Thursday, September 27, 2007

Harold and Maude Revisited

Harold and Maude Revisited
Romance in a nursing home can be a very sweet thing. The need for companionship and affection does not wane with age, and may in fact increase as people lose their ability to rationalize and more than ever feel a strong urge to hold on tight to another human being. That might have been the case with Francesca and Tom, had they not been nearly 50 years apart in age. You see Francesca was a patient in the home, while Tom was merely a young volunteer at the hospital
Francesca had never been an affectionate woman, and as a Serbian woman who had seen a great deal of war, there had also not been much time for laughter in her life. As the years passed, Francesca eventually left Serbia after her husband died, and she had come to America to work as a seamstress until her mind had started to wander. At first she simply forgot little things like turning the sewing machine off, but eventually her condition worsened and she had been admitted to the hospital when she started a fire in her kitchen and had nearly burned her house down. As a shy and rather private woman, she had very few friends in America, and during visiting hours she often found herself wishing she had been a little friendlier to people.
Tom on the other hand was outwardly a very friendly guy. He volunteered at the nursing home because he loved to talk and joke and share stories with the residents, and he often could be seen dancing and serenading the ladies in the home whenever he had some free time. But deep down Tom was a lonely guy as well, laughing on the outside but missing something on the inside that let him feel close to others.
When Tom first met Francesca he saw how lonely she was, and perhaps even saw a little of himself when he looked and saw the sadness in her eyes. Immediately he knew he wanted to cheer her up and make her happy. Francesca had been at first startled when this big, red young man had sprung up on her and begun belting out “Let me call you sweetheart” over a microphone. She remembered that song though, and she couldn’t help humming along as he sung, and soon she was lost in her memories.
She looked up again and the boy was on a new song now and this time he was on his knees and singing right to her. She felt her face turning red and thought about how this was the first time she had blushed since she was a little girl. She began chuckling and continued to enjoy the song and this unusual boy’s antics, and drifted off to sleep thinking of the fun she had had that afternoon.
The next time he came back Tom had found himself looking forward to seeing Francesca again, and had even practiced a couple of new songs for the occasion. The nurse had told him it was the first time she had seen Francesca truly smile since she had come to the home, and for the first time in a while he also felt the power of making a real human connection. When he got to her floor he saw her sitting and watching the door, and when her face lit up when she saw him it was now his turn to blush. He began his song, and this time when he got to “Let me call you sweetheart” he offered her his hand to begin dancing with him. She looked up at him and decided that she did indeed want to dance with this man. She placed her hands around his neck and they began dancing to the song, both enjoying the pleasure of the other’s company. When it ended, she became startled to realize she couldn’t remember the last time she had danced, but also proud of herself for giving it a try. Could she be changing, she wondered? At this late age? It was hard for her to think about though and again she nodded off, exhausted from the day’s activities and emotions.
Tom and Francesca continued their weekly dancing sessions, and the nurses had noticed a significant change in Francesca since these visits had begun. It was as if she was trying on a personality radically different than the one she had lived with most of her life, and despite her dementia and agitation, it was obvious she still had the ability to experience joy in her life. The nurse found herself wondering about the restorative power of love and how long it had been since someone had danced with her, but then dismissing these silly thoughts and returning to dispensing her medications.
Weeks went by, and Tom would come and sing to Francesca and, despite her health taking a turn for the worse, he continued to spend time with her although she was now no longer capable of dancing with him. The sadness would disappear from her eyes when he would come though, and, despite her responses getting considerably meeker, he knew his presence still meant a great deal to her. They had taken to watching movies together now, and, while watching an old movie featuring the song “Let me call you sweetheart,” she had slipped her hand into his and they had silently held hands for the rest of the movie. She was no longer good with her words, and taking his hand was her way of letting him know how much he meant to her. She looked up at him, and realized she had fallen in love in the 80th year of her life. She squeezed his hand and he looked over at her and smiled, two people, one at the end of life and one at the beginning, who improbably had each awakened something very powerful in the other one.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Anna and the Bird

Anna and the Bird
"Look Anna, all your friends came for your birthday," a lady in a pink suit encouraged her. Anna looked up for a moment and saw a group of women with their eyes closed and shook her head. "Some birthday," she said while looking at the cake on the table. She saw the numbers 97 written in green icing and couldn't believe it. She was 97 years old. She couldn't see very well, and the only time she could hear very well was with her hearing aid which caused a terrible buzzing in her head. She looked into the mirror and saw the old lady looking back at her. "97" she said out loud, and closed her eyes, hoping that sleep would come and take away her thoughts for a while.

She woke up in the television room and saw the bird in its cage and wheeled over to talk to him.

"Hello" she said, and the bird answered her back with a series of chirping noises before flying to the back of his cage.

"I guess you don't like company, I don't either," she explained to the bird.

"You and I are both all alone, don't you see?" she asked the bird, and again the bird answered her and she was happy that he understood her. The lady in pink then returned and began wheeling her out, but Anna placed her feet firmly on the ground and took one last look at her friend. "I'll come back," she assured him, and then gave in and returned to her room.

When she returned the next day she saw two boys next to her friend who were trying to make the bird talk.

"What a crummy bird," one boy remarked, and the other laughed out loud.

"Poke him with a stick maybe that will make him talk," the other boy suggested.

Anna had seen enough and wheeled over to the boys and knocked the stick out of their hands.

"He talks just fine," she scolded them. "Don't you see he sometimes doesn't feel like talking," she continued. "He's old and he's tired and he doesn't always think straight, so give him a break," she went on, now speaking very loudly.

And with that the boys went back to find their mother, embarrassed and even a little ashamed that they had upset the old woman like that.

"No one understands us anymore," she said to her friend, who knowingly chirped back to her. "We're the last of our bunch, you and I," she sighed and the bird looked back at her with knowing eyes.

"People think we're crazy now, but we know better don't we?”
she said, and again the bird agreed and she closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep.

Weeks went by and she and the bird continued their afternoon discussions. One day while coming to see him she saw a woman and a child taking the bird away and she became very alarmed.
"Where are you taking him?” Anna demanded.

"This is Paddy, and he belongs to my son," the woman patiently explained. "He's been part of our family for years, but we brought him here when we got a new dog, do you know Paddy?” the woman asked.

"I think you're mistaken young lady," Anna replied as she wheeled herself over to the woman. "He belongs here now; you see he was no longer useful in the outside world so they brought him here." Anna said defiantly. "And now that he's here, I assure you he intends to stay here."

The woman was take aback and thought long and hard about what the old woman was saying. She had dumped the bird in the nursing home when he became an imposition to the family, hadn't she? She looked down at the old woman and saw the resolve in her eyes, and came to a decision.

"You know he does seem to like it here, so maybe it is better if he stays for a while," and with that she put the birdcage down and ran swiftly out to her car, thinking about the old woman and the bird, and what would happen to her when she got to be that age. She hoped her son would understand about the bird, and in her mind she rehearsed her speech. Hoping that he would have sympathy for the old woman and understand. Hoping that he would have sympathy for her when she was an old woman and that he would remember how she had taken care of him.