[EDITORS NOTE: The following is a short story based on the author’s 25 years of active Home Care, Skilled Nursing Facility and Hospital Care of elders.]
There’s this song, has a line that goes just like this: All I want is loving you, and music, music, music…
It’s an old song. Georgia liked to shuffle about to it in the Common Room, which was what they call the area next to the Dining Room. Georgia called that one the PeePee Room and the other the Slops Room. So you can guess she wasn’t wild about being at Sunny Meadows. Which, she had pointed out, is really called Darkling Landfill….
The Director had reminded her often that it upset the other residents when she renamed the rooms to suit her fancy. But, she just wouldn’t remember to be quiet.
When she first came to Sunny Meadows Skilled Nursing Facility she wasn’t alone. She was with her husband, who, being very sick all of the time from one heart attack after the other, just died one night. In Georgia’s arms of course. just like they had planned. She went totally crazy at once.
Georgia didn’t sleep more than an hour or so at night since that time. She was afraid to close her eyes. Because she’d dream. She’d dream really horrible stuff about her husband dying. They started sedating her, or she wouldn’t sleep or eat and just was crying all the time… then she would seem to calm down. And got all caustic. Complaining about everything in a wry but definite manner. For example, the Names Business I told you about at the start.
It took me awhile to realize that Georgia was the resident who was always turning on the Oldies CD with that song about love and music and all. I figured there must be a story there, so I casually asked her one evening after she had finished her “nourishing crap” meal, as she had graciously described it. She invited me into her Vixen Den, (her room), that she shared with Mrs. Abadie, referred to by Ms G. as That Old Fox. The ‘Old Fox’ was snoring away, so we had some privacy.
“Well,” Georgia plopped down on her bed. “what do you want to know?”
“Why you play that song about Music, Music and so on, over and over?” I asked.
“Because we liked music, of course,” she said.
“Yes, but, well…you seem happy when you’re dancing about to the music,” I said.
“So? I pretend he’s with me. then I don’t run screaming through the halls naked, you know.”
“Really, what? Haven’t you ever lost some one you were in love with?”
“Yes, but not like the way you acted when he died…”
“That was me under control. Not being crazy. I could show you crazy.”
“I bet you could, Georgia….” I said.
A little silence.
“You done with me now?” Georgia asked.
“Uh, sure. nothing more to it then?”
“No, just pretending to dance with my dead husband.”
“Georgia…” I started to say.
“Go rot,” she ended the conversation.
So, I cheated. I got out their Resident files and read them. Here’s what I found out — and, I’m not trying to be smart here — this was good. It was worth it, on a really, well, sweet level… Sweet is the right word here.
It turns out they hadn’t gotten married until they were in their mid-sixties. They had been friends, or maybe girlfriend and boyfriend in high school. Got married after they were… what? Divorced? Widowed?It didn’t say in the records. They lived in a little rural community just north of here. Hobbies: canoe-ing, fishing, some song groups in the area. He worked in one of the music stores in town, retail, and she worked as a teaching sub for awhile. Then as a night nurse at a small nursing home close to where they lived. nothing special there…
But here’s the sweet part: turns out he wrote music — lots of music — and she wrote stories. They were all about each other. About loving each other — their work had gone on for years and years. They were in their eighties and were still writing about love. Some of their work had been published even. He had a good little business promoting people’s stories over the net. Some trip they had made, early on, down the Mississippi had become a book and it had sold pretty well.
Georgia and her husband had been an ‘Item’! They had been something special… they had had something special….
I decided to let Georgia know that I understood how she felt.
I found her in the kitchen talking with the “Oppressed”. This, naturally, was her name for our Kitchen Staff. She was amusing them with some old-timey story. Gotta hand that to her — she was quite a story teller.
“Can I chat with you some more, Ms G?” I asked.
“Sure. It’s your thousand.” She was always saying that she was worth a thousand dollars, for some reason or another.
“I just want you to know that I do understand now, all about you and your husband and the music,” I started.
“No you don’t.”
“Well, yes, I do. I read over your records, and I can see how you could miss a guy like that. you two had a great life,” I said.
“BS, girl. you couldn’t possibly get it. What we had doesn’t grow on trees. It’s a rare one, what we had. Not impossible, mind you, just rare. So, I’d appreciate if you shut up about it.”
“Georgia, you don’t need to be rude…”
“Yep, I do… then you will go away. If you don’t, I’ll be cryin’ in a heartbeat, and my cryin’ is none of your beeswax.”
“OK, I won’t probe. but, I’m here if you want to talk about him.”
“Well, I don’t. He’s not just a story to keep you from bein’ bored in this hell hole, girl.”
At that, she upped and left the scene behind.
OK, so days went by. She and I were polite, but I had obviously crossed some line that only she could see. I wasn’t sure how to start over again, if at all.
She was getting more shifty, anyway… she and her friends Mrs. Abadai and Betty Borchers were hanging around more in the Vixen Den — I mean, in Georgia’s room, with the door closed, which was actually against the rules. When I casually-as-possibl mentioned this to her, Ms G informed me, without a smile, that rules are for fools. I was getting a bad feeling about all of this. Some conspiracy was in the air. That’s what I thought. But when I warned the Director (Mrs. Hitler, to Georgia…) she said, oh leave the old girls alone. They have nothing better to do. What do you think they could be up to? Anarchy?
Well, yes. That is what I was thinking. And, may I say, that, of course, it turned out that I was right.
I do not think that it was an accident at all that the Vixens (as I was labeling them of late, in my paranoid little mind) made their first move on Halloween. They were the only ones not in costume. Ms G silenced any gentle critics with jokes about advanced old age being as good a costume any one should need, and other quips of that sort. The three of them even marched about in the Costume Parade to compete for best costume… I tried to track the three of them…but, of course, somewhere around the time when the ‘Dance’ began, I lost sight of them. Really lost sight of them.
