Wednesday, August 9, 2017


       Today is a blur of activities.  I have an 8:45 appt to have a molar yanked and am so afraid of being late that I’m half an hour early. The office isn’t open yet.   I sit on a low ledge in front of a window at the end of the hall and hope I will be able to get up again.   At 8:50, I am ushered by smiling Helga to the room where the surgeon will extract the molar. She seems as tickled to see me as if I were about to be pronounced Poet Laureate of the South Shore, and she was the mistress of ceremonies.
        Dr. Garland stretches my cheek from chair to wall, while I hope my applications of cocoa butter will keep me from looking like Dizzy Gillespie without his trumpet.  My epitaph should read Vain to the End. 
Chomping on a folded bandage, I head for a conference at the Quincy branch of the Bridgewater Credit Union to close two of Jan’s maturing CDs.  I tried to do this over the phone, but the woman said I needed to be there in person.  There were dozens of forms to be signed; I was promised checks would be sent to my sister in due course. 
       Next stop, Southern Artery Apartments to meet Ray. Our biggest accomplishment: the emptying of the last drawer of the great long bureau in the living room, and of a smaller set of drawers in its mate, then placing the word DONATE on top of each. Not as fast as Myrtle, Mom’s four-footed, slow-witted turtle, but we are making progress and will someday reach the other side of the road.         
        Ray tells me that years ago he and Jan rented a U-Haul to move her into her newly leased Fort Lauderdale apartment.  Shaking his head over the memory, he says she had almost as much stuff then as she has today.
Sheets and pillowcases go into Ray’s cart, along with jars of applesauce and a box of cereal and other supplies he figures Jan will want.  I call her to ask if he should bring the set of towels that have been hanging untouched on a rod in the bathroom.  She says, “I have a set of towels?”  I assure her she does, and very nice ones they are.  She will need them when she moves out of the respite apartment.  Well, she guesses she could find room for them in her bureau.
When Ray and I are ready to leave, he maneuvers the heavily loaded cart with difficulty through the crowded, narrow hallway, while I take charge of a box full of miscellaneous items, such as the towels, a stack of stationery, mismatched greeting cards and envelopes, and six pairs of scissors.  Jan was dissatisfied with the ones Ray and I gave her. 
Ray is gasping for air by the time we reach the elevator, and I am puffing in short bursts as if I were about to produce a baby.  We can’t help but notice each other’s labored breathing.  Ray says old age is not for sissies 
When we reach the ground floor, I no longer have the strength to hold the box, so I push it along with my foot.  It is then that I officially meet the infamous "snoop" Gary, who is washing the entry doors as Ray and I are exiting.  He offers to carry the box outside.  He puts it on the sidewalk next to Ray’s car.  I thank him, introduce myself, and we shake hands.  I still have all my fingers when we part. 
“Those things in the box,” I call to Ray.  “If Jan gets . . . gets like she gets when she sees them, tell her she doesn’t need to keep them.”  Ray leaves to see Jan, while I head for my dermatologist’s office in Brockton.  It is only 1:30, but it feels as if I have been out and about for a week.  Dr. Anne, knowing I was concerned enough to call about the all the bleeding and the scabs created by the Corac cream, breezes in, caroling, “Oh good job! That looks just fine!”
This isn’t what my friends are saying, but I trust her.  The day will come when I no longer look like a refugee from a leper colony.  This reminds me of how my mother used to exclaim that Janeth wasn’t a leper when I balked at having her join my teenage friends and me. 
 April 1938
       I’m ready to admit that mother may have been right in all former disputes about Janeth, but in the present case I know I’m right.  Mother is disgusted with me because I don’t like to have Janeth in the ping pong house when my friends come over.  Last night Lenny, Charlie, and Taffy were here, and when Janeth came out and started to watch, I went in the house to protest to mother -- but in vain, of course.
      “Janeth’s not a leper!” cried mother for the umpteenth time.  “What harm does it do to have her watch?” 
