Saturday, April 25, 2015


     My younger sister and I had a sibling rivalry that extended well into our adult years. After a particularly painful disagreement, I said to her, “Janeth, it’s bad for our health to get this upset. Let’s stay away from each other for a while.“
     The first few months without my sister were so peaceful, I made no effort to contact her. The  months became swiftly passing years until a greeting from my niece appeared on my computer screen on January 1, 2007.  Linda asked if I remembered telling her about my biggest fear on my eighty-fifth birthday. “Mom has it,” she wrote. “The dreaded Alzheimer’s.”
     Suddenly the lifetime of disagreements with Janeth seemed unimportant in the face of what she and Linda were dealing with. I Googled the disease and learned that someone contracted it every seventy-one seconds. There were hundreds of thousands of cases just in Massachusetts. .
     I thought of the last-straw angry scene that alienated me from my sister. Maybe she would have no recollection of our falling-out. It would be ironic if she only remembered that she hadn’t seen me in years. If I were to call her, would she know who I was?
     I wrote a note, sealed it and put it by the door, ready for mailing. Then I stopped, reeling from memories of past misunderstandings. I could picture her interpreting any attention from me after this long silence as evidence that I was gloating over her plight.  She once startled me by saying she figured I was happy about the problems she was having at the time. I hoped and prayed that things would be different now, that she would accept my written message as deep-down sympathy and caring. I took the risk and sent it.
     Janeth called, and we had an hour-long conversation. She told me how much it meant to her to see the words, "Dear Sister." We soon found that aging had insulted us in numerous similar ways. She had shrunk 3 1/2 inches, I had shrunk 4 and 1/2. To avoid pain she had to bend forward when she walked and so did I. We hated the veins that crawled on our hands like blue worms on crinkled parchment.
     She described other trials and worries and misfortunes, including a fall that opened up a bruise that "popped like a grape" and began bleeding in the market. When it happened, she had the most important papers of her life in a little cart she brought everywhere she went. An ambulance came so promptly while she was pressing on the injury that she was carried off, protesting wildly that she needed her important papers. By the time she was delivered to the hospital, still wailing, she was diagnosed as delusional.
     She told me the papers in her cart included Ray’s old love letters, and she knew without question why things became so quiet every evening. The nurses had started reading the letters and were so fascinated, they kept reading. Her cart was returned when she left, "but the contents were in a jumble." I wondered how much of this was accurate and how much the paranoia that Linda and my
research had prepared me for.
     Janeth confided that she was practically a recluse because she didn’t want people to see how old her face had become with the awful little curl under her nose. Ray was loyal and helpful but had troubles in his own life.
     Clearly my sister needed a lot of in-person support that my niece couldn’t supply, what with her job as a social worker, the 3-hour drive from Maine, and her daughter Tiffany’s special needs. I resolved to do as much as I could to help.
     I saw my sister for the first time in eight years when I picked her up to take her to a doctor’s appointment. I hardly recognized the little person who emerged from her building. What had become of my tall, slim, stunning sister?  She moved towards me, pulling a folding cart stuffed with two satchels and a large black pocket-book.        
     “We have to bring this,” she said. “It has all my important papers. If I leave them in my apartment the snoops will sneak in and read them.” Together the two of us wrestled the cart into the back of my car. We got into the front seat. It had been a long, long time between hugs.
     We sisters must have been a quaint sight walking along the hospital’s corridors, with Jan very stooped, and I, too, unable to straighten up as much as I’d like to.  A pair of head-turners 40 years ago, metamorphosed by Father Time’s sorcery into squashed versions of our former selves.
     After Janeth’s appointment, we moved our conversation, which had become intensely personal in the doctor’s waiting room, to an area where we could talk more privately.
     “I have become ugly,” she said. “NO,” she held up her hand, “don’t say anything, I have a mirror.” She told me she worried a lot about her privacy, another reason she was so isolated and another reason why she took the cart with her on the rare occasions when she went out. She suspected a maintenance man invaded her apartment when she was away, ferreting out information about her past. Changing the subject, I showed her an old photograph with Jan on the left, Mother in the middle, and I on the right. We were young and blooming, Mom more than a decade younger than we were now.
      She looked, but I saw the sadness glinting in her eyes. For the first time in eight years, I very much wanted my sister in my life. I wanted to do everything I could to improve the Catch-22 existence that blocked pleasurable excursions we might have together.
     We used to have happy times, meeting for lunch or dinner, but no more. Janeth has been literally starving herself for years because of her strict avoidance of sugar, salt, and fat. On Thanksgiving, Ray took her to a buffet in a restaurant she had formerly enjoyed, “and all I could eat was an apple.” I didn’t see how she could go on living alone, subsisting on raw vegetables and fruit.
     What would she think if we tried to persuade her to go into assisted living? How would this ever be accomplished? What would such a place be like?


