Wednesday, August 9, 2017


From: Kathie
 oh dear oh dear. I do feel so sorry for Jan. she's had a tragic life and because of her illness has never been able to appreciate the brighter parts--Ray, Linda, you.  and one of the saddest things is that because of her illness she can't help alienating people, so she probably continually does, if not exactly make enemies, make situations where people are annoyed, and hostile, and unkind, and just anxious not to have anything to do with her.
     I'm glad Linda is coming today and I sure hope she will be able to find the keys and glasses.
    most of all, I worry about you because you are my mommy and I love you and you're in a situation where you can only make a minimum kind of difference and at considerable cost to yourself. so please please take care of yourself.
To: Kathie     
       Thank you, dear daughter and friend and confidante,
       I may take a break after Linda and I see Jan this afternoon.  It must affect my blood pressure when I am confronted repeatedly with the same accusations against innocents.  Poor Jan, poor Hertha, poor me. And poor you for having to take valuable time to read this stuff and comfort me with your response.
From: Kathie
      I think taking a break is a good idea.
     I can't see any more valuable use of my time than trying to be some support to my mom in this really difficult situation she (you) is (are) dealing with.

      I arrive at Apt 253 ten minutes after Linda, learn she has found both the missing glasses and the missing keys.  The glasses were under the quilt on Jan’s bed.  I turn to my sister, longing to make her see, if it’s humanly possible, that she is inclined to jump to erroneous conclusions about the aides. 
“And then you dream up reasons why they would steal from you.”  I try not to use a lecturing tone.  I confess I had been having the same sort of paranoid thoughts when John, my carpenter, installed baseboards in my absence. 
“When I couldn't find the big knife Timmy had given me years ago, I wondered if John had liked it so much, he decided to take it.  Then I found it off to the right side of my counter, where I'd never left it before.”
 Jan laughs at that and accepts my comments with good grace. 
         Linda has bought two splendid items, a long brown tweed sweater with a belt and a long brown blazer.  “Long” is what Janeth has been asking for “to cover my butt.”  She has no recollection of the four new outfits from two weeks ago.  When I show them to her, she says they’re probably too small or too big.  She has been wearing daily the tan slacks made of a crinkly material.
“They should be thrown out,” says Jan
 That’s fine with Linda; she takes them for the “free table” set up for her clients in Maine. I notice a pair of blue slacks Jan has never worn.  “They’re your size,” she says.  By Jove, she’s right, they’re a size twelve.  I drape them over my arm.  [Jan isn't the only one who's forgetful. Those slacks were discovered many pages ago in this account.]
       Jan tries on one of several pairs of tan slacks she didn’t know she had, and when she adds the new sweater or jacket, she surely looks as well dressed as those millionaire residents she talks about.  She pushes the slacks halfway down, then looks at us and says, “What am I supposed to be doing?” We ask her to try a couple of the unworn outfits. 
       The first blouse has buttons that are difficult to fasten for people who have lost their fine motor skills. 
       “It takes me all day to button buttons.” 
“Mom, if you would wear pullovers, dressing would be much easier, but I know you don’t like to muss your hair.” 
Jan half removes the slacks, then asks again what she is supposed to be doing.  I hand her another outfit.  She laboriously puts on the top, buttons it, puts on the slacks, then the new long sweater.  Linda and I admire her.
“Go to the bathroom mirror to see how spiffy you look, Jan.”.
         It is then that I remember the broken shower.  Linda investigates the hanging hose, finds that a piece of plastic has broken off from the showerhead, making it impossible to hang it on its holder.  She turns on the water, has to wait several minutes before the flow becomes warm. 
“It works, Mom, it just takes a while for it to warm up.  It’s getting hot now.  You don’t need to try on any more outfits, now that you understand you have plenty of wearable clothes.” 
“They’ll shrink,” Janeth says. 
“They are all machine washable in cold water.” 
“The aides don’t pay any attention to the labels.” 
“Jan, you should go ahead and wear them, rather than leaving them in the closet because they might shrink.”  .
        She needs a new toothbrush to replace the one with the blue dye that is poisoning her system.  I follow Linda and Jan to the Rite Aide pharmacy.  I emerge from my car and tell Linda she’s excused from the Toothbrush Detail.  I know she’s eager to be on her way back to Maine and Toby. 
       “I don’t think you need to bring those slacks in with you, Aunt Barb.”  Oh!  So who’s dotty now? 
It takes Jan a good twenty minutes to decide on an acceptable toothbrush.  It has plain white bristles and costs fifty-nine cents.  My treat, I say.  She gives me a hint of that smile I try so hard to win.

