Are you in there, My Aunt? I think you are. At least part of you is, with bits and pieces slipping out for a few seconds every once in awhile.
You lie in the bed, or sit in the chair; you make not a sound on one day; you sing out loud on others; you talk as if you are making sense on yet others.
Sometimes you look right at me as if you see me. Other times you look right past me.
You start out speaking in words I can almost understand. I’ve told the staff that it’s not jibberish, exactly; it’s Lebanese Arabic. But, I admit, it’s only for a few words. Then it degrades into jibberish. I don’t speak the language, so I only get a few words here and there. I think you are talking about going somewhere (I know the word for “go”), but my sister says you are probably telling me to go away.
That makes me laugh. Maybe you are. Maybe you are saying you want me to take you somewhere. For ice cream, perhaps? You remember ice cream, right? I hope you do.
I sit here with my computer, oldies music playing either on my iTunes program or on the little CD player. I don’t know if you can hear it. You seem to be able to; just the slightest bit of awareness, attention in that direction. Maybe it’s my imagination, my wishful thinking that my being here a few times a month actually makes a difference.
Well, it makes a difference to me, anyway.
I remember you when you were younger. I remember your laugh, with your sisters, my mother, my cousins. I put those pictures on your wall to remind me as much as you. I don’t even know if you can see them, but they make the room yours. Before those pictures it was just a room. It could’ve been anyone’s, for any old “Americaneeya.”
Staff members say you are happy enough in your own little world, but I think you come out of that world every now and then, if only for a moment or two.
I sit here typing away, and that aide you don’t like comes in. I know you don’t like him. You called him a name in Arabic once. No one else understood you. But I did. I laughed. They thought you were babbling, but it was a word, a real word, a very non-flattering word.
One time, as we slowly wheeled by a woman in a wheelchair, you called her a “poor thing,” in Arabic. Very clearly, very purposefully, you said “that one’s a poor thing,” a phrase I understood, a rare thing in itself.
I remember seeing you at the beach, well, not seeing your face, though. You were the one whose face was completely covered with a towel or blanket, or shirt. I always thought it was so funny, not so much that you wanted to cover your face: we all learned early on that the sun causes wrinkles. No, it was that you always seemed so unprepared for covering your face, using a corner of the towel, or a shirt that didn’t quite work right. Of course I grew up in this gadget-crazy world. After reading this, someone will probably come up with a super-duper, specially designed, specially fitted wrinkle protector for the beach; made of t-shirt material, no doubt. But I digress.
I got a big, floppy hat for you so I could take you outside in the little courtyard and you could enjoy the sun without getting it on your face.
I wonder, as we sit there, if anywhere in your brain is the memory of the countless times you walked up the driveway at our house, usually with Aunt May or Aunt Freda, but sometimes with one of your other sisters. If the sun was out, you wouldn’t even come into the house. You knew we could see your car in the driveway. Mom always had a few seats positioned to catch the sun just right. You and my other aunts would sit and soak up the rays. My mother would go out and visit with you. I would too. I loved it when my aunts visited like that.
Sometimes, if mom didn’t get out there for a bit because she’d be busy, you would just drive off after awhile. No hard feelings, just a tacit understanding that it wasn’t the best time, and, “thanks for giving us some of your sun.”
Once or twice, I recall mom running out to stop you from leaving….have a little patience already, I’ve got five kids…I imagine she said, or something similar.
At least, that’s how I remember it.
Now, I sit in the little courtyard with you, the big floppy hat covering all except one corner of your chin because of the way your head turns to the side like that. You keep grabbing the blanket, trying to cover that little piece of skin. You manage it, too, shaky hands and all.
That’s why I think you’re still in there somewhere.
It’s time for dinner, so I ask you if you want to leave. You very clearly say, “no,” in English. Not thoroughly convinced, I ask if you want to stay, and you say, just as clearly, “yes!”
So we sit for a little bit longer, Frank Sinatra and Andy Williams crooning.
Then we go inside so the staff can feed you. They ask me if I want to feed you, and I can see the hope in their eyes, but I can’t bear to do that.
I hope they are gentle with you.