Alzheimer's is the cruelest of diseases and I am too old to be a caregiver. Maybe I've said that before. I'll say it again. I am too old to be a caregiver. A woman called me this evening, referred to me by Ted. She is going to come and vacuum and dust and polish and clean the kitchen floor. I'll pay her whatever she asks. I can't even dust because walking around is so painful. I do manage to keep playing Duplicate Bridge three times a week. Sometimes partner and I come in first; sometimes, like today, we are the lowest of the low. But the mental exercise will keep me from getting Alzheimers, I hope and pray. And I'm always comfortable sitting down. That's the one good thing about spinal stenosis..
     At the Stop & Shop today, I learned they had only two motorized carts, and a man was sitting in the unused one, working on his scratch tickets. In my head I was saying, get the hell out of there, I need the cart more than you do. By the time I got home I was whimpering like a whipped puppy as I unlocked my front door.
       I haven't seriously considered surgery before because I didn't see how my sister would manage during my recovery. Then I realized she could go into assisted living temporarily. A friend has recommended Advantage House in Hingham, ten minutes from Weymouthport.
        [Had surgery in 2002. By 2012 the stenosis had returned. At ninety-one, the only recourse is to ignore the pain, walk bent over as if I were impersonating an old lady, and take baby steps a la comedian Tim Conway. Very funny, Mr. Conway.]
        I call Janeth after I finish my supper. She tells me what a terrible day she has been having.
       “I can’t remember anything! The visiting nurse drew up a schedule for my pills and then I put an X in the wrong place and had to scratch it out. I couldn’t remember whether I’d taken my Risperdal or not. Finally I took one but then I thought I’d already taken one. I felt as if I should throw up and I did throw up a little.”
       Standing in my kitchen, I made sympathetic noises throughout this recitation, my heart aching for my sister and my back aching for gratis.
       “My mind is going, going, gone! It’s been going for years and now it’s gone. I’m sick, sick, sick! I don’t know what to do about anything anymore. I am DUMB!”
       I tell her she is not dumb. The forgetfulness isn’t her fault, it’s the fault of the cruel disease that has crept up on her. I don’t know what the answer is. Does she think it might be time to consider assisted living?
       “Oh boy!” This is the phrase my sister uses when she is not happy about something I have suggested. She tells me she spent the day going through papers and she is nauseated by what she reads.
       “My stabs at writing drafts of letters are full of crossed-out sentences and insertions and other corrections I can’t make head or tail of. Sometimes I’m writing to a friend who hasn’t heard from me for a long time, and I start out by saying I’m sorry I’ve been so negligent, bla bla bla. I’ve begun throwing out all the nauseating ones. Down the chute they go.”
       Later, I was at my desk when my sister called. “Oh dear, I had something I wanted to mention and now I can’t remember what it was.”
       “That’s all right. Call me back when you remember.”
       A few minutes later: “Now I remember. Tomorrow I want you to lift up my top and look at my spine. Remember how the doctor sent me a telegram warning that my squamus cell carcinoma could go underground?”
       “A telegram?”
       “Well, maybe it was a night letter. Anyway, he warned me that the cancer could spread through my body and kill me. When I was in the hospital, the emergency room doctor wouldn’t even look at my spine. He said there was nothing wrong with me and sent me home.”
       “Okay, I’ll look.”
       I arrive at Jan’s with our St. Patrick’s Day dinners and some groceries because she was running out of food. She has attempted to set up something hostessy, a folding table with cutlery and a napkin in front of a chair at one side of the room, and, on the other side, . . .we finally figure out what to do. A hassock makes do as a table in front of a stuffed chair.
       “That corned beef smells good, I’m starving,” she says. And this is the kind, upbeat attitude she has throughout our meal, which we have in opposite corners of the room. She says Ray thinks she should have a table in the middle, with chairs, but she can’t move the trampoline (trampoline?) because it is covered with stacks of papers. I don’t ask why the trampoline is there because I know the explanation will take too long and our meals will get colder than they already are.
       Our problem begins when I bring up the first order of business, her telephone bill. It says last month is past due, making the total fifty-nine dollars. She is outraged. She knows she paid her bill last month. She hates it when she gets double-billed like this. She works herself into such a state that I say, “Janeth, I’ll pay it. It’s not worth getting upset about.”
       She gets her checks out of the Christmas bag that’s in the blue canvas bag on the couch/bed and searches through the tiny writings that list the checks she has paid. She can’t find the evidence she is looking for.
       “Maybe they hadn’t received it at the time they sent the bill. Maybe you’ll get a credit next time.” I hand her my pen, and the check gets written. I give her their 800 Customer Service number, which she puts in tiny figures on a piece of paper she is holding.
       I forget just what it was that set her off next. I do remember that she had her face next to mine, yelling at me that she could eat like a pig and put on fifteen pounds but look, nothing would make her fat knees look any better. She is wearing shorts and points to the offense. No use telling her the knees look fat because the legs are so skinny. “I’m trying?” Janeth yells. “Haven’t you noticed? Didn’t I eat a lot of the dinner? Don’t I eat those whatever-they-are that come in the morning?”
       I say, let me help clear things up, and I go to her side of the room to get her plate and empty glass. The small milk carton is still half full. ”Are you thirsty?” I ask. “Would you like to finish your milk?” She doesn’t know. She’ll have to think about it. When I put the milk carton back in the door of the refrigerator, I am startled to see approximately twenty bottles of nail polish marching across the top shelf.
       Janeth sees my expression and says, “You’re the one who told me nail polish keeps better in the refrigerator. And you can use it when you start getting a run in your nylons.” I ask her when was the last time she put polish on her nails. Years ago, she admits.
       “Let’s get rid of them,” I say, as I start dropping them into a plastic bag.
       “You’d better be quick about it because the freezer will get full of frost.” I grab a few more of the bottles and close the door.
       Now Jan turns her back and lifts up her shirt. “Would you look and see if there are any cancers on my back?”
       “No, your back looks fine.”
       Next I suggest that we tackle her filing cabinet, one drawer at a time. In the top drawer in back of a pile of papers is a white pocketbook. Jan says it’s a shabby old thing that she keeps one of her wallets in. The wallet is a long black one that I’ve seen before. Okay, we’ll start with that, one section at a time. In the first are Walter’s IDS dating back to his service in WWII. Then more recent cards associated with his government work. An ID for Jan’s stint with the Waves. After half an hour’s discussion about the contents of the wallet, I find only one item she’s willing to part with. I don’t blame her for wanting to save these mementos, but I begin to realize what she means when she says it will take thousands of years to sort all her papers.
       “I give up,” I say.
       “Really?” she beams, delighted that I can see what she’s up against.
       I do make inroads on one small paper bag I had noticed on the couch/bed. It is full of empty phials for her medications. I read off dates that go back two years.
       “We can toss those, right?”
       Janeth is loath to toss them. “Suppose I’m at a doctor’s and he wants to know what medications I’ve been taking. How could I tell him?”
       “Tell him what you are currently taking. Lisinopril and Risperdal. I’ll write them down for you.”
       When I am leaving the apartment with the handful of clutter I’ll throw down the chute, Jan makes a statement: “I have eyes. I can see what everyone else sees. I know that this place is a mess.” I drop what I am carrying and put my arms around her frail, bony shoulders. I tell her I love her. She loves me back.
       Message left by distraught sister concerning Nell, the visiting nurse, who came this morning but stayed only twenty minutes because the Meal on Wheels arrived. Nell said she’d come back Thursday.
       "She's trying to tie up my whole life," Janeth tells me when I call. Then she shifts to another subject. She wants to have her hair looking nice for our second appointment with the lawyer, but can't find the curlers that are the right size.
       “They have disappeared into thin air. What could have happened to them?”
       I offer to buy more curlers. She says a bit testily that I don't need to keep buying her things.
       Then she says, “I've been thinking, isn't it foolish for an old lady to care what she looks like just because the lawyer is handsome?”
       “No, it's not foolish at all. I love to see you looking cute the way you do when you're fixed up and your amazing dark hair is shining and natural. How many old ladies do you see who have anything but white or gray hair?”
       “I don’t notice how other old ladies look.”
       Before we go to the lawyer's office, I decide I have time to tackle the issue of the trampoline and the clutter on its surface.
       "But that's how I get my exercise!"
       “At eighty-two, that could be dangerous, Jan.”
       She steps up on a part of the canvas that isn’t cluttered, says whoops, and manages to steady herself. She then says she's waiting for Ray to put some kind of railing around the trampoline for her to grab if she loses her balance.
       As for the extremely heavy suitcase parked on the trampoline, it’s full of papers, she says. Likewise the other sturdy leather carrying case. Nevertheless I accomplish a few things before we leave. I collect the abundance of plastic containers on her trampoline, promising I'll return any she needs in the future. She also allows me to gather up all the small Hoods cartons scattered in the kitchen except for one. She needs that to measure the eight ounces of water she is trying to drink several times a day. Empty yogurt containers are also confiscated, the total rubbish filling the bag I take to the trash room. I leave another bag by her front door for the plastic containers worth saving.
       When we are ready to leave, Janeth puts her valuables into her cart. I begin looking everywhere for the paper bag I had just placed by the door.
       "You see how things just disappear into thin air?" says Jan. At last I found it in her cart. We were off! Both of us!
       Off to see the handsome lawyer, trala. Then Janeth decides to go back for her lipstick, and while she’s at it, asks me to put some brown eye shadow on her eyelids. When we finally reach our destination, the way she flirted with the attorney was shocking.
       "I shouldn't have told him to cross his ts," she said. "I was fresh, wasn't I."
       “He was enchanted.”
       This evening Janeth called with the marvelous news that she is going to the dining room for the dinner I had read aloud when we were in the elevator: Chicken Cordon Bleu, mashed potatoes, broccoli, apple crisp for dessert.
       "I was able to make my hair look better, so I decided to go."
       "Call me later," I said. I wanted to know right away if the snoops took advantage of her absence again, rather than hear about it two days later. Her report: "I’m pretty sure that things in the filing cabinet were not lined up the way I remembered."
To: Linda Subject: Re: Black Humor
       I've been feeling guilty about the light tone I sometimes take when describing interactions with my sister. There is nothing funny about her plight. As I sought for the words to type in the Subject line, they came to me. Perhaps Black Humor has its place if it is interspersed with sorrow, sympathy, pity. I love Janeth; her life is a daily struggle through no fault of hers. Our beastly father made her what she grew up to be, a fearful, suspicious woman, and what she is now, clinically paranoid. Her voice can be heart-breaking when she has difficulty in expressing what she wants to say . . . a little sobbing intake of breath punctuating her phrases. I'm making myself cry, and probably you, too.
From: Linda
       There’s nothing to feel guilt about. It’s human nature to use defense mechanisms, and this one is demanded by our survival instinct.
       You may remember when I questioned you about my grandfather. I was beginning my work as a mental health provider and going to school . . . coinciding with my genealogy project. It suddenly hit me that I’d never seen a picture of him in my entire life, and considering all Mom’s bizarre behaviors over the years, I thought hmm.
       I asked you if there had ever been inappropriate sexual “stuff” going on, and your response was “Oh yes, with both of us!” I tell you, it has really made a difference in my attitude toward her and my childhood experience. This is one of those occasions that I think of as meant to be. IF I had never been recruited to do this work, and IF I hadn’t gone on to school, IF I had never started searching the family roots, nothing would have changed for me. As far as all that “BAD” stuff goes, I’m at peace, and the pattern of anger is not repeated in my childrearing. I’m a democratic parent, giving my children the freedom of their voice and creativity, only guiding them morally, with some financial education thrown in.
       So, getting back to what is meant to be. . . fate has put me on this track for a reason. Whew. Yes, I’m crying. . . for multiple reasons. Mom, me, my kids, my whole family, humanity. It also makes me think of Great Aunt Ruth, stepping into a shower her stepson was taking. Your father and she must have been molested as children too. How many generations? At least there is no more of that going on.
       Oops! I need to get to work. *K*K*K*

