gave them back. I went to 201 and the door was open and I saw my small green towels in there.”
Although I know the dark green towels also belong to Advantage House, I don't tell her this. I say it’s Sunday evening; I can’t do anything about it until tomorrow.
Jan tells me she is still getting lost, trying to find this new apartment at the end of the world.
“When I asked one of the aides after lunch which way to go, she said, `You’ve been here long enough, you ought to know the way by now.’”
This time I share her indignation.
“That was a stupid thing to say. The staff should be aware that your illness makes it difficult to remember things.” I promise my sister I will tell Carla about this tactless aide.
“Do you remember my asking if any of the residents or staff members were unkind to you?”
Jan tells me again about the mean waitress. “She said to me, `We’re being snippy because we’re hungry, right?’ I wasn’t being snippy and I wasn’t hungry, I was still full from my lunch. I only wanted to know if they had any applesauce. I wasn’t asking her to go open a can and give me some. I was just curious.”
Then my sister said grimly, “All I want is not to be here, not to be anywhere.” I don’t quite catch her next words about pushing something up. “That’s how I’d like to be, in the ground, pushing up daisies.”
I tell her how terrible it is for me to hear this, but if it’s terrible for me, how much more terrible it must be for her. I tell her I’ll do anything she wants. I’ll make arrangements for her to move tomorrow if that will make her feel better.
“It wouldn’t make any difference; it might even be worse.”
I feel helpless. I don’t know how to comfort her, how to rescue her from these dark thoughts.
I put my spare pillows, both of them small, in my shopping cart and drive to Advantage House. The pillows Ray brought her are too big and too firm.
“These are perfect,” Jan says, as I drop to the floor in a faint.
"At least this one is," she adds. I recover.
When I am about to leave, Jan comes down to the desk with me. She wants me to meet the social worker she had seen earlier. The receptionist calls Gail O’Hara, who appears in a few minutes. She tells me how helpful to both Jan and me it would be if I signed the geriatric care form I was sent by Elizabeth Greg.
“She would go to doctors’ appointments with your sister, make sure to take care of any prescriptions or sample medications, keep track of new appointments. This would relieve the burden for you.”
I say it hasn’t been much of a burden since Jan moved to Advantage House. I was keeping track of the doctors’ visits and arranging for aides to go with her on The Ride.
“This geriatric care is terribly expensive. A hundred ninety-five an hour? I suppose the nurse would be driving my sister, not taking The Ride, which is only four dollars round trip.”
“But I think you would find it was worth every penny,” says Gail, giving me more examples of what a geriatric nurse could do for Jan.
“My sister worked very hard to build up her capital, depriving herself of any luxuries for twenty years. I can see it would be rapidly reduced by expenditures like this.”
Gail says she understands my feelings. (Jan stays silent throughout our interview). “It won’t continue to be expensive. Perhaps in the future the services will become fewer and may even be discontinued.”
I say okay, I’ll contact Elizabeth, write the check for $500, and make an appointment for her to see my sister and me.
Janeth follows me to my car. Before I open the door I have something to say to her:
“Wouldn’t it be lovely to think Mom is up there looking down on us, so happy that we are now the caring sisters she always wanted us to be? And I do love you very much and don’t want to lose you so soon after I found you. I would be heart-broken. Please, no more talk about pushing up daisies.”
We exchanged kisses and a tight, tight embrace.
Every time Linda has driven down from Maine to work on dismantling the old apartment, she has searched for a framed portrait of her mother. Ray found it yesterday, tucked behind a piece of board leaning against the wall. I was awe-struck. I knew Janeth was pretty, but in this portrait she personifies womanly poise and elegance.
“I have a question, Jan. I wasn’t sure whether your portrait was done by a photographer or an artist.”
“It's a photograph. I don’t like it.”
“How can you not like it, Jan? It couldn’t be lovelier.”
“They touched it up and gave me dark eyebrows. I never used an eyebrow pencil. And that pouty mouth. I don’t like that, either. Besides, I don’t know why anyone who looks the way I do today would want to display a picture of themselves as they were years ago.”
“I think a lot of people would. My friend Kathie Carr, who lives at the other Advantage House in Weymouth, has a framed photograph that dates back to the days before she became overweight. She was strikingly tall and so beautiful that I put my foot in my mouth and asked her who this woman was.”
“That’s my point,” Janeth says. “What’s the use of hanging a picture like that when you’re old and all bent over the way I am?”
I tell her about my “invention,” a locket that would hold a picture of an elderly woman as she used to look. “I gave it a name, Long Ago Locket, that I want to get a trademark for when I figure out how to do it. I think families would enjoy giving the locket as a gift to their loved ones.”
I arrived in Westwood at 9:00 so Kathie and Frank could take me to Mass General Hospital for a new type of cortisone shot. It was a pleasant, hope-arousing morning.
Looking at my x-rays and MRI, the doctor said, "You have a lot going on here that could explain your pain."
"I'm so happy to hear that."
Got back to Westwood about 1:00, then drove to Jan's old apt to turn in the cable TV cord at the office, netting five dollars for her bank account, and to collect armfuls of her winter coats, jackets, boots, and gloves. Arrived home to find a message from my sister, frustrated about food choices.
"They were ham or pork, neither of which I could eat. I asked for a chicken sandwich, and they brought out something that was mostly bread. I asked for more chicken, and they put a helping on the side of my plate. I was able to eat the chicken and leave almost all of the bread."
I called Jan and said, "Sweetheart, before we talk about your difficulties today, I want to tell you about mine.” I related the story of my day, concluding with, "I had half a dish of cereal at 8:00 this morning, it's now three o'clock and I've had no lunch. I'm so sorry you're having such an unhappy time. Will it be okay if I call you later?"
She said with warm sympathy, "It sounds as if you've been having a harder time than I have."