     To myself I was thinking I’d welcome ten lepers in her place, but aloud I complained that none of my friends had to include younger sisters in their activities.  She wouldn’t listen to my side of things and accused me of having a grudge against Janeth.  I could see it was useless to argue, so I returned to the ping pong house, defeated.  Janeth was playing with Charlie while Taffy and Lenny did the watching.  And there was nothing I could do about it.  From then on, Janeth claimed the center of attention, screaming at the top of her lungs, having mock fights with Charlie, and otherwise showing off.
When I get home I call the sister I have learned to love.  She tells me she is still having a terrible time with too many evacuations, as she calls them. 
“Kathie says rice is the answer.  Rice instead of potato or vegetables, twice a day if possible.  And let up on the desserts.”
“You’re picturing the rice as fluffy and white,” my sister says.  “It will be wet, not fluffy.”   We go back and forth in this vein for a while, with me denying I was picturing anything, and Jan insisting this was what I was expecting. 
“I think the kitchen will do its best to provide edible rice.”
Janeth tells me about the difficulty she has with the waitress, who spreads butter on her toast no matter how many times Jan asks her not to.  “I say to her, will you just bring me what I ordered?”  This comes out in such a petulant whine that I remind her she doesn’t want to make enemies, and if she uses that tone with the waitress, she will not be making a friend.  The whine turns into a shriek of frustration, and I hasten to revise my words. 
“I’m sure you must have asked her pleasantly to remember what you want.  It’s because you’re upset that your voice is affected now.”
 We manage to say hugga hugga at the end of our conversation, but our hearts aren’t in it.

 I wake at six, go back to bed and sleep soundly until nine.  This happens so rarely that I am grateful and glad it’s a Saturday.  I don’t have to hurry to do anything except make a dish of creamy oatmeal to placate the hole where my molar was.
Carla Thomson calls to say she has an apartment my sister could move into in a week, but when she showed it to her, Janeth thought she didn’t want to be so far away from the elevator.  It might be a while before another apt becomes available. 
“And meanwhile,” I observe. “Jan is paying quite a bit more for the respite arrangement.”      
‘Yes, it’s two or three hundred more, depending on what you’re comparing it to.” 
I return books to the library and select three more, hoping one of them will take me off to some exotic land for a change of scene. 
My watch says we are nearing the time Jan will be finishing her lunch, so I head for Advantage House.  I find her in the dining room.  She spreads her arms wide and points her head toward her plate in a Voila! gesture. There sits a mound of fluffy white rice and a chicken sandwich with no butter on the toast.  I continue to be way too grownup to say I told you so.
Janeth introduces me to her table mates, Ruth and Patricia.  I also meet Jillian, the waitress, and tell her how happy I am that my sister is being served the rice she needs so much.  She says a large quantity has been prepared, so that it will always be available.  
I turn to Ruth and ask her where she lived before she came to Advantage House.    
“Cohasset,” she says. 
“I lived on Atlantic Avenue for 22 years."  
“What number?"  I tell her 143, and she says her daughter lives at 177.
“What’s her name?” 
“Margie Wollam.”  
Ruth and I have an animated conversation about her daughter, who is one of my favorite friends in the duplicate-bridge world or any other world. 
Jan is the last of the early diners, so she picks up her plate and fork and the napkin and carries them toward the kitchen where I hear Nell say she doesn’t need to do that.  Jan tells me the people in the later group have a fit, not only if Goldilocks is sitting there, but also if any evidence lingers, such as a used place setting.
We go up to her apartment, where the acrid stink left by the former chain-smoking resident greets our noses.  I am shocked to find it as dark as a cave, with the draperies drawn. 
"Does the light bother your eyes, dear?" I ask, privately bemoaning this sign that she has brought her paranoia along with her, as Linda anticipated. 
"No," she says, "there was a man working outside the window on a ladder." 
Surely she doesn't expect me to believe that.  Surely the management would notify residents if there were going to be men outside their windows.
I confront her, again doing what you're not supposed to.  "Jan, you know what vivid dreams you have . . . are you sure you didn't dream that a man was on the ladder?' 
She says vehemently that it was no dream, a man had been on a ladder outside her window.  I change the subject to the apartment Janeth doesn’t want to move to.  She says she has reconsidered.