Tomorrow we’re going back to the handsome lawyer because the bank where he advised us to start consolidating her assets gave us (me) a hard time about the way the trust was expressed. Also, the woman wanted to be sure Janeth understood that the Trust gave her no check-writing ability. My sister looked puzzled, and I said, “I think Bella is telling you that you need to trust Linda and me because we could rob you.” Bella said, “That’s exactly what I’m saying to yez.” Which means both of us, I believe.
       I pick Janeth up at 10:30 and we set out for the attorney’s office. Get there in time for a stop at the Ladies Room, then are ushered into the lawyer's conference room. He has already revised the Janeth Black Trust to include changes that will satisfy the nitpickers at the bank.
       Janeth says she is starving. I tell her I’ll treat her to lunch at Barry’s Deli. Knowing my sister’s illness causes difficulty in making choices, I expect her to be buffaloed by the dozens of offerings plastered on the walls. Janeth is a wonder. She thinks the fish chowder sounds good, and so does the homemade beef stew. We order both.
       Last stop, Roche Brothers because Jan is out of milk. I get into a motorized cart and head for—where else—the Ladies Room. It is occupied, so Jan says she’ll stand guard outside the Men’s Room. I am lifting the seat up again and about to wash my hands when I hear a shriek, “No, don’t!”
       A gentleman is pushing through the door. “Oh, excuse me!” he stammers. As I make my exit I say, “No, it’s my fault. Actually it’s my sister’s fault.” I point a finger at her and say, “You’re fired!”
       Everybody laughs. Now I have the problem of backing my cart out of the narrow corridor, which has become full of other traffic. The traffic makes way, while I back into a man who is sitting at a table, eating a sandwich and minding his own business. He apologizes profusely, I insist I am to blame, and the counter girl shows me a way to get the hell out of there.
       Now we select a couple of bananas and a loaf of bread and a half-gallon of whole milk. I abandon the cart when we’re ready to check out, remembering I got stuck in the aisle the last time we were there. The checkout lad asks my sister if she wants paper or plastic. Jan looks at me in dismay and says, “I don’t know!”
       “Make it paper.”
       Janeth gets out a check, taking time to make sure it is the right consecutive number, then is told she has to show a license or other ID before they can accept the check. She unzips her tiny white purse and starts looking through various cards tucked in with some change and some folded bills. All she can produce is her Blue-Cross Blue-Shield card. The supervisor accepts it, probably because the line behind us is getting long and impatient.
       At last we pull up in front of Janeth’s building and I open the trunk where she has stored her valuables and her purse and a couple of paper bags. I’m hoping she will have room in her cart for all her possessions, old and new, so I won’t have to get out my cart and go up to her apartment with my back begging for a truce. In one of the bags I see an empty Vermont Bread plastic wrapper full of empty Meals-on-Wheels milk cartons and disposable plates.
       “Jan, I’ll throw this out for you.”
       “No, I have to look through it and see what’s in it.”
       I’m worn out, it’s getting late, so I say querulously that I don’t believe this, it’s just trash. Nevertheless, I put it back in the paper bag. After she is finally organized I say, “Janeth, why don’t we look through this stuff now, so I can get rid of it.”
       She gives me a fierce look and says it’s full of smelly things. I lose patience. “I don’t care if it smells like shit and pee, let’s throw it away!” Janeth grabs the trash away from me and says angrily, “No! I’ll take care of it later!”
       We take the elevator to the eighth floor, Janeth enters her apartment, and I hand her the bags from my cart. By now we are back to normal, whatever that is, and we hug goodbye.
       Later, back at my apartment, I am in my study, looking at my e-mails, when the phone rings. It is Janeth, and she is frantic. She can’t find the little white purse that had change in it, and cash, and what is she going to do? Linda is coming tomorrow and she’s going to need change if she plans to do a laundry. The people down there can be so mean, they can be very rude to anyone who isn’t a resident. Sometimes a daughter will be doing laundry for her mother and they’ll tell her she can’t use the machines; she has to be a resident. And besides, what will Linda use for change? You have to have quarters.
       I tell her I’ll call Roche Brothers, since that was the last time I saw the purse, and if it hasn't been turned in there, I’ll look in my car. If it isn’t there, I’ll call Linda and tell her to stop and get change.
       After the Roche Brothers call I take the stairway that’s nearest to my car. I search the trunk. No little white purse. I open the passenger side door. It’s dark, but what is this patch of white between the seat and the door’s threshold? Can it possibly be. . . my fingers tell me yes, it’s the little white purse.
       Now I wish I could run up the stairway instead of groaning up the stairway. As I open the door to the hall, I see that my neighbors have put up some pretty wreaths for Easter. Funny, I didn’t notice them before. I had left my door unlocked, I was sure, but when I twist the knob, it doesn’t give. Moreover, the name on the door isn’t mine. How did I climb to the second floor without the slightest realization that I had gone past the first? I am cautious as I go down the stairway, gripping the banister firmly. A thought that’s been going through my mind lately asserts itself again, “My sister is going to be the death of me.” If this happens, remember, I said it first (Black humor).
       Oh, how relieved Janeth is when I call her. I tell her I expect her to use the bills in the purse to treat me to lunch next time.
       “Love you, Janeth.”
       “Love you, too.” We exchange hugga huggas and my seven-hour assignment for the day has come to its happy conclusion.

        Janeth calls to tell me Linda has arrived and is working like a house afire. No, I don’t need to stop and get quarters, Linda seems to be all set. I pull up in front of Southern Artery Apartments and get out of the car, carrying the little white purse. Jan is waiting for me.
       “Is Linda up in your apartment?”
       “No, she’s in the basement doing laundry. Follow me.”
       Linda is standing outside the laundry room with another laundress, this one a white-haired resident. After we have exchanged hugs, the resident asks if Jan is my mother. The question must be a crusher for my sister, but she gives no sign that she is hurt. Maybe she didn’t hear it. Oh, I hope she didn’t hear it. She keeps smiling while Linda and I explain who is mother to whom and who is niece and who is sister.
       Regarding the plan for Linda to do a laundry, Janeth has thrown up various roadblocks. People are mean to outsiders. Only two of the machines are ever working. There is a sign, a very menacing sign warning outsiders not to use the machines.
       “Where did it go?” she asks worriedy, looking around. She wants me to see it. I find the sign posted inside. It says that it is against the rules for relatives of residents to use the machines for their personal laundry.
       “You see, Jan, it’s all right for Linda to be doing your laundry. She isn’t supposed to do her own.”
       She has an answer for that. “How do they know it’s my laundry she’s doing?” I joke that they probably don’t have detectives checking what’s in the machines.
       “Well, maybe Linda can get away with it today,” says Jan, sticking to her guns, “but on another day. . . “
       Back at home, I spend an hour trying to figure out how to fill out the form sent me by Janeth’s Blue Cross Blue Shield. It has something to do with the whopping bill she received (and I haven’t shown her) for the ambulance, when Beatrice insisted she go to the Emergency Room at South Shore Hospital because of her swollen ankles. I’ll call BCBS next week to get help with the form. My filing cabinet for my sister’s papers is a carton on the floor next to my bed. I’ve been thinking of all the boxes of writings, letters, etc. that I have stored in Kathie’s basement. My sister has no such resource and lives in an apartment that is tiny compared to mine. No wonder the paperwork got out of control.

