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There is entertainment this afternoon. I punch in the code that unlocks the door and take you to the dining area of the other side of the facility. The tables have been pushed to the walls and the residents sit in their wheelchairs beside them. A man has brought in a portable organ and his wife a violin. They play the old songs, the songs we grew up to in the 1940s and 50s when I wore a flared skirt and bobby socks and you had a crew cut. You sway to the music. It is as if you recognize the tunes.
The music ends and we hold hands. We talk, remembering the first time we danced as sweethearts. For me it is one of the hundreds of memories I have of our life together. For you it is one of the few memories you have left.
When the entertainment is over, I push the button that unlocks the door from this side. We step back into the locked section, your home now that I can’t look after you anymore. We walk along the hallway in the midst of your fellow residents. Most are about our age, some, unfortunately, are younger. Everyone is mobile but in varying degrees. A man, who is only in his sixties, spends his days hurrying up and down as if late for something. A woman shuffles, holding onto the rail. Another man stands with his coat on. He is adamant when he tells the nursing aides that he has to go home.
As we stroll, you say. “I come from a family of eleven children and none of us robbed a bank.” You are full of surprise sayings like that. Many times you state. “I want to go home to the farm to see my mother.” Once, you said. “If I climb onto the roof, I can look down on the valley and the farm.”
I ask if you have to go to the bathroom. You are incontinent but sometimes you will go on the toilet if asked. You say yes. I lead you to the room you share with another man. A woman is making and remaking your bed. Every day she is busy doing something like washing the tables or fixing the beds, or cleaning the sink and counter. I guess in her mind she is doing the housework as she has done for years.
I take you into the bathroom and undo your pants. I remove the diaper, which is soaked and sit you down on the toilet. While you stay there, I unlock your closet beside the bed and remove a plastic bag for the diaper. The staff does not refer to them as such. They call them briefs or incontinent products. But it doesn’t matter how they try to disguise the name, they are still diapers, just like the ones put on babies.
There is a foul odour when we go into the hallway. One woman is standing against the wall. Her pink pants are wet and have brown streaks on them. A nursing aide approaches her.
“Come. We have to change you.”
“I don’t need changing.”
“Yes, you are dirty.” The nursing aide puts her hand on the woman’s arm.
“Leave me alone!” She pushes her away. “I’m not dirty!”
Another staff member comes to help. They each take one of woman’s arms. She yells at them as they pull her towards the shower room.
“Stop it you damned bitches!” She twists her arms and kicks out at them. “Leave me alone! I’ll kill you!”
One of them looks at us. “It’s not her,” she explains to me. “It’s the disease.”
She fights and kicks all the way to the shower room and I still hear her yelling behind the door. Later, when she comes out washed and changed, she sits in a chair in your dining room and ignores everyone.
It is suppertime. The food services people push the cart with the hot food on it through the opened door. I stay to help. The nursing aides have a hard time keeping everyone seated while waiting for their food. Some, if not served immediately, get up and wander away. I help pass out the bowls of soup and get one for you. With a little prompting you can feed yourself.
The residents with teeth get a regular plate of food, the ones without get pureed food. Most of them can feed themselves, but some use their fingers instead of cutlery to scoop up the meat and mashed potatoes and gravy. One woman refuses to eat. She hasn’t eaten much in days. It is as if she doesn’t know what she is supposed to do with the food anymore. She won’t let anyone feed her and gets mad when they try. She has lost a lot of weight.
Back at your room I get you ready for the night. I wash you and put on your pajamas. I remake your bed. When I kiss you goodnight, you say.
“Don’t ever come to a place like this. It’s not pleasant to be here.”
I have no answer to that. I leave
We have both lost our lives. Your life has narrowed to your room and the hall. Mine is coming to visit you.
You began roaming the house at night. You were so restless, walking from room to room. I got scared when you started to go out into the yard during the day. I watched you as much as I could while doing my housework. Then you wandered away from home. The first couple of times I managed to find you on my own. I told the children and they installed a lock high up on the door where you couldn’t see it.
You would get so mad when you were unable to open that door. You’d pound on it and kick at it. I would try to get you to play cards with me or watch the television but you couldn’t be distracted. Finally, I just had to let you be. One afternoon, somehow, you got out. I couldn’t find you and phoned the police. They asked all the bus drivers and taxi drivers to watch for you. A taxi driver found you late at night on the other side of the city. He took you to the nearest police station. They brought you home and you didn’t remember where you had been or how you got there.
The children and I took you to the doctor the next day. After many tests, he said those two words that we all had been denying: Alzheimer’s Disease.
I find you sitting at a table rubbing your hands over the surface and saying. “Tomorrow is another day. Tomorrow is another day.”
“What are you doing?” I ask.
“What are you doing? What are you doing?” You begin repeating.
You have done this before. Once, when the episode was over, I asked you if, at the time, you knew you were doing it. You said yes. I asked you if you could stop it. You said no.
A fellow resident walks by saying. “Where are my clothes? I need my clothes.”
You say. “I need my clothes. I need my clothes.”
Your eyes are begging me, asking me for help. The look of fear and confusion in them makes me cry. I take you in my arms and hold you.
One day, while you were still at home, you tried to make me promise to help you commit suicide before the disease robbed you of most of your mind. I was a coward then. I love you and I couldn’t promise.
I am so sorry now.
The Only Shadow In The House