       “The singer’s voice was so beautiful, I cried.”  So speaks my sister on this Sunday evening. 
      “I went up to her and asked her the name of the song.  Then I had to go back because I’d forgotten it again.”  This is good news because except for Rick Walsh last Sunday, Janeth complains about the quality of other entertainers’ voices.  “None of them can carry a tune.”
       “I asked Deborah if she had any children who became singers.”  Surely she was thinking of herself and the voice she inherited from our mother, unaware that she had it until she joined the annual shows at Southern Artery Apartments. “She said when her son was little, he wore a cute costume for the occasion and sang a duet with her.  Now he denies ever doing any such thing.”
       “Sounds like he’s a teenager.”
“He’s six feet tall and either fourteen or twenty, I forget which.  I told the singer I have Alzheimer’s, and that’s why I’m so forgetful.” 
How courageous she is.  I decide to express my thought aloud.
 “Jan, you are so courageous.” 
        “I’m not.  I get anxious every day that two different people will arrive, wanting to talk to me.”  I suddenly realize why this conflict is unlikely to happen. 
“Jan, everyone has to sign in at the desk. If someone else was in your apartment, another visitor would see this on the schedule, or the receptionist would point it out.  That’s one thing you can stop worrying about.”
         She tells me she often hangs around near the desk, not knowing what she is supposed to do or where she is supposed to go.  “There is one receptionist who is always very kind.  She always helps me find the room where I should be.”  
“That must be Jessica. She seems to take a particular interest in you.” 
The next day I tell Jessica about my conversation with Jan. 
“She was so moved by the singer’s voice, she cried.”
“Maybe I’m prejudiced because I work here, but I really believe they have superior entertainment, compared to other facilities.” 
I quote my sister’s remark about the helpful receptionist.  “I knew it was you.” 
Jessica asks if I am coming to the Tenth Anniversary party.      
“I didn’t make a reservation because I figured Jan would have no interest in going.”   
 “If she went alone, she’d be overwhelmed. There are going to be a hundred people milling around.  But if you went with her, I’m sure you would both have an enjoyable time.” 
Jessica signs me up.

        Up in Jan’s apartment, what did I say?  What did she say? What did I do?  It is now September 18th, and I have spent hours on the telephone wrestling with Jan’s issues, such as the long expected check from her Old Mutual annuity.  I am assured it should be in today’s mail.  Its last stop, the service rep murmurs, reading from his screen, was in Newton, Massachusetts. What??? I laugh at the coincidence.  Newton, Massachusetts is where Jan and I were brought up.    
       When I leave #253, I encounter John.  I identify myself, since naturally he doesn’t remember meeting me before.  I tell him again how grateful my sister is for his wife’s cane.  John tells me what an absolutely perfect woman his wife was, how he had adored her, how their four children had adored her, how much she was missed when she died. No other woman in the world could replace her. They had two boys and two girls, all great successes in life.  John enumerates one by one their various accom-plishments. 
“You must be very proud of them.”  He is.  We shake hands and look forward to seeing each other again.  Maybe he doesn’t have carnal designs on Janeth.  Maybe he’s just lonely.       
       I call Jan in the evening, listen to her latest complaints.  Linda has done something different to her closet and one of the walls in her apartment is broken.  I get the location of the broken wall pinned down to the bathroom, then to the bathroom shower area. 
“I’ll look at it Wednesday morning.  Have you checked off today’s date?” 
“No, I can’t see the calendar.” 
“If you’d open your draperies, you’d be able to see.” 
“No, if I do that, people can see into my closet.” 
“No, dear, they can’t.” 
“Yes, Barbara, they can.” 
“When I see you on Wednesday, we’ll take a walk outside, and I’ll show you.” 
This will be my last effort to convince my sister she doesn’t need to live in the dark.  Kathie says if that’s what she wants to do, let her.  But she wants to for a ridiculous reason.  And I’m ridiculous to think she will recall my little lesson in perspective for more than five minutes.