Jan had one of her graphic dreams last night. She said it was so real, she expected to see a twisted sword in her hand when she woke up, a prop for a game she was involved in. At least she recognized this time that it was a dream.
       Today she again brought up the one in which she thought someone had broken the lock to her balcony door and opened it wide, chilling the room, then grabbed her and tried to smother her. When she first described this event, she said she woke up to a very cold room, went to close the balcony door, "and a hand grabbed my hand." This part of the story convinced me that it was a dream or a hallucination.
       I call Jan to ask her about her day. Clearly traumatized, she gasps out her story.
       “I have done a terrible thing. I lost the package that Beatrice had so kindly picked up for me at the pharmacy. I had gone down to the office with my rent check and thought I might have left the package there. I tried the office number over and over again and finally someone answered. It was Lois. She looked, said I hadn’t left it there. Instead of killing myself, I got on the phone and began calling every pharmacy I could think of to try to figure out what else might have been in the package besides my calcium prescription. I had the wrong number for CVS, finally got the right number, but they didn’t have a prescription for me on file.
       “Ray is coming any minute, bringing calcium pills. He didn’t want to do it. He said, `Remember the last time I got calcium pills for you? You’re so fussy, you said they were the wrong kind and sent me back to the store to get your money back.’ Beatrice was so sweet. After she gave me the package, she put her arms around me and kissed me. How can I face her after this? I can’t call her, the office is closed.”
       I sympathize: “Don’t these things always happen on Friday night!”
       “You are so calm. That remark is just what I needed. Yes, it does seem as if the worst things happen when you can’t do anything about them.”
       Jan calls back and says she found the package in the cabinet under her sink. Had no recollection of putting it there.

       It should have been an easy day. I found the place where I was supposed to meet Ted, All State Glass, arriving at the appointed time. He had said he might be late, and I said, no problem, I’ll bring a book. I circle around the parking lot, looking for an office door. Finally, I decide to park and find a place where I can sit and read. I grab my book, push down on the lever that locks the doors. I perch on a concrete slab on one side of the lot and start reading, but it’s cold. I decide to read in the car. I can’t get in. My keys are sitting on the driver’s seat. My Triple A card is in my wallet, my wallet is in my purse, which is in the car..
       I find the office. The secretary has just been on the line with Ted, who is on his way. When he arrives, I tell him what I have done.
       "Okay, do you still have a set of keys in your desk? We’ll go get them."
      I confess that my apartment keys are on the floor of the car. So Ted drives us first to his house in North Scituate, where he has a spare set, then to my condo in North Weymouth, where I retrieve my keys. I am thoroughly mortified to be so much trouble, but Ted never utters a word of reproach.
       He does give his emphatic opinion on what I should do about his aunt. I should contact Linda, tell her to come down with whatever help she can enlist, and put her mother in a nursing home or whatever. “You shouldn’t be taking Janeth here and there and ruining your health in the process. I’m not angry, I’m just passionate about what I think is the right thing to do.”
       I tell him Kathie and I have agreed that Janeth is too sane to be put in a nursing home or whatever. Suppose the same thing happened to him some day and Tim was the only one who could do the care giving? How would he feel if his brother moved him into a nursing home when he wasn’t that ill?
       “That would be fine. I wouldn’t want to be a burden to his family. I would go willingly to a nursing home.”
       After we pull up in front of All State Glass, Ted goes in to see if they can replace his windshield now. They can’t, so he says, okay, we’ll go to Weymouth Honda. After my blunder wasted an hour and a half of his valuable time, he is still going to help me replace my tired old auto with a new leased car. I am grateful to #1 son.
       There’s nothing quite like the prospect of a shiny, unblemished new car to elevate one’s mood. As we are leaving, the black manager who greeted us when we first walked in shakes Ted’s hand and says, “A pleasure to meet you, Brother.” Ted puts his hand on top of his brother’s and echoes the sentiment. Then the chap takes my hand, presses it warmly, and says, “A pleasure to meet you, too, Mother.”
        Ted holds the front door open, and I say to him, “I guess I’m really getting old. He didn’t call me sister.” It isn’t easy to make my older son laugh, but he turns around and repeats my comment to the manager, who also laughs heartily.

I call Janeth to see if Beatrice has assured her she could safely put decades-old papers down the chute.
       “Beatrice said the rubbish ends up in the basement where it’s compacted by a truck.”
       “That’s good news. Now you could get rid of papers without worrying about anyone being able to see them.”  My sister isn’t buying this.
       “It seems people forget what happened in November of 2006,” she says in what appears to be a non-sequitur but is rational in her mind, “when I was assaulted by an intruder on my balcony.”
       I say I haven’t forgotten; I remember her telling me about this frightening experience. “You said he was able to get to your balcony by coming up on the elevator.”
       “Nobody knows that for sure!” she says. “ The police investigated and they never came up with an answer. There was a tall ladder that almost reached to the 8th floor, but he would have had to be a gymnast to hurl himself onto my balcony. People saw him riding a bicycle and casing my apartment.”
       I sense that Janeth is determined not to go to pieces when she wisely concludes that we probably shouldn’t talk about this episode. I apologize for having upset her and leave to meet Ted.
       We go to Weymouth Honda to finalize the deal. Since we have to do a lot of waiting around for red tape procedures, we converse.   I tell him of Janeth's fear about putting things like outdated bank statements in the trash chute.
       "She's absolutely right. Identity theft happens all the time. I used to have my own shredder for such papers, but eventually there were too many to cope with. Now I save them in boxes destined for a professional shredder."
       I realize I shouldn’t be so quick to assume my sister’s anxieties are always nothing but paranoia.

Jan is convinced her paper situation is hopeless. When I suggested Ted could take bags of papers to be shredded at Staples, she said she didn't trust the Staples people. A shredder truck comes to her building, but it would be too public, and she believes this man, too, could get at her Social Security ID.
       Kathie comes up with the quaint, old-fashioned idea of burning the papers in her fireplace. I call Jan, hoping she can see how beautifully simple this solution is. But of course she worries. She hopes neighboring houses won't catch fire. She remembers having the idea over 30 years ago of burning papers in a basement furnace, but then she realized she'd have to shovel the ashes "and I didn't hanker to do that."
       When Janeth calls this morning, she says, “I'm losing my mind, bit by bit.”
       That’s the saddest thing about all this: she knows she has Alzheimers. I saw literature on the subject in her apartment. Another sad thing:  she did hear the woman ask if I was her daughter.
       "I didn't mind. I know you look younger."
       “If anyone ever says that again, I’ll whip off my wig and they'll see what a bald old hag I really am.”
       She says emphatically that I am not to remove my wig, ever. “It’s part of your appearance, like anything else a woman wears.”
       What could be more sweetly rational than that?
       I'm still trying to persuade her to give up the big suitcase full of papers and another large satchel, also stuffed, so the contents can go to Kathie’s house for burning.
       "The weather is going to be hot, how can they stand using the fireplace?"
       “Kathie said they had the heat on every day this spring, and would welcome a little more from the fireplace.”

       I received my first Peapod order today, a huge fifty dollars worth. I should have listened to Kathie’s advice a long time ago. All those heavy groceries, cartons of milk, bottles of apple juice and Schweppes tonic will no longer have to be hefted from the grocery cart into my car, from car to my own cart, and with a final groan, from cart to kitchen counter. No more getting irked by the man who sits obliviously in the one available Stop & Shop motorized cart, scratching his lottery tickets.
       “I don’t care what he’s scratching,” says Tim. “You should have asked him to move so you could have the cart.”
       “There are so many papers to be burned,” Janeth says, “Kathie’s house and the houses next door will catch on fire.”
       “She will burn them gradually. It might take a long time, but she and Frank will be able to do it.”

       I tell Jan it will be Mother’s Day weekend when Linda comes for her next visit.
       “Kathie and Frank are taking us out for a celebration on Saturday. First Linda will come and help you clean, and organize; then we’ll drive to Westwood or meet at a restaurant. We’ll work out the details later.”      
       Jan’s face is as sober as if I were describing a wake we were going to attend. I want to reach out and turn up the corners of her mouth.
       When I remark, "Your nephews might be able to help Linda," she cries, "My nephews? My nephews?" She says this three times, while I try to interpret her tone. Has she forgotten Ted and Tim or has she forgotten what a nephew is? I explain that I’m referring to my sons, and she says, "Oh no! They can't come in here!  It's too messy!"

       This morning I called Janeth from Shaw's parking lot to ask Jan if she wanted anything besides Teddie's unhomogenized, no trans-fat, no-salt, no-sugar peanut butter. She didn't, but she had a few things to say about her neurologist.  Ray took her to the appointment.
       “When the doctor gripped my leg during his exam, I screamed in pain. He said screaming that loud was part of my illness. I wished he could have felt what I felt. The pain was worse than childbirth or any other pain I'd ever had. Plus, I’m sure he had dirty fingernails and he’s given me an infection.”
       “I don't know what we can do about that.”
       "I could kill him," says Jan.
       "And then what?"
       "I'd bury him.”

