It is long
at the scruff
of my neck;
once easier to
The lavender latex ball hovered just above her. That’s when I noticed the three tied to a walker beside her – red, green, blue – and I remembered the early morning announcement.
“You are the birthday girl?” I asked.
She smiled and nodded and pointed to a chair beside her.
“Happy Birthday!” I said, sitting down. I’m never sure just how safe it is, or with how much gusto, to say Happy Birthday here; never sure that another year passed is something these Long-term Care Facility Residents choose to celebrate, or if it is, like so much else in their lives, just another day to get through, another memory to forget.
“Thank you!” she beamed, genuinely pleased. Grateful, I pulled my chair up close to hear her above Jimmy Buffet threatening to crumble the walls of the little dining room. She said nothing, just kept smiling, then reached out to lift my hair from my neck.
“You’re hot,” she said, gently running her fingers through the damp curls.
“Yes, ma’am,” I nodded. “Even Balloon Volleyball is a workout anymore.”
She laughed, a soft chuckle to match the airy brush of her fingers in my hair. I thought how I would like to spend the rest of the day just sitting beside her, neither of us speaking, as she continued to pet me until her strength gave out.
Instead, I said, “May I ask which birthday this is,” immediately aware of how stupid and cliché it was to ask permission for something I had already done.
She stopped petting, but continued to smile, and I believed I saw her shoulders straighten a bit as she said, “Ninety”.
I was amazed. Her face bore only the tiniest lines around her mouth, none at all around her eyes, and her tightly coiffed mass of steel-grey hair was thick and shiny.
“You don’t look it,” I said. “I mean it. You don’t look it at all.”
“Thank you,” she said, in a voice that told me she was well aware of that fact already. She lay her hand atop mine with a pat, the fingertips moist from my hair.
Thin and twisted, the joints swollen, her hand was beautiful – smooth and spot-free as her face, with naturally long, rounded nails, flawlessly painted in what could have been fresh blood.
“Your hands are beautiful,” I told her.
She looked at me quizzically for a moment. The she looked at her hands. Palm up, palm down, as though she was being reintroduced to a forgotten friend. And I knew she found this compliment harder to believe.
“Rheumatoid arthritis,” she said finally, rubbing the out-sized joints, then crumpling her hands into her lap. “Since I was young.”
To repeat the compliment might have sounded insincere, so I said nothing. Neither did she. The very old, like the very young, are more comfortable with silence than with talk for the sake of sound.
After one verse of Margaritaville, she leaned close and told me of the birthday presents she had received (“so far”), of the visit she expected from her Pastor this evening, of singing on the radio with her Sunday school class when she was “oh, about 10 or so”.
“I loved my Sunday School teacher,” she said, lingering on the verb as though to distinguish the love she had given this long ago woman from all the other love she had given in her ninety years. “I loved her so much. She was so much fun! Always something fun and silly for us kids to do – like singin’ on that radio show – Imagine! – trotting a bunch of little kids up to the radio station and tellin’ ’em to let us sing!”
in the paramnesia
i see her;
beneath a corn
i see her
i am aware
that i am
that she is
that he is
that you are
and that all of us,
(again and always)
©s rogers 26 april 2012