       I’m in the kitchen when Jan calls me and presents me with a long list of the usual problems: 
       “I don’t have any picks for my teeth, I can’t floss, it keeps breaking, all my shoes hurt, I never know when I’m going to whittle in my pants, the knee-highs you gave me are too tight under my knees, I come into my apartment and I can tell someone has been here, changing things.  My shoes are all in my closet. They weren’t there before.”
       “Maybe Peter or Tim came in to clean your apartment.  They would think putting your shoes in the closet was a helpful thing to do.”
        Maybe, she says.  “Ánd that John who gave me the cane grabbed me and planted a sloppy kiss right on my mouth.” 
“I don’t like that kind of kiss, either.”  It’s too much like Daddy’s.     
 “Oh!  I just remembered what I’ve been worrying about.  I have a feeling Ray is going to show up without warning.” 
 “I’m so sorry, Jan, I forgot to tell you about Ray.   He called and said he’d taken Pat to the hospital.  He’s going to try to see you next Sunday.”
        “And today is. . . ?” 
“Today is Tuesday, September 18th.  Tomorrow Advantage House is going to be having a party celebrating their tenth anniversary.  I’ll be there, sweetheart.  Have you been crossing out the days on your calendar?” 
“It’s too dark.  I can’t see it.”

       I buy a clutch of plastic hangers especially for Jan’s slacks, so she can locate them more easily.  I tap on her door, find her sitting on the sofa, pondering.   I go to her closet and fold her slacks over the horizontal bars on the hangers.                  
Jan has followed me.  She doesn’t approve of my technique, shows me the meticulous care she takes to hang them just so, with the crease at either end.
       “Nice job.  Now I want to take a look at the broken wall in your shower.” 
She steps over the ledge and points to a finger-tip-sized cut on the hose’s stainless steel base.
 “You’re right, dear, that would be sharp enough to cut anyone who accidentally brushed a finger against it.  What else is broken?”  Jan steps into the stall, points to the faucets.  Under each one is a bit of crumbly stuff, due to wear and tear, I expect.  I don’t know how she even finds such flaws, considering how much she dislikes being bathed. She must go looking for them.
       “Well, I think the shower has a case of old age,” I say. 
       “I don’t like having an apartment with a shower that is damaged and doesn’t work.”
        “Linda showed you last week that the faucets produce water.  Remember she said it just takes a while to warm up?” 
“Linda was here last week?” 
       I address the problem of the too-tight knee-highs. 
      “I tried stretching them with my hands, but they still dig into the skin under my knee.” 
“I think they might stretch if we pull them over something . . . “
I look around, see a control for the clock-radio, carry out my plan, and tell Jan to leave the knee high there for a couple of days.  I stretch the other one over her paperback dictionary. 
“I hope this will work.  I’ll be back at 4:30 for the anniversary party.” 
        I arrive five minutes late and Ruth says my sister has been looking for me.  When we connect, she gives me a deeply reproachful look but not a verbal reprimand.  She’s concerned about the fly that has joined the party.  We go out to the buffet, and she says, “See?  He’s been landing on all the food.” 
“I’m not going to worry about it, those shrimps look delicious.” They are in a bowl made of ice, in which various crustaceans are decoratively embedded.  Small china plates are provided for heaping up treats.  Jan copies my choices except for the asparagus wrapped around a thin slice of ham. 
“This is the first time I’ve had ham in decades,” I say. 
 “Why is that?” 
“For the same reason you avoid it.  It has cholesterol and nitrates.  This tiny bit isn’t going to kill me.”  Janeth says she hopes not.
        My sister looks very dressed up in a dark blue print blouse, beige slacks, a black jacket.  Margie and her mother Ruth join Jan and me at a tall round table designed for stand-up nibbling and chatting.  Margie says her mom didn’t want wine or beer, she wanted a Martini.  A cocktail party should have cocktails, Ruth maintains.  Jan and I have settled for ginger ail.  [Intriguing Freudian slip]
       We go back for seconds.  Our foursome disperses.  Waitresses circulate, offering more goodies.  I ask one of them if there are desserts.  She directs us to a room inside, where we select our choices from the dessert table.
“Are these seats taken?” we ask a couple in the adjoining room—Tony (whom Jan likes, she tells me in an aside, because he is always smiling), and his wife Dottie.  Jan introduces me. 
       “What was your last name again?” Tony asks. 
“Malley,” I say.  “I’m Irish by marriage.” 
“I made the same mistake,” he grins.  “I married this redhead here.” He cocks his head toward Dottie, and she looks at me wryly.  Her husband is either quick-witted or she’s heard the joke a thousand times.
       Glancing at Jan, I see that her mouth is turned down in a look of extreme disapproval.
       “I rectified my mistake thirty years ago,” I volunteer. 
Tony says, “I’m still hanging in there after fifty-one.”  
When I glance again at Janeth, I realize she hasn’t joined our conversation because she can’t hear it.  Her expression in repose is the upside-down image of Tony’s, a permanent Marcel Marceau frown.  I hold Al Zheimer responsible for the malicious altering of my sister’s beautiful face.       
       The Big Cheese of the facility stops by and identifies himself.  He says he knew right off we must be sisters.  Jan says, “You’re complimenting me and insulting my sister.”  I express my disagreement with this analysis, saying we both resemble our mother. 
“I’m complimenting both of you,” says Big Cheese.
       I tell him the story of how Janeth became the lead singer at Southern Artery Apartments. 
       “When the director of the annual show heard her soprano among the other voices in the chorus, she took her by the hand and brought her to the center of the stage.  From then on my sister was the star of every performance.”  Jan says modestly that she didn’t solo very often. 
“I was in the audience, I know better.  She inherited her voice from our mother, the opera singer.  “She didn’t even know she had it until the director discovered her.”
         B. C. says to Jan, “This is a very interesting anecdote.  Is there a chance you’d be willing to share your voice with our other residents?” 
Jan says what she always says.  “No, I don’t look the part anymore.”

