Saturday, March 24, 2012

Visit to a Friend

When I arrived she was sitting on her bed in her room, the shades drawn.  "Is it cold outside?" Mado asked, for the fifth time in our first three minutes of conversation.

They eat lunch there at 11:30 but the residents begin assembling in the dining salon well before that.  It is an "event" to look forward to, in a place where not much else happens.  At table, Mado's companion to the left, in a wheelchair, arms hanging limply at her side, stares into the distance.  Her companion to the right, a large woman whose wispy white hair tumbles rebelliously out from its barrettes, sings softly in a high-pitched voice and converses with someone only she can see and hear.  "She is not really with us," Mado leans over to whisper to me.

On the way out I pass the tall elderly gentleman in the wool sweater (which he wears even in 90-degree weather).  He is one of five men in a residence home with about 20 women.  He always sits with his back to the community TV, so he can watch the entrance hall.  Far more interesting to sight an unexpected visitor arriving than join the few others asleep or catatonic in front of the 'tube'.

Once when I was departing I witnessed his visit in the TV room with his daughter and small grandchild.  He seemed bored  and agitated.  His daughter's full attention was on the toddler, trying to prevent him from running places he wasn't supposed to or replacing items he had removed from the shelves. Neither father nor daughter seemed to have much to say to one another. It seemed such a contrast to his usual demeanor but such brief, one-time-only observations never tell the whole story.

At any rate, yesterday the sweater man seemed his old vibrant self, greeting me  with a smile and a high-five fist bump -- his silent equivalent of "Hello".

I usually hook my bike to the pole out front and if he's in the dining salon and spots my bike speeding by, he sends a big wave through its cheery windows, though I'm never sure if he's able to see me waving back or not. 

Mado has forgotten my name (for some reason, she keeps calling me "Pamela").  I think she thinks of me as her daughter - she sometimes refers to her (long ago sold) house as "our" house.  At other times she remembers I'm the neighbor down the street who used to walk her dog (but I don't dare mention "PomPom" for it would bring tears to her eyes).  The tall guy in the sweater calls me "L'Anglaise" ("The English"), because of my accent.  The major topic of our brief exchanges is my bicycle.  I tell him it's broken and in the shop right now getting fixed, so I'm on foot today.  He leans over to look at my feet, straightens back up, grins, and raises his fist in the air - to meet my raised fist in a "See ya next time" gesture, then watches me walk down the hall and out the door.

Comings and goings - of visitors, staff and the delivery people, the main point of interest for some of the residents there.  Mado's room door faces the elevator.  Watching fellow residents shuffle past in their walkers, getting into and out of that tiny ascending or descending cubicle is, for some, what constitutes an "event".  She complains about being bored.  A voracious reader, she also does crossword puzzles and "Find-the-Word" games.  "Is it cold outside?" she asks again, for the umpteenth time.

What I love about Mado and the "high-five" gentleman is their indefatigable sense of humor.  They have such interest in and curiosity about things, that lively spark inside still clamoring to get out . . . and they laugh a lot.   The sign outside this residence says it's for people of "le troisième age" (the third age) (the "oldest old?"). When I am "oldly old" I hope such spark can still be found in me.  The onset of old age, with all its loneliness and maladies and limitations, seems less frightening to me somehow than the  gradual loss of interest, passion for something, and imagination . . . or being deposited somewhere unfamiliar, waiting to die, in complete and unrelenting boredom.