       Jan is ambivalent about the idea of moving to assisted living. On the one hand, she concedes that her anxiety about the snoops may be dispelled when she's living at Advantage House. On the other, she still clings to her world of papers. Yesterday she gave me a couple of letters she had found, one from me to her in 1979, the other from Darrell McClure to me. She had written on the envelope "A family treasure—Please keep forever." I have copies of all such letters in Kathie's basement. I know Jan is trying to show me what might be lost when we cart off piles of papers to be burned.
       This morning she has a new dilemma. “My hair is greasy, but washing it is a difficult chore, and I really don’t want to do it.”
       “When you go to your appointments next Friday with Ray, one of them is for an EEG and you needs to have clean, dry hair for the test.”
       She says indignantly: “I didn’t know I was going to be dictated to like that!”
       “Well, you’d want to have it looking nice for Ray, anyway.”
       More indignation. “For Ray? The only person I’d ever do it for is you!”

       She continues to complain bitterly about being required to wash her hair. I have read that Alzheimers patients sometimes refuse to take baths or showers, and perhaps this is the stage my sister is reaching. It will be a relief for both of us when she is safely at Advantage House in the care of experienced professionals who will know much better than I what to say and do.
      I’m sitting with my head bowed in front of the computer keys. I’m not praying, I’m trying to remember everything that happened during the hours spent with my sister. If I can record them, I’ll be free to stop thinking about them.
       I call Jan to tell her I’ll be picking her up in twenty minutes.
       “Where are we going?”
       To pay a visit to Advantage House, I remind her, so you can look at an apartment.
       Her voice immediately turns frantic. “But I’m not wearing the right clothes! I’ve got on those pink slacks I’ve been sleeping in. . . .("I love those. You look darling in those.") . . . “they’re dirty, and my hair is greasy. It will take too long for me to get ready.”
       “Take your time; we don’t have to be there until noon. I’ll read my book until you come down to the car.”
       She emerges from her building at 11:30 with a clutch of papers and a plastic-wrapped muffin from Meals on Wheels.
       “When you look at the ingredients in the fine print, you find substances that are in gasoline or chemicals that repair engines, things that make a car roll or an airplane fly.” She wants me to read the list of toxic ingredients, but I say we have to get going; I’ll look later.
       I find a parking space near the entrance of Advantage House. As we enter, Janeth turns to me and speaks anxiously about the cost of living in a place like this.
       “Jan, you have scrimped and saved for years, and now it’s time to start spending your nest egg. On you. You deserve it.” She is looking at me dubiously when Connie, the Advantage House manager, appears.
       Introductions are made and Janeth departs with her guide. I can’t read my book because I am praying to God or the Goddess or Whomever that my sister will like Advantage House and its amenities. An old gentleman with a walker maneuvers himself into a nearby chair, takes his newspaper from under his arm and begins reading it. I try Positive Thinking, my mother’s standby.
       Jan returns, with Connie. I look at her expectantly. “Well. . .? What do you think?”
       She cocks her head. Wow. Not Wow-terrific but Wow-it’s-awfully big.
       She seems dazed by the prospect of such a radical change. “I don’t know what I’d do with all that space.”
       Connie thinks a minute, then says she can show Janeth the studio apartment of a resident who’s away and won’t mind. The verdict? My sister likes the way the resident has furnished her apartment, but the refrigerator is tiny.
       “They’re needed only for snacks,” Connie says. All your meals are provided.”
       Although I hoped that Jan’s move to assisted living would mean she’d enjoy having meals served to her in the dining room, I wasn’t surprised when she said to me later, “I don’t think there’s going to be anything on the menus that I can eat.”
       I confessed to Kathie, “I’m afraid I said, `Then you’ll starve.’”
       “Oh dear,” said Kathie, who would never say anything like that, even in jest. We had looked at a menu in the brochure a couple of weeks ago, and yes, for breakfast there were items like eggs and bacon and sausage—no-no’s for Jan—but there were also cereals and toast and fruit. As for the mid-day dinner and the evening supper, Janeth said unhappily that she supposed she’d just have to change the diet she has adhered to so carefully. I said the meals would be the kind that Kathie and Frank and I have been eating for years, and they haven’t damaged our health.
       She says, “What about . . . “ then stops. I know what she’s thinking. She’s thinking about my lumpectomy decades ago and the 30 days of radiation. I had no side effects except for irritation over the daily drive to Mass General. And I don’t blame Peter Pan’s Peanut Butter for the problem.
       When we return from our excursion, I ask Jan to show me the infection on her leg. She rolls up the pink slacks.
       “When I showed Ray what the doctor had done to me, he kept telling me to stop rubbing the spots so hard, but how else could I find where they hurt?” I see faint pink marks and say that it looks as if they must have healed.
       ”Oh no, the infection is underneath.”
       She tells me she has been working on memorizing Ray’s address. I ask if it’s in her address book.
       “I don’t have an address book. It would be an invitation to the snoops to find out more about my business and everyone else’s business. . . .” 


     Tonight I decide to prepare “Skillet Chicken Breast with Vegetables,” a recipe I found on Google.  I will double the ingredients so there will be enough for at least two dinners.  Red wine is an ingredient in the recipe; do I have any red wine?  I look in the cupboard and pull out a bottle of Sauterne.  It looks red.  My sister will approve because red wine is good for your health, like dark chocolate.  The bottle slips out of my fingers.  It doesn’t break, but it spills gorily and requires a tedious cleanup. 
When I have finished using my foot to push a large square of terrycloth around the floor (It’s too painful to mop it up any other way), I see a black sort of doodle that has resisted my efforts to eradicate it.  Is it something in the wine like the Mother in raw vinegar?  I look more closely.  No, the doodle is not superficial; it is a permanent scar on the white tile.  I say to myself irrationally:  “It’s HER fault!”  Then Kathie calls.  I tell her about my disaster in the kitchen.  I don’t tell her I blamed Janeth.  I say I’ll put a Band-aid on the scar when company comes.

        All the hours on the phone, all the forms sent to banks along with a copy of my Durable Power of Attorney, all Janeth’s fears that her savings are gone from the dozen different annuities she has, all her worries about having been robbed. . . all these concerns are beginning to be resolved.  With three checks made out to Janeth Black, I call her and say we’re going to the bank. 
She comes down to the car, and we set out. When we get to the bank, we sit down at the desk of a woman named Laura, who soon finds that she needs to keep repeating herself.   She has trouble understanding our concerns, and we don’t understand her at all.
I announce that we are here to deposit three checks to my sister’s account.  Jan supplies her social security number and date of birth.  Laura looks at the screen.  
“There has been activity in the account, and the balance is quite low.”
Jan and I swivel our heads and exchange looks—hers panicky, mine puzzled.  It turns out this was the checking account we’d reserved for Jan’s Social Security deposits.
“She has another account,” I say, and give Laura the information.  Laura looks at the new information on her screen. 
“A check was returned to us on April second, due to insufficient funds.”   I hear the tsk-tsk in her voice. 
“I know that.  I forgot to deduct the check my sister gave to her lawyer.”  .Sheesh, it could happen to anyone.
The balance is reassuring.   Laura asks Jan to endorse each of the checks and write “For deposit only.”
“Why do I do that?” Jan asks.
“If you were to drop a check in your travels, no one could cash it as long as your write those words on the back.”  
On the way home I’m thinking about what a novice I am in the world of finances.   Jan says out of the blue, “You’re so smart!”  I tell her what I'd been thinking, and we laugh.  Back at her building, she retrieves her cart from the trunk, and we hug goodbye. 

        I call Jan to find out how things went with her dentist appointment.
“The new dental assistant had an odd quirk.  She kept saying, `How does that sound to you?’  It was such a broken-record question that it drove me crazy.”
When the dentist finished cleaning Jan’s teeth, she said another appointment would be needed to take x-rays.  “How long does that take?”  About five minutes.   Jan said, “I can last that long, let’s do it now.” The assistant said, “You’ll need to open your mouth very wide.  How does that sound to you?” 

