Mary spit on me in October, 1998. She was my mother’s roommate. Like the leaves falling from the trees outside her nursing home window, mom was withering. A vicious animal, cancer, had mom in its jaws, shaking her violently, toying with her before slinging her aside with a victorious snarl.
I had no love lost on Mary. Every day, hour after hour, minute after minute, Mary would sit, bent over, in her wheelchair. Her wheelchair had a tray built into it so that Mary could, I suppose, keep from putting her head in her own lap. Every day, in fact, every minute, she would take a corner of her gingham housecoat, spit on it and wipe off the tray. Over and over, day after day, always muttering something as she worked. I thought to myself, “Surely, this must be Hell.” My Hell was watching mom die. I didn’t want to have to watch Mary’s Hell, too.
I hated that Mary was mom’s roommate. I wanted better for mom. I thought Mary was beneath her. Although mom seemed too far gone mentally, I wasn’t. There was so little that I could do for mom anymore, but this I could do. I marched straight into the office that October day for a one person rage fest.
“Hi. I’m the daughter of Myrtle Martin in room 207 and I’m here to say that I want my mother moved out of that room IMMEDIATELY!”
“May I ask why?” the secretary asked, her eyes straining to read some figures on her computer.
“She’s depressing. My mom doesn’t need that. Also, when I leaned over to try to speak to her on her level, she spit on me.”
“So soon? Well, you should feel privileged.”
“Long ago, Mary was a nurse who worked in this very nursing home. After she retired, she kept coming in as a volunteer. Then, nine years ago she suffered a stroke. She’s been here ever since. In her mind, she’s disinfecting the place. She spit on you because she wanted to keep you from getting germs. She’s obviously quite fond of you. She really is a dear little lady.”
“Well, in an alternate universe, that might make sense. Spitting to avoid germs. Sure. However, I’m not putting up with this for my mother. I want her moved by tomorrow or I’ll take her somewhere else,” I said as I turned on my heels and walked out, head held high. It’s hard to watch your mom leave you, piece by piece. I was so angry at God that I wanted to take a baseball bat and play some midnight baseball with all of my neighbors’ pumpkins.
As I walked back toward room 207 I practiced my words of reassurance to my mother. As her protector, I would promise her that she wouldn’t have to deal with this woman again. We might not have power over the cancer, but Mary was a cinch.
As I turned into the doorway, I saw them, together. My mom sat right where I left her, in the corner. Mary, however, had somehow managed to scoot her wheelchair in the small space between the bed and the chair. Because she had her back turned to me, I couldn’t see what she was doing. Silently I crept in, walking up closely behind Mary, planning to get more evidence. When I got up close, I peered over her shoulder and saw Mary’s hand had, momentarily, freed itself its gingham housecoat prison and was now resting on the back of mom’s hand. She was, in her feeble way, patting mom’s hand. Something urged me on as I strained to listen in to her mumbling.
“De ta ta ta. De ta ta ta.,” she cooed softly and reassuringly. My mother looked up at me for an instant and I saw a tear run down her cheek. Her mind had pulled out of its fog, coaxed out by the devotion and service of a tiny, pretzel bent lady.
“Oh, honey,” mom said, sighing, looking at me directly. My throat ached with words I could not form. Salty tears ran down my face and onto my lips. Jesus had entered the room. I knew it and I knew mom knew it. There were no words that could express it, then, or now.
I humbly walked back into the office. “I’d like to withdraw my request,” I managed to squeak out.
“Good decision,” the secretary said quietly with a knowing smile.
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