       Today I will make a last-ditch endeavor to persuade my sister that she doesn’t need to draw her curtains for privacy.  She is sitting outside with other residents when I park my car and greet everyone with, “Isn’t it lovely out!”  Jan stands up, frowns, and says it’s too hot. 
I sign in, then tell her we’re going to conduct a little experiment today.  She shushes me as we climb the stairs, saying we don’t want everyone to know our business.  When we arrive at #253, I notice that the blouse she wore yesterday is draped over a chair.  “I’ll hang this up for you, dear.” 
       Hmm, I can’t hang it up because the neck is buttoned.  When I attempt to unbutton it, Janeth cries, “It took me forever to get them buttoned!  If you do that, I’ll have to button them all over again.” 
“But Jan, how are you going to get into it if you don’t unbutton these devilish little buttons? I can’t even put it on a hanger if it isn’t unbuttoned.”
I continue working at this task, and she’s right, it’s very difficult to squeeze the buttons through their two tiny loops.  I do have a bridge game waiting in Norwell, and I don’t have forever to unfasten the damn buttons.
       “If I were you, I’d leave this blouse unbuttoned the next time you wear it.”       
       “I can’t do that because the opening is in the back.”  This is true, I note, reading the label. 
“Sweetheart, I don’t know how you ever managed to put this blouse on yesterday for the party.  Especially with the buttons on the back.  It makes my neck ache, just thinking about it.  Linda didn’t realize how hard this would be for you.   We’ll donate it to the free table.”
       Janeth objects passionately.  “If we keep giving all my new clothes to Linda, I won’t have anything left!”
“Okay, I’ll think of something.”  I hang the miserable blouse in the closet, resolving to bring a couple of somethings next time, to stretch the buttonholes.  Colored pencils might do.
       “Now,” I announce, “we’re going to conduct the experiment.”  I pick up the small white stool and the CVS skin lotion next to the door and bring them to the window’s ledge.  I want my sister to be able to see these objects when we go outside. 
       ‘Look,” Jan says from her bedroom.  “Look what I did to this window, so you can see which apartment is mine.”  She has somehow succeeded in hanging a couple of large, colorful papers between the screen and the window.  For a sister who’s losing her memory, she’s amazingly well prepared. 
       I open both sets of curtains, put the stool and the skin lotion back by the door, and we set out.  As we exit the side door on the first floor, Jan says, “Be careful.  Make sure we don’t get locked out.” 
       Getting locked out is one of her many fears.  I turn the handle to show her that the door is unlocked.
       We walk toward the golfing green, and then she puts her hand out to stop me.  See, Barbara?” she says triumphantly, pointing to her bedroom window. 
“Yes, I see, Janeth, but can you see into your closet?  Do you notice how black it is in your apartment and all the other ones?” 
       “If I stood in front of the window in my bra and panties,” she says, “you and everybody else would be able to see me easily enough.”  
So don’t do that, I say.  As we walk back to the side door, I observe that people on the first floor may have an issue with privacy. 
“We can see a figure moving around in that apartment over there, but it isn’t distinct enough to tell whether it’s a man or a woman.” 
Jan says she would never want to live on the first floor. 
       I repeat Kathie’s opinion:  “If you want to live in a darkened room, it’s your choice.  I promise I’ll never bug you about it again.” 

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