        Janeth calls to tell me again about Ray’s eighteen-page letter, this time supplying details. 
       “He compared the way he felt about me to a movie he’d seen.” 
        I listen to Ray’s account of the movie the way mothers listen to their children giving a scene-by-scene narration of a film’s plot. Not attentively enough to be able to repeat much of anything, if asked. 
Jan’s conclusion, “He is a man who has loved me and still loves me more than any man in the world ever loved me.”
“You’re lucky to have such a good, helpful friend. What do you want done with letters like that? Do you want them to go to Linda?”
Jan utters a big OH!  For a moment I think my question has offended her, but no, she is in shock for a different reason.  The balcony curtain that shields her from prying eyes in her eighth-floor apartment has just fallen down.  She is distraught about this loss of privacy.  
“You said Ray might be coming on Sunday.  I’m sure he can find a way to put the curtain up again.”   
“But how could such a thing happen?”  I know what she is thinking.  Someone could have come in while she was seeing the dentist and tampered with the support for the curtain. 
 “Maybe Ray jostled it when he was working on your TV.” 
“That’s impossible.  The TV is way across the room from my balcony.”
“Well, Ray can fix it, I’m sure.”
         Jan says, “Remember what Vaughan used to say?  `If it isn’t one thing. . . .’”
         “It’s another,” I supply. 
         “No,” says Jan, “If it isn’t one thing, it’s two.”
          I like Vaughan’s version better.  I tell my sister I love her and we exchange the hugga-huggas that end a long phone call.  This is the best way for me to be a caregiver, now that I’m trying to avoid too much walking.  Thank heavens for Ray.

        Jan continues to worry about even a trial visit to Advantage House.  “How can I bring my awful bed that hurts me when I bump into the edge?” she asks.  “What would I do for furniture?” 
       “The apartment comes completely furnished with towels and sheets and the works.  You won’t have to bring a thing.  They always have one ready for what they call respite.  If a family is going to be away for a couple of weeks and can’t take care of a relative, this is the solution.”
Jan is still upset about her destroyed privacy.  “My curtain has fallen down.” 
“I know,” I said.  I was on the phone with you when it happened. Is there a building with an eighth-floor apartment that faces yours?” 
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, if you look out that balcony window, can you see anyone with a window facing yours?”
“I never looked, Bar-ba-ra!”
 “Try looking now.”
“But people can get up on the balcony like the man that assaulted me.  They can get up on scaffolding when the building is being worked on.”
“That was months ago.  It isn’t being worked on now, so your privacy shouldn’t be a concern.  Anyway, didn’t you say Ray might be coming tomorrow?”
“Ray?  He’s so big and clumsy, there’s no way he can fix it properly.  It will need new fixtures.”
“Okay, call the office on Monday and tell them about your problem.”
“They aren’t going to be able to do anything with that big chair in the way and all the other things in the way.”
“Professionals know how to work around the furniture.  Just think of men who come in and put new carpeting down.  Think of the sofas and wall units and tables and lamps they have to get out of the way.”
Jan finally says she’ll call the office.  “I’ll just have to live with it for two days, no privacy at all for two days.”
I say, “You hate living there, don’t you!”  Yes, she says, she hates it. 
 “We’re going to get you moved out as soon as we possibly can.”   
       I was thinking about the treasures Jan wants saved, and I was having mental conversations with her, i.e. Jan, we can't reach out to the future from our ashes and beg our loved ones to attach the same importance to our letters that we did.  Unless you are famous, or semi-famous and well organized the way our mother was when she died (her poems and stories and letters neatly contained in several cartons), it's no use trying to dictate what will become of Your Stuff. .Janeth wouldn't understand or accept such counsel.  Our white lies will have to do for now.
       She called to tell me Ray had worked on the curtain rod.  “He did a pretty good job, but the curtain is a little shorter than it was before, so there’s a peek-through opening at the bottom. I gave him an atta-boy anyway.” 
He took her to the supermarket after he fixed the curtain. “We were able to find some really cheap tonic with quinine, only eighty-nine cents for a big bottle.  I’ve rinsed out a Polar tonic bottle very carefully and thoroughly because there isn’t room in my refrigerator for the eighty-nine cent one.  I’m going to pour tonic from the big one into the smaller one.  Do you think it’s safe to leave the big bottle on the counter after I’ve opened it?”
I say it’s probably okay for a few days.  She’s going to take the chance—it was only eighty-nine cents; if it goes bad she’ll throw it out. 
Jan’s fears for her security continue. I visited her today, parked in front of her building and called to tell her to meet me outside.  I walk over to the small park nearby.  It’s a beautiful day, about sixty degrees; a man is sitting on a bench, reading the paper. There are other benches, but I’m not there to sit down and enjoy that stranger, the sun.  I’m there to look up at the top floor where Janeth’s apartment is.  An upward glance makes it clear that no one, even on a very long ladder, could possibly see into her living room.
 When she comes through the door, I take her arm.
"I want to show you something, Jan."  She comes with me to the little park.  I turn her around and point to the top floor of her residence.  
“Look, you don’t have to worry about anyone peeking into your window."   Janeth stares upward for a moment. 
“They can if they’re on my balcony,” she say, her voice rising. The man with the newspaper looks up.  “Have you forgotten that I was assaulted in the middle of the night by a man on my balcony?” 
“But that was back when there was scaffolding in front of the building. Now that there isn’t any way to climb onto the balcony, you’re safe.” 
“He can get onto my balcony another way, there’s a place…a place…up there where those white columns are, there’s a place. . .I don’t want to talk about it!”  
“You don’t have to, dear.” 
As we walk back toward the building, my sister tells me again in a loud voice that a hand had seized her and wrestled her to the floor.  Bystanders stare, as I try to calm her.    
“That must have been awful!  I remember asking you how he got out on the balcony, and you said, `He came up on the elevator, of course.’”
I didn’t say ‘of course!  That was just someone’s guess.  Everyone was making guesses as to how it happened.”
      I do what I should have done much, much sooner: change the subject.  “I’ve been thinking about the patches the neurologist gave you for your pain.  I’m wondering about the back pain you have if you try to stand up straight.  I’d love to know if putting patches on your back would relieve the pain.”
“I don’t even know how to use them,” she says helplessly.  “I don’t understand the instructions.  It says to leave it on for twelve hours, and sometimes I find myself taking it off at six o’clock, sometimes at eight.  It’s all just too confusing!”
“When you move to Advantage House, there will be nurses to help you keep track of things like that.  I do hope this will happen soon.”
Jan calls, tells me Nell is there and is recommending an assisted-living facility in Quincy, Hancock House.  I am irritated that Nell is complicating matters but try not to show it. 
“Jan, you’re on the waiting list for Advantage House, and it’s only ten minutes away from me.”
Jan calls again after Nell leaves.  She says she doesn’t like having Nell know that she might be moving. “It’s my business, nobody else has to know.” 
“You’re such a private person, Jan.   Moving to Advantage House isn’t anything you need to keep a secret.” 
“That’s what I’d like to do, keep it a secret.”
I ask how the visit with Nell went.
 “We just sit here, not knowing what to say to each other. She’ll be paying her last visit next time.”
“Didn’t she try to help with anything?”
“I wanted her to call in a prescription for me, but she said she doesn’t do that.  She did say that when I dispose of the vial, I should peel off the information on it.  I’ve been trying to do that.  It’s really hard to do.”
“Peel off the information?  I never heard of such a silly thing!  Why did she tell you to do that?”
“Well, I guess if someone sees the writing on the label, they can steal your identity.”
“That’s absolutely crazy!  Just put the empty vial in the chute and down it will go with the rubbish from all the other residents. Wait till Kathie hears that this woman is adding to your worries with talk of identity theft!  That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard!”
Jan’s voice is a half-shriek as she says, “I didn’t say Nell said anything about identity theft!  I just figured this was why she wanted me to peel off the information!”
“Oh.  Well, I don’t know why on earth she told you to do that, but I’m sure you don’t need to.”
“That’s what she says when she advises me to do something.  She says I don’t have to do it.”
“Do you have a prescription that’s running out?”
“It has six or seven days left.  Nell said I’d have to call Baxter’s and then call my doctor to get her approval.  ”
 “The pharmacist will do that for you.  I’ve done that a million times, called in a prescription, and the pharmacist says it’s expired and he’ll call the doctor.”
“It’s all just too much,” says Jan.
“Give me Baxter’s number and the number on the prescription, and I’ll do it for you.”   When we finally hang up, I’m exhausted, and I’m sure she is more so.
       I call Jan again at six, wanting to be sure she is okay.
       “I’m trying to take the leaves off my Romaine before it’s rotten.”  I ask if she knows to separate the green part of the leaves from the hard, tasteless white spine.  “Yes, the part that looks like celery I put in the toilet.   I have a lot of deli stuff in the refrigerator, but I don’t know which I should use up first.  There isn’t any date on the cartons.” 
       "You’ll have to use the smell test."  She laughs, but during the rest of the call she sounds forlorn and lost, as if she doesn’t know what to do at the moment or at any moment in the future.  I wish I could put my arms around her and comfort her.   
      Linda is in Janeth’s apartment, helping her get a laundry done and working to pare down the paper mountain.  I think at this point the mountain may be more like the Blue Hills.  I have a hill of my own, forms to be filled out by her doctor and by me, in readiness for the move to Advantage House.
People who have stayed there enthuse about how good the meals are.  I’ve had some delicious mid-day dinners at the Advantage House in Weymouth, where my former neighbor Kathie Carr has lived for years.  The trouble is, good food is not a turn-on for Janeth.  She is suspicious of anything that has additives and preservatives, having read an article claiming that substances like . . . 
I just looked up the latest on additives and preservatives and find my sister has good reasons for being suspicious. This will be my Mother’s Day gift to her—admitting I shouldn’t have been so sure she was mistaken about the notion of chemicals in food. 
       Jan was amazed at how much Linda accomplished.  “I just trusted her with the papers, and a big bag of them was taken away.  And the trampoline is gone.  Linda told me that trampolines were good exercise for the mentally impaired, and Tiffany had used one when she was younger.  I said if it might help some child, she could take it.”  This was my niece's most diplomatic achievement.                                             
       Another frantic call.  “Guess what I’ve done now! I left the patches on my leg all night.  They’re only supposed to be on twelve hours!  How could I be so stupid?”
      “Jan, it wasn’t stupid, it’s perfectly understandable when you consider what an unusual weekend you’ve had.  Dinner with Kathie and Frank at the Marriott Saturday, dinner with Linda Sunday at the Hearth & Kettle.”
“It’s good of you to think up excuses for my craziness.”
Kathie and I exchanged a series of e-mails.  She is concerned about the patch, thinks Jan should discontinue its use, will do some research.  She learns that the patch Dr. Martin prescribed is Tylenol, which isn’t as strong as others.
We both know that Jan’s use of the patch is a futile exercise. It will have no effect on the infection she is convinced she got from Dr. Martin’s dirty fingernails.  The scene of the alleged crime shows not even a bruise, just a few pink spots on the back of her leg. 
Linda predicted that her mom would come up with something critical, despite her hours of work.  She was right.  I stopped briefly at Southern Artery Apartments today, meeting Jan in the office so copies could be made of her insurance cards for her respite stay.  Then we went up to #822 to see how her apartment looks with the trampoline gone.
“This is just wonderful,” I say.  “It’s a big improvement.”
“But I'm worried.  I’m afraid Linda has thrown out a stack of envelopes with friends’ addresses on them.”  She demonstrates what the stack looked like, outlining them with her hands. “She was working so fast, I just tried to stay out of the way and trust her not to make any mistakes.”
       “The letters may still turn up. “
       “They weren’t letters, they were envelopes!" she cries.  "How can I write to my friends if Linda threw their addresses away?”
I suddenly remember I have something to do at home, such as calm down.  I say hugga hugga and take my leave. 
A couple of hours go by while I work in my study, with part of my mind wondering if I should call Janeth.  The phone rings. She says she wants to apologize. 
“You don’t have anything to apologize for, Jan.”
 “Yes, I do, but those envelopes were vitally important to me.  Back before Wally died we had an address book, but after that I never kept addresses in a book where anyone could see them.  It was nobody’s business who my friends were.  I just saved the envelopes and planned to write some letters after I retired.  Now that I’m going to Advantage House, I’ll be retired and I’ll have time to catch up on what’s happening with my friends.”
 “Janeth, we’ve reached an age where we don’t have very many years left.  It’s time to let go of things. We should focus on what’s really important . . . “
“Old friends aren’t important?”
“Not if it means hurting Linda’s feelings by finding fault with her after she worked so hard to help you.” 
Amazingly, she listens to me and says nothing further about the envelopes.