After checking everywhere probable and a whole lot of impossible places, and checking with everyone who wasn’t totally senile, we all had to admit that, somehow, the three of them were on the lam. they were all ‘ambulatory’ naturally, but none of the three were strong, so it didn’t seem possible that they would make it far. I don’t know how we forgot about the bus line’s running all night. We didn’t catch on until the ticket agent called and questioned if we might know three older ladies without baggage who had tickets to go to “the end of the line”. He thought maybe they were drunk and asked if we could come down and check on their identity before the bus came.
It was truly pathetic to pick up the Vixens in the Home Van (per Ms G: the Gestapo Wagon). They were an unhappy, subdued lot. Even Georgia was unusually quiet. When we got them back to their rooms, she finally spoke.
“Next time, I’m going alone,” Georgia said. “The hell with every body else. Attracts too much attention. And, besides, we all have to pee so often, we’ll never get far together, cuz of all the pit stops.”
I had nothing to say. Somehow, I felt remarkably sad. Really sad.
It was the look in her eyes. Haggard. Searching for something none of us could see.
I could guess at once what it was… she wanted to be with him… not being with him was an agony none of us could imagine at all.
Death itself would not be a relief for Georgia. She was suffering without him, beyond my understanding.
I tried to say something sympathetic. Something comforting. But Georgia would have none of it.
“Don’t worry, girl. I’ll get out of here somehow. None of you can stop me.”
“But, where can you go, Georgia? Don’t you think he’ll be everywhere you go?”
“Don’t be an idiot. Running keeps me busy, girl. If I’m running, it takes my mind off’a…things….”
“Georgia. We can’t let you run away. If your judgement is this bad, we’ll have to take legal steps,” I said.
“You shut up. I’m not listening to you anymore. I’ll do as I please!”
She slammed the door. The hall shook a bit. So did my fears….
For awhile Georgia seemed OK. She didn’t do anything unusual. She danced to her oldie every night like usual. She got pretty thin.
I kept hoping for her that her heart would just go on off and set her free. She was, after all, in her late eighties. she had all her marbles, for all practical purposes. But she had no reason to live, and it showed all the time.
Her kids and grandkids helped a bit. Her friends always came by. She did her best when they were all around. They didn’t seem to notice that she was looking through them to some one on the other side. They just basked in the love she had for them. Loved her back. Didn’t seem to see the sorrow.
Then she made her move again.
I’ve got to say, this one was a real surprise, because, she didn’t exactly cause it….
It was Betty Borchers. Betty smoked in secret some times. As expected, she eventually fell asleep with the cig still smokin’ away, and, of course, her bed caught on fire.
Trying to get out, Betty got all wound up in the sheets and fell to the side of the bed screaming her head off. Well, we all were screaming. Fire makes us all frantic with fear. Some were running out. Others were evacuating the ones who couldn’t get out by themselves. Some were just frozen in place and screaming and crying. The smoke was all it was. The fire itself was small and confined to her room. The sprinklers were already getting into play but we couldn’t get in to Betty because there was too much smoke and panic.
Well, you can probably figure out what Georgia did.
She got on her knees and crawled under the smoke cover into Betty’s room. You could hear both of them hacking and coughing in the fire-lit, wettened smoke of the room. I could sort of see her untwining Betty from the sheets, but none of us had the courage or the stupidity to join her. The firemen were finally arriving anyway, so we figured it was all going to be OK. Figured wrong.
Georgia was having a really hard time draggin Betty out. She had obviously become a dead weight. Maybe she had passed-out.
Horror-struck, we watched them both like slow-motion… the firemen practically threw us out of their way and went plunging into the room with their masks and all. Going in to save them both.
Out they came with Betty, coughing and red-eyed and wild with fear.
Then they found and carried out Georgia.
She was very quiet. Quiet as death. They started CPR, gave her oxygen, started an IV… it was no good.
She had finally found her way out. She was dead.
She didn’t look dead though… she looked at great peace. She almost was smiling. She had gotten what she wanted.
She had gone to him.
That’s what I wanted to think. Maybe she was just dead…
But, she looked like a woman in love.
I think about Georgia a great deal.
I play her song — their song — every few days. I always cry when I hear it.
I’ve never had a love like that… frankly, I’m not at all sure I would ever want one.
I feel that it would be too much to live for. too much to bear. too much to die for.
I don’t know how she did it. How she lived without him. I guess she didn’t. I guess she had been dying long before the fire. Long before….
When her family held the Memorial Service in the chapel, all the Residents and Staff came, because we had all really cared so for her.
Her family was truly devastated. She had loved people so, all of her life. A lot of folks we had never seen showed up. There were at least a hundred people there!
Always the same stories about her. Just love, love, love, love… many partners and several husbands! Lots of love. All her life….
But everyone was very clear. Her last husband had been her truest, deepest love. Their devotion had been a complete thing. A true thing. Like she had said… rare….
I didn’t tell them about how she had suffered. They never seemed to have seen that.
It was better they not know. That they remember her without the deep sorrow I had seen in her eyes.
Only I get to remember that.
I listen… I dance a bit in the quiet of the room…
…all I want is loving you…
Thank you for this piece. I take care of my gma full time, and I try to find blogs and stories to share with her, that are meaningful and well written. This hit the spot, and I appreciate it. Cheers to you and many blessings in your work/
Linda Yoder says
Quite a corker! Lots of young folks in the helping professions and retired folks like me can learn a lot about our pre-conceived notions from this piece.