 “Carla says I have a week to decide, but I’ve decided already.”
 We go through the Christmas cards that don’t have matching envelopes.  She wants me to get rid of them.  I show her some letters I found yesterday, when I was sorting through hundreds of them and categorizing them.  One is from a friend who speaks of Janeth as the kindest person she has ever known.
“Oh yes, she had a husband who beat her up.  I was afraid to write to her for fear he’d punch her.”
 “It’s such a nice letter, shall I save it in my Janeth File?”  Okay, she says.  Then there is a loving letter from Linda, full of examples of things her mother did to make her life happy.  Yes, she nods, save that one, too.
My sister wants me to take the Good Friends cereal Ray brought her from her former cupboard.  “Fifty-percent of your daily roughage needs!” she reads.  “The last thing I need is roughage.”
We hug goodbye.
 I stop at the front desk and ask Joan if there have recently been any workmen on ladders.  I am floored by her answer.        
"There very well might have been.  They’re replacing the old windowsills.  Here, ask Paul."
She points to a chap who is coming through the lobby.  He says yes, they’re tearing out the exterior sills.  I collapse in the nearest chair, call my sister and apologize excessively, while she keeps saying, "That's all right."
I regard this coincidence as the most ironic one that could have been conjured up by fiendish supernatural forces.  Quit playing games with me, you spooky spirits.
Today we have a conversation about the mesh shoes I gave Jan a few weeks ago.  They are the only pair she can wear comfortably, but they are dirty.
“They are machine washable, Jan.  The next time the aide comes for your laundry, give them to her.”
        "They'll get dyed by other things in the wash."
         “Have them done with your white sheets.”
         “The sheets are blue,” she says.  Oh that’s right, I remember.  She is still using the linens provided for her respite apartment.
       “I’m sure they are colorfast, but if you’re worried, just put them in the sink with some soapsuds.”  
       “They’ll never be dry by morning.” 
       “Use your towels to absorb and squeeze out as much moisture as possible.  They’ll dry overnight.”
        Janeth calls the next morning to inform me her shoes are sopping wet.  “How will I go down to breakfast?”      
       "I’ll call the desk and see if someone will come up and put them in the dryer for a few minutes.”   
     The receptionist says she’ll send someone.  Ah, that was easier than I expected.
      When I call an hour later to ask how everything worked out, Janeth says indignantly that no one came.
       “I had to go downstairs in the red shoes that pinch my toes.  Meanwhile, the sopping-wet shoes are sitting here getting mildewed.”  
      I tell her I’ll bring a pair of white leather sneakers.  “They’re a size 9, so you should be able to get into them easily” 
       “If I ever put on a size 9, they’d be so big I’d fall on my face and smash my teeth.” 
        I respond that I’ll look for comfortable shoes in a size 8 next Tuesday when I return the petite  blouses that were too big for her.
       “One of them had sleeves that were so big they’d fit an elephant.” 

       The phone rings.  Jan is on the verge of hysteria, shrieking in my ear.
      “I’ve wounded myself!  I was cutting my toenails and I clipped the flesh and I’m hemorrhaging!  I will need to go to a hospital!  An ambulance will have to be called!  I could bleed to death!” 
       “Have you been using a towel and pressing hard?”  The answer comes in a screech of terror.  “YES, BUT THE BLEEDING WON’T STOP!  LAST TIME THIS HAPPENED I HAD ICE, REMEMBER?  THERE’S NO ICE IN THIS TINY REFRIGERATOR!”      
       Then she gasps, “Wait, someone is here to give me my medications.”     
       When I call half an hour later, Janeth is calmer. 
       “You should have seen the aide filling a bowl with water and putting it in the refrigerator as if it would freeze fast enough to do any good.  I’ve been pressing and pressing, and the bleeding has stopped, but what will happen when I get into bed?  The cut could open up again and I’ll wake up covered with bloody sheets!” 
       “Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.”
