Ruth Z. Deming, winner of a Leeway Grant for Women Artists, has had her work published in lit mags including Hektoen International, Creative Nonfiction, Haggard and Halloo, and Literary Yard. A psychotherapist and mental health advocate, she runs New Directions Support Group for people with depression, bipolar disorder, and their loved ones. Viewwww.newdirectionssupport.org. She runs a weekly writers' group in the comfy home of one of our talented writers. She lives in Willow Grove, a suburb of Philadelphia. Her blog is www.ruthzdeming.blogspot.com.
THE FINAL RESTING PLACE
This is the place where I’m supposed to live for the rest of my life? I won’t have it. I’ll think of something. I’ll trick them. How, I do not know. I hate it. I hate it every single day I’ve lived here. The Presbyterian Village. And, no, don’t tell me I’ll get used to it. You have no idea how I feel.
You’re a prisoner here. They spy on you. They make sure I take my heart medicine. Knock on my door every morning to make sure I’m alive.
If you asked me which I miss more, my old house or my late husband, Izzy, I wouldn’t even have to think. Izzy made a nice living as a podiatrist, but a proper marriage we did not have. His office was attached to our beautiful stone house in Abington. I’d look out the upstairs window and see all the cars parked in the circular drive. I could even hear him chatting up all his patients, laughing with them and telling them it wouldn’t hurt a bit as he sliced their corns off with a drill I could hear upstairs in my art studio. A sign in the waiting room read “Proud Supporter of the American Diabetes Association.”
And then I’d hear his footsteps, encased in the comfortable shoes he espoused for his patients, fairly trotting up the stairs, a man of endless energy.
I’d always have his lunch waiting for him on the kitchen table. On Fridays, I’d make my special chopped liver, from a recipe of my mother’s, with schmaltz and red wine.
I’d watch Izzy swoon over it, looking up at me and smiling. But did he talk to me? Lunchtime and dinnertime this man read newspapers at the table.
We led separate lives. My home was an extension of me. He gave me free reign to do as I pleased. The kitchen was a brilliant sparkling white I painted myself. Wore a cap on my head so I wouldn’t spatter my own black curls with white polka-dots. Where did I buy my good China? Aschenbach from Bavaria. White with an edge of blue triangles on the rims. I don’t even remember now, forgetful octogenarian that I am.
An announcement comes through the loudspeakers in the hallway at the Presbyterian Home. “Lunch is now being served.”
I cover my ears and scream. “I can’t stand it! Stop telling me what to do!”
I’m losing weight the food is so bad. What a cook I was back home. Famous for my mouth-watering rib-eye steak and carrot-beet salad, not to mention my caramel flan. When I told that to one of the girls I eat with – girls! – shrunken old women with false teeth, one with a flat chest since her breasts were lopped off from cancer – one of the smelly old ladies said, “For godsakes, Sadie, grow up! You can buy a flan mix nowadays right in the pudding aisle. Why would anyone but you bother to make it yourself?”
This is what goes on at our table. We sit over by the window, like prisoners who catch a glimpse of the sky and the trees. They cup their ears when you talk to them or lean forward as if I want to see what they look like up close. Oh, I so hate old people. This flock of old people – with their bent-over-double backs, their canes and walkers, their white listless hair – is as foreign to me as walking out of my apartment into a sea of penguins.
My husband got me in here by pure trickery. I’d spent the afternoon in my art studio, which was once the bedroom of our daughter Chrissie. With a number two pencil, I laid out the outlines of a large abstract of a mother and child, then bid it adieu while I went in the kitchen to make supper. Dinner was superb: roast juicy chicken, brown rice and buttered Brussels sprouts.
Izzy had gotten up to wash the dishes.
“I’ll take my Decaf into the living room, dear,” I said when I was overcome with such a severe headache I thought I’d go blind.
“Uh,” I said, trembling, and sitting back down at the table, spilled my coffee all over myself and the floor. “I feel awful, simply awful.”
Okay. So I blacked out. Big deal. And ended up in intensive care at Abington hospital right down the street. When I opened my eyes I was told I’d had an aneurysm, bleeding in the brain. Lucky to be alive and all that, they told me. For my rehabilitation, I was taken, by ambulance, to the Presbyterian Village’s Rehab. They loaded me, a helpless baby, into the back of the ambulance. And there I stayed at the Rehab Center, and then on into Brookside Building, while Izzy lived all by himself in our beautiful house I yearned for.
One day my Izzy, who, I believe was in his late seventies at the time, was driving on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. He didn’t merge quick enough and was hit by a mean, roaring, smoking tractor-trailer.
Dead on arrival.
Why attend the funeral? His patients loved him, I did not. I sat in what passes for living rooms in the Home – can you imagine a room as big as your coat closet? – while I looked out the window and fretted and reminisced while eulogies were being delivered at Goldstein’s.
Do you believe the Home had the gall to send a rabbi to see me?
