Noise. Lights. That fist of anguish hits my chest.
“Morning, Esther. Ready to get dressed?”
Her name is Wendy, a nurse at Havencroft Care Home. Home. I want to go home. That fist to the chest again. I have no home other than Havencroft.
I grab my walker and struggle to an upright position, not an easy task for my ninety-year-old body. Agnes, my feisty Italian roommate has left the room already. I hear the clank of breakfast carts. Agnes must be waiting in the general area. She has Alzheimer and sometimes I think that’s a blessing.
As Wendy dresses me, my eyes sweep the room. Above my bed is the small shelf every resident has for displaying belongings. Mine holds some of my favorite books. I was a voracious reader and collector of books. One of the metal book ends is askew and I reach to straighten it. The unsteadiness of my hands knock it off the shelf and a few books tumble onto the bed.
Wendy sighs, and I mumble, “Sorry.” Wendy smiles, and replaces the books and book end.
“If my life were a book,” I murmur.
“My, you’re perky today,” Wendy says, meaning my foggy brain isn’t as bad as some days. “And, would your life story be interesting?” she asks.
I maneuver into the sweater she’s holding as memories vie for attention in my mind. “I’ve buried two husbands and two sons,” I reply, and the tears start. “I was a college professor in a time when women were expected to just get married and have babies.”
“Well, isn’t that interesting,” Wendy says, although she doesn’t sound interested. “Why didn’t you write a book about your life?”
I simply shrug in response. Wendy helps me towards the big room where everyone is seated around tables. That fist to the chest hits again. This isn’t my dining room and family.
I sit at a table as I’m told. Agnes says, “Hi, Esther.” I’m surprised and pleased she remembers my name. She usually doesn’t even recognize her children.
I pick at the food set before me. The word “book” floats around in my mind and I struggle to remember why. In a few minutes, it comes to me, something I’d said this morning – if my life were a book.
How sad that my life-book will end here in Havencroft. Oh, my daughters, Amelia and Ruth, and my grandchildren come to visit. Still, I feel alone, abandoned.
Jumbled memories like the shifting patterns in a kaleidoscope dance through my mind. I have loved and laughed. I have grieved and suffered. Out of ten siblings, I’m the only one left. I’ve survived so many others I’ve known. The anguish of loss assails me anew and I choke on sobs.
We lost Timmy when he was just ten from a congenital heart defect. My other son, Calvin, lived a much longer life. He died in that horrific tragedy, at work in the company he owned when it happened – the attack on the Twin Towers in New York.
Eyes turn in my direction as sobs burst from within me. Wendy pats my shoulder. “Don’t cry, Esther.” Her voice is soothing. “Remember what an interesting life you’ve had. Maybe one of your grandchildren will write a book about you. Think of good times, fun times, and the wonderful days you’ve enjoyed.”
Like a movie on the big screen, a scene plays in my mind. I grasp for it with the giddy joy of a baby reaching for its mommy. I want to hug this memory to me before it eludes me.
We were at the beach – my first husband, Charles, and our four children. I had sent Calvin to fetch Ruthie who had wandered further into the ocean than I was comfortable with. Calvin, typical big brother, shouted, “Get out of the water, Ruthie. I see a shark.”
She snarled and waved her fist at him. In seconds, she let out a blood-curdling scream. Before we could get to her, she made it to shore, wildly flinging her arms, dancing around, and shrieking, “A shark is biting me.”
A tiny crab had latched onto her bottom and wouldn’t let go despite her gyrations. Over the years, this event became a treasured family story.
Remembering makes me laugh until my sides ache. Everyone in Havencroft joins in my laughter. I’m spent from the exertion, but it feels good.
If my life were a book, it’ll end in Havencroft. I choose to laugh.
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