Forget Me Not
March 8, 2014
Yesterday afternoon when I came to visit Alice, I found her sound asleep in her La-Z-Boy.
The heat in the room felt absolutely tropical. The blinds were closed, but sunlight came shining through anyway, so bright it made stars dance beneath my eyelids when I sat down on the sofa and shut my eyes.
It was too hot. I sat up, took off a layer of clothes, and glanced over at Alice. She looked completely at peace, and I didn’t want to disturb her. I settled in, counted my breaths. I may have dozed, I’m not sure.
Ten minutes later there was a sound like a boot kicking against a door. I opened my eyes. The La-Z-Boy, Alice’s hand still on the brake, squealed upright and into sitting position.
I greeted her and she looked over at the door, so I leaned forward. She turned toward the sofa and smiled. “It’s you!”
Ever since I’ve known her, which is quite a long time now, Alice flies instantly into action after either a little or a big sleep. In the old days she would have immediately stood up and gone to work on some household project. Now, since she doesn’t move around as much, it’s mostly her mind that takes off. She wanted to talk about her lunch.
After describing the meal, “a good ham sandwich, coffee, cake,” fashion was the topic. The Gown Lady’s name came up. The Gown Lady is also known as The Robe Lady, but ever since the fake Hugh Hefner article Alice has been calling her The Brocade Lady in honor of Hugh’s famous red and black dressing gown, I guess. In any case, this woman had worn a strange black and white outfit to the dining room. “It’s a wild print,” Alice said. She raised her arms and held her hands at least a foot away from her shoulders.”With sleeves puffed way out.”
“That far?” I asked doubtfully.
“I’m not exaggerating!” she insisted.
She gestured over the area from her neck to just below her knees. “And the rest…crazy! And it was too short for an old lady.”
I pictured something like this:
The poor Gown Lady, who wears everything from jogging suits to long flowing dresses to wild prints, cannot do anything right, dress-wise, in Alice’s opinion.
“But she’s a very nice person,” Alice said. “She always says hello. Still, I wonder if she’s okay. How can someone who dresses in such goofy clothes be all right?”
Alice grew more serious because her question reminded her of something that had happened the night before. She had been sitting in her chair watching television, she said, when a figure appeared at the door. It was a woman, that much she could see, and she was holding a coat over one arm.
“She came walking toward me,” Alice said, “and right away I knew she was confused about where she was because of the way she walked, and somehow I figured out it was the new lady who moved in next door.”
The previous next-door tenant, Blythe, had lived next to Alice for two years. She died several months ago. She and Alice had never been friends. Blythe had been a follower of a man who believed spaceships were coming to take select people away from the planet during Armageddon. She’d once invited me into her apartment, which was filled with stacks of print-outs from this guy’s website. The Armageddon man wanted money, of course. He had a friend in Blythe, though she told me her son was now in charge of writing her checks to Mr. —. I hoped the son never actually sent them.
“What is this new woman’s name?” I asked Alice.
“I believe it’s Maisie,” Alice said. “Once she got over here closer to me, she knew she was in the wrong place. I could see she was embarrassed, so I said, ‘Did you come over for a visit? Please sit down.’”
“That was a good idea,” I said.
“So she sat down and I asked her how she liked living here and a few other questions, but she didn’t talk. She only smiled. So I talked a little about how long I’d been here and things like that, and then I said, ‘It was awfully nice of you to come over and see me.’ And she got up and left.”
“That makes me feel sad for her,” I said. “Does it make you sad, too?”
Alice nodded. “I don’t want to get like that,” she said. “I forget things, but I have to think how lucky I am.”
I made a mental note to check to see if the staff knows exactly what is going on with Maisie. Sometimes the administration is careless in their hurry to fill apartments, and they’ve been known to ignore the needs of residents as those needs change.
Mr. Fickle, for example, grows more and more confused. At meal times he sometimes gets up and wanders off, only to come back after the meal has been served and sit at his place waiting patiently to get something to eat.
On the coldest days this past winter, if Alice saw him in his coat she’d go to him, put a hand on his arm, and ask him to please not go outside. He’d nod and go sit down, still wearing his coat. Not long ago she made an appointment with the Director to talk about the change in him lately, and sure enough no one had been watching to make sure he didn’t go outside when the temperature had dropped into the frigid zone. But now, the Director assured her, they would.
I thought about how shy Alice was when she first moved to The Place, adamant that she didn’t want to even leave her room for meals, and now she’s calling meetings with the Director, waving at thirty to forty people a day in the dining room, and managing the care of other residents. She even mentioned recently that she might write another article for the newsletter.
She does forget things, but they always come back to her quickly. I reminded her of this.
“Not always,” she said. “I was trying to think of that ancestor of your father’s because of Women’s Day,” she said. “And all I could think was Helen Gurley Brown.” We started to laugh because, even though she couldn’t remember the name, she knew she was far off the mark.
“Then,” she said, “I thought of the girl who threw her hat up in the air.”
Marlo Thomas led her down the two-name path and soon she found herself thinking about Carrie Nation and Clara Barton. “But those were wrong, too,” she said. “Who is it?”
I moved over to the desk chair so I could sit closer to her. That way she could see my face better and read my lips.
“Hillary Rodham Clinton,” I said.
She slapped my knee. “No! I didn’t think of her, but I should have.”
“Susan B. Anthony.”
“Oh yes! Yes! Susan B. Anthony. Now why couldn’t I think of that?”
I told her that two friends came by this week and during our conversation we’d discussed House of Cards, but then five minutes later, after talking about something else, we circled back to the program and not one of us could remember its title for an alarming few seconds.
“I don’t feel so bad then,” she said.
It was time for her to get ready for another trip down the hall she calls the runway and make her way to her table in the dining room. She grabbed her walker and headed to the bathroom to primp a little first. As she walked away, she called over her shoulder, “I wonder what The Brocade Lady will be wearing tonight.”
I knew that whatever it was, Alice would not forget to tell me.
Thank you to Ronni Bennett at Time Goes By for this video about another 98 year-old. I think Alice would approve of both this woman’s style and her heart.