I opened the door a crack, I don’t let just anyone in here, you know, asked what he wanted, and slammed the door in his face.
Standing at the window, which gave onto a courtyard filled with red cutleaf maple trees and an assortment of summer flowers, I remembered when Izzy and I took one of our cruises.
Just like the people at the Home, you were stuck with your tablemates, whether you liked them or not. Whether they picked their noses at the table or coughed up mucous into their napkins or had dandruff on their shoulders. While we sailed the Mediterranean, Izzy and I met Jerry and his wife Dora, an unhappily married couple who lived in downtown Philadelphia.
Can you guess what happened? Jerry and I became lovers.
After the funeral, my daughter Chrissie called to tell me how nice it had been. She and her son Adam had flown in from Florida to bid their father and grandfather goodbye.
I was almost hungry when I sat down in the Greenbriar Room for dinner, resting my cane on the back of the chair.
They all looked up at me.
I shook my head. “I don’t want to talk about it,” I said.
“Good heavens!” said Bea, in her ill-fitting false teeth and laughingly fake jet-black hair. “The woman loses her husband, and she can’t face the facts. You are really something, Sadie.”
“It’s my business,” I said, thumping my fist on the table.
The girls looked at each other, the girls I would be spending the rest of my life with: Bea; Dolly, who was no Dolly Parton, believe me; slumped- over Helen, and me, Sadie, slowly losing my marbles day by day. We had already lost Betty, who was on the dementia unit, and Joan, who didn’t answer the door one morning when the aide knocked, and was dead on the cold bathroom floor.
Chad came over to serve us that horrid chicken cordon bleu everyone thought was over the moon. And Brussels sprouts that tasted like rotten garbage.
After he left, slumped-over Helen rose in her chair to say, “I was buying coffee this morning when I heard one of the colored girls say she was applying for welfare. Said she doesn’t get enough support from the father of her children.”
We all shook our heads in disbelief.
“I think we should all pitch in and give her a little something,” I said.
“Not a good idea,” said Bea. “Then she’ll be expecting us to give her more money. Who knows? She might even come into our rooms.”
We agreed to hold onto what pittance our children doled out to us.
“Sadie, are you joining us in bingo?” asked slumped-over Helen.
“Bingo? A game I played when I was five? Count me out,” I said, rising from my chair and grabbing my cane. I took the elevator up to my room, where I spend most of my time. Don’t tell anyone but I couldn’t remember what floor I live on, so I got on and off a few times until I recognized the aquarium at the end of our hall and then let myself into my room.
I do admit I had a good cry. Where was my lover Jerry when I needed him? Izzy could go to hell but Jerry and I had a loving relationship for twenty years. Once a week we’d meet at the Holiday Inn where we signed in as Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Hollander. And one day when I drove over there in my green and white Oldsmobile, and waited in the lobby, he never showed up.
From my bed I noticed there was a Bose radio on the nightstand. I wonder how that got there. It sat next to a glass of water in a beautiful crystal glass. I took a sip. Room temperature the way I like it. On the walls were beautiful paintings I had never seen before. I roused myself from the bed to look at the paintings. Flowers, portraits, and smiling children holding balloons. All signed by Sadie Rothman.
“Now you’re really getting bad,” I thought. “Is someone fooling me into thinking I had made these paintings?”
The days continued, endless days like waves upon the ocean. One day, when I entered my room after lunch, my clothes were packed and placed in see-through plastic bags.
Was I moving out? Had my dream come true?
Hannah, a nurse I was fond of, told me I was moving into Reflections, a unit at the Home that I would absolutely love. No longer would I have meals with the meanies at my table who didn’t know what to do with a woman of artistic sensibilities.
And Hannah was so right. No longer do the loudspeakers tell us what to do. I hear classical music all day long on a Bose radio that’s in my room. My friend Natalie brought me a red amaryllis which is blooming away on the windowsill.
And the food! Magical. Chicken cordon bleu like you’d get at a five-star restaurant. My daughter Chrissie flew up from Florida to say hello and have me sign some papers.
“Sign these, while you still can, Mom,” she said to me.
She also told me the Philadelphia Inquirer had called. When people get older, and I certainly do not feel old and have no idea how old I am, they write an obituary. Here’s what mine said.
Sadie (nee Silverman) Rothman, beloved wife of the late Isaac, mother of Christine Connor, grandmother of Adam Connor, died peacefully at the Presbyterian Home in Rydal, Pennsylvania. Ms. Rothman was an award-winning painter, whose work is on display at the Michener Museum in Doylestown, Walker Museum in Minneapolis, and in private collections around the world. She was on the board of the Barnes Museum and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Her weekly column, “You’ve Got to See It!” ran for many years in the Philadelphia Bulletin and then Art Matters. Donations may be made to The Alzheimer’s Association.
I didn’t understand a word of it, but Chrissie assured me it was a beautiful tribute to me. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I smell the aroma of our lunch wafting into my room. Best guess? Eggplant parm.