We have a reservation at Advantage House for a week, starting Saturday, June ninth.  Linda will drive down from Maine to bring her mother there, along with her medications and whatever else she  needs.          
Janeth called with a new concern.  “I think my flickering lamp table is such a dangerous fire hazard I ought to cut the plug off.” 
“How about wrapping the plug with tape, in case the lamp is fixable?”
      "But suppose some nut got hold of it and peeled off the tape and plugged it in?"       
      “Could you put it in the hall and have it taken away?” 
      "I keep things on the attached table." 
 “Okay, you know better than I about what your situation is.  Do whatever you think is best.”
         I call her after dinner.  "I cut the cord," she says. 
        "How's the baby?" 
        "How's the baby?" 
        "Are you saying b-a-b-y?" 
        "Yes, you said you cut the cord, so I was wondering how the baby was." 
        "Oh hah, hah,  now I get it.  You'll have to write that down and tell Linda."
        Janeth had another electrifying tale to me tell about her lunch with Ray.  He assured her she could safely leave her cart in his van.  She was uneasy but reluctantly followed him into the restaurant.     
“When we came out, there stood the van with its side bashed in.  We couldn’t open the door, but I could see that the cart was gone.”  
“I’ll bet it wasn’t Ray’s van.”
 “How did you know that?” 
“Because you don’t sound upset enough.” 
Yes, Ray’s car was parked next to the damaged one, her cart untouched.
She tells me she bought a big jar of honey.  "I've been trying to pour some of the honey into a smaller jar.  Now I have to worry about critters being attracted to the jars.  I put them in the vegetable bin.”
        “You could probably store them safely in a zip-lock plastic bag.” 
“Yes, the critters won’t be interested in eating plastic.”
 “But they are so tiny, the opening would look like the Grand Canyon to them.  I’ve seen them, Barbara.  I cut them in half.”
Cut them in half?  I say okay, the honey will be fine in the vegetable bin.  Why do I argue over these trivialities? 
“How was Nell’s visit?”
 “She didn’t do much of anything except walk up and down the hall, braying the news about Advantage House.  I had to shush her.” 
“Going to Advantage House for a week will be an adventure.  Why should you be embarrassed about it?”
“I’m not embarrassed, Barbara.  I just don’t want the neighbors knowing where I’m going.  It isn’t their business.”  That’s my sister’s mantra and her motto.