        I spend most of the next morning either on phone calls with Jan about shoes she can’t wear due to her injury or on phone calls on her behalf, like The Ride, The Welch Home Care Services (for an aide
to go with her to the doctor's tomorrow), to the doctor's nurse, returning a call left on my machine yesterday, to her friend Ray to ask if he can drive her to a doctor's appointment next Tuesday.  
      When I called this morning to remind Janeth about her appt at the beauty parlor, she said she didn't have long to talk because she was having a haircut at ten.  I said no, the haircut is this afternoon at three.  We had gone over and over this when I got home from bridge yesterday, but by today the memory was gone.  She wailed that she was going crazy, she was losing her mind.  It almost seems as if she might be happier when it's totally lost.  All the amenities at Advantage House can't fix her.  I feel helpless and worn out.   
     Janeth calls at 9:00 to ask if today is Friday the 30th.  No, it’s Friday the twenty-ninth. 
     “Is tomorrow the day I’m going to the doctor?” 
     “No, dear. it’s today, and you should be getting ready.  The Ride will be picking you up and a woman named Kay will be going with you."
      My sister says this is all too much to remember. 
      “Celia came in and put a Band-aid on my toe.  But what a mess it would be if I stepped in a puddle!”  I repeat my mantra:  let’s hope that doesn’t happen.
       Jan says she’s going to wear her gray raincoat in case it rains.  Should she wait in her apartment for the woman? 
       “No, go down and wait for The Ride in the lobby.  Kay will be waiting with you.  I’ll be picking you up at the hospital after your appointment. “
       Everything goes as scheduled.  Janeth doesn’t step in a puddle, she liked her companion, her doctor got a sample smear to be tested, and we met in the Quincy Medical Center’s lobby, as arranged.  Driving toward Hingham, I passed her former residence in Quincy. 
       “Where are we going?” Jan asks.  I said I was heading for Route 3A and Advantage House.   
       ”Oh! I wondered why you didn’t stop.  I’d forgotten I’d moved.”
       Jan asks where the doctor’s appintment is on Tuesday. 
       “It’s on Southern Artery, the same place Ray took you to a while ago.  I’ve arranged for The Ride to do the round trip and for someone to go with you."
       “How would the driver know when to come and get me?” 
       “l talked to the doctor’s secretary, and she said the driver would return in an hour. So it’s all set."       
       “But I don’t know what I’ll wear!  I’ve been wearing the same uniform for two days now!  I need some new clothes!”
       “Linda bought you lots of new clothes from Kohl’s.  You paid sixty-nine dollars for them."
      “But all my tops are losing their buttons.  You know that tan blouse you like?  The middle button fell off.  It’s gone.” 
       “I’ll fix it”
     “But I don’t have it, Bar-ba-ra!”   
       “I have hundreds of buttons in my sewing box, I’m sure I can find one that’s a close enough 
match.  I’ll sew it on Monday morning when I bring the check for your CD at that Bridgewater bank. 
You can write payable to Janeth Black on the back, and I’ll deposit it in your checking account.” 
      This is much too much information.  I can almost hear her mental gears grinding to a halt.  I fill the silence by telling her I talked to Carla.  “I told her you had changed your mind about wanting an apartment nearer to the elevator.  You can move into it next Wednesday."
        “And what am I going to use for furniture?” 
        “You can buy the furniture in the new apartment."       
From: Linda
Last night's phone conversation from Mom involved falling off buttons, seams coming apart and too hot clothing.  She says she stays up all night trying to get things done. 
"What things, mom?"
“Trying to sew these buttons! There's too much sewing."  I assured her that I can take care of the sewing during the next visit. . . not good enough, she has nothing but the same outfit to wear to the doctor's or she’ll have to go nude.
I am so sorry that you are on the receiving end of the "crisis" phone calls.  Mom doesn't utilize me that way.  I would love to take her shopping if it were at all manageable, though she resists parting with cash when it's to spend on herself.  Aunt Barb, please take it easy on yourself.  I'll be there next weekend and will do whatever is possible in the time allotted. 
To: Linda
I was hearing all the same things you were except Jan didn't tell me she was doing any sewing.  I think I convinced her today that she has at least four wearable outfits.  The size 6’s you selected were just right.

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