I can see why people like Kathie Carr and my ex- husband felt claustrophobic in an MRI (my friend to such a degree that she had to halt the procedure and schedule it at another facility with a different kind of machine).  I passed the time by counting the knocks and buzzes and bangs to see if they had a rhythm.  I hoped they will sing loud and clear to Dr. Matthews that this woman’s “moderate stenosis” has progressed to unbearable.  His Celebrex prescription, taken with Tylenol, has given me no more relief than all the other allegedly powerful medications.  While I was in the MRI coffin, Linda was making the bi-monthly drive from Livermore Falls to Quincy.  At 12:30 I had just returned to my condo when the phone rang.  “Hellooooo,” drawls Linda, with that big grin she has in her voice. 
 “Aren’t you the smart one to get here so early!”  Half an hour later, we met at the Ninety-Nine Restaurant, according to plan.  Jan was overwhelmed by all the choices on the menu, 
“I’ll have what my sister is having,” she finally says to the waitress.  Her yum-yumming over the seafood chowder delights my ears a lot more than the clattering and buzzing that assailed them this morning. 
I bring up the subject of the apartments at Advantage House.  “Janeth thought the one-bedroom size was much too big, so she’s getting a studio.”
“What I couldn’t understand in either apartment,” Jan says, “was the size of the refrigerator.  It was no bigger than a dot.  How can you keep things in something the size of a dot?”
I remind her that she’ll be getting three meals a day when she moves in.  She still shakes her head over the practically invisible refrigerator.  It’s intriguing that the exaggeration is in a different direction from the usual.  There are thousands of letters from Ray, papers that would take thousands of years to sort through, a refrigerator no bigger than a dot.  I wonder if this skewing of time and size is a typical symptom or if the vastness and the smallness of things are my sister's original quirk.
The Filet of Flounder with Rice arrives.  The bright green broccoli is barely steamed. 
Janeth has a struggle cutting the broccoli stems into bite-sized pieces.  She has a struggle chewing them. 
“Forget the stems, Jan, just eat the florets.” 
She eats the florets.  She has a few bites of flounder.  Then she picks up the lemon wedge, carefully removes the seeds, and eats the lemon to the rind.
“This is the sister,” I say to Linda, “who was crazy about maple sugar.  It always seemed too sweet to me, but she loved it.”  I give Jan my lemon wedge.
The dessert is as gloriously huge as it looks in its photograph.  Linda serves a portion for her mom, taking care not to include any chemical-filled whipped cream.  She and I accept the risk, and we all make short work of the sundae. 
Linda and Janeth follow me to Advantage House.  Marketing Director Carla Thomson greets us and gives us a talk about the many perks that are offered to residents.  When she is ready to show Linda and Jan an apartment, I leave, partly to spare my back and partly to get my leftovers into the freezer before they overcook in my car.
That evening I called Kathie’s house, where Linda stays when she drives down from Maine. 
“So what did you think?” I ask my niece.
“I was very impressed with everything about it,” she says.  “Even the grounds are lovely.”
“Did Carla show you a studio apartment?” 
“No, Mom has changed her mind about the studio.  She wants a one-bedroom like the one she’ll be staying in temporarily.”
         "That’s what I wanted her to have from the beginning. I am so glad.” 
 “I asked if there are ever sets of furniture left behind by relatives.  Carla said yes, they often supply furniture.”
“How wonderful!  Will Janeth be renting it?” 
“No, she’ll buy it.  It will be expensive but much easier than trying to make do with what she has.  They sell the furniture that’s in the apartment for the temporary stay.  Then they buy another set to take its place.”
“Do you think your mom will be as suspicious of the staff at Advantage House as she has been all these years of the maintenance guys?”
“The paranoia will move right along with her, I’m afraid.  When we came back to her apartment this afternoon, she pointed to the open closet slider.   She was sure it had been closed when we left.  I said, `No, Mom, when I was pushing your cart, I slid the door open to make it easier to get by the stuff in the hall.  
“Then she checked the kitchen counter and thought her prescriptions weren’t the way she had left them.  They were tilted.”  Tilted?  “Yes, t-i-l-t-e-d, tilted.” 
Linda laughs the husky, exuberant laugh that is part of her charm.  “Mom is always convinced that someone has been snooping whenever she’s away for a few hours.”
“Maybe things will be different at Advantage House.”
I call Jan, curious to hear her version of the afternoon.  Mirable dictu, she actually sounds pleased.  She actually says the whole thing is exciting.  Not terrible but exciting.  This is the first time I have heard such a positive word from her lips since I came back into her life.
“But Barbara, I’m going to do something you won’t like.”  For a moment I was crest-fallen.  “I don’t want to have any pictures on the wall.”
      “That’s okay,” I say, relieved that she isn’t planning to skip two meals a day.  “It’s your apartment, you can do anything you want.”
I collected my sister for our shopping trip.  Before she came down to the car, she said on the phone that she would be bringing her cart, not just to put it in the backseat but so that she can lean on it.  By the time she shows up, I have figured it out.  This is what she’ll tell the management at Advantage House when she is obliged to go to the dining room for her meals.  She would be too fearful to leave her valuables in her apartment. For someone afflicted with memory loss, she can be downright resourceful when she feels threatened.
       We find several petite shirts and slacks that Jan tries on, then opens the dressing room door to see what I think.  What I think is God, she is so skinny and bony, she has nearly starved herself to death.  She takes my hand and puts it on her leg to show me how the skin feels.  It is dry and scaly like a lizard’s.  That, too, must surely be caused by her strict adherence to no fat, no sodium, no sugars.

        Ray drives Janeth to her appintment with Dr. Demarko .  The office calls me to say she will have to be tested for tuberculosis before the doctor can fill out and fax the medical information to Advantage House.
       “You need to make an appointment for the test and another appointment for the result two days later.” 
       “How can all this be accomplished in a week?” I ask.  It's routine, I’m told.  Her appointments are on Tuesday and Thursday at eleven.  I call the Visiting Nurse Association to let them know Janeth will need a nurse to take her to these doctors.  Ray's going to be away, and I can't do it.   
   I finally reach Carla Thomson and am telling her all this when she says, "Would you like to have your sister move in on the ninth and just stay on?"        
   I have never swooned in all my eighty-six years, but this one was close.  “Yes!”        
   Carla thinks it can all work out.  It won’t be the same apartment Linda and her mom looked at, but it will be a similar furnished one-bedroom.  Janeth can decide what furniture she wants to buy after she's settled.  Dr. Demarko will fax the medical form on Thursday, and someone from Advantage House will go to Apt 822 to interview Janeth on Friday.  I'll take her to Advantage House Saturday morning along with her cart and a few important items, such as her medications, some clothes and a toothbrush. Linda will bring more belongings, like sheets and towels, when she gets to Quincy in the afternoon. 
Jan gave me three Meals-on-Wheels cartons that were stored in her refrigerator, untouched.  One of them was over a week old, but two were recent.  I had one for lunch and one for dinner and thought they were delicious, especially the stewed tomatoes and the sliced beets.  I had forgotten beets could be so good   And how convenient the meals are.  Just fold back a corner of the plastic cover and heat in Microwave for three minutes.  I wouldn’t hesitate to order them for myself if I were, for instance, recuperating from back surgery.  Jan’s notions about what’s edible have reduced her to the size of an anemic twelve-year-old.  I will be enormously relieved when professionals are dealing with her self-destructive habits.
Before I left, I asked Jan if Linda had duplicates of her keys.  Alarmed, Janeth clutched at the cord she wears around her neck.  “This is the only set.” 
“After you’re settled in the new apartment, give me the keys so I can drive back to Quincy and give them to Linda.”
“But I might need them!”  
“How else Linda will get into your apartment?”  Jan grudgingly parts with her keys.
She says she’s running out of milk.  I say I will buy her some.  Does she want nonfat or low fat or what?  Her answer is not an apparent non sequitur.  “I’m so thin.  I’ve been looking at how skinny my arms are.” 
"All right, I’ll get whole milk."

Jan calls to tell me she has stuffed a trash bag with a huge number of letters from Ray and letters about Mr. Basteri, the bastard who swindled her long ago. That episode would fill a book. 
“The bag is so heavy,” Jan continues, “it’s even too heavy to drag.” 
        “Could you divide the stuff into two bags?”   She says this would be very difficult. 
        “Okay, dear, leave it as it is, we’ll work something out.”
 I return to reading John Updike’s Terrorist.  I am drawn to three of his characters, find myself wishing the book were fatter, so it would last longer.
The phone rings.    My sister tells me how poorly she’d slept the night before, and now she will probably be up until eleven, trying to divide the contents of one trash bag into two.
”DON’T DO THAT, JAN!  We’ll manage all these things somehow.  Go to bed and get a good night’s sleep.”

I bring Jan the milk.  She shows me two trash bags full of papers from boxes that had been stored under her massage table. Then she leads me into the kitchen and shows me what is stored there.  Stacks of large rectangular boxes are amassed on shelves across from the counter.  “Four here, four more next to them, that’s eight, one-two-three-four more, and four more at the end.  Sixteen boxes full of a muddle of papers I have to look through.”
“Twenty years of your life,” I say, as overwhelmed as she is. “Linda said she would take bags of papers back to Maine and look through them for you.”  
I think of how lucky I am to have Kathie and Frank’s basement for the storage of seventy years of my life. They may be better organized than Jan’s, but after I’m gone, who cares if a rubbish truck carries them away? 
I'm on a high, anticipating a diminishment of all the concerns created by my sister’s illness.  Is it possible that in eight more days she will be in a place where knowledgeable people will help her and care for her?  I told her tonight that Linda thought she'd want to bring the filing cabinet. 
“Heavens no!”
“Okay, then Linda can put the contents into a black trash bag and look them over up in Maine.” 
“Oh no, there is much too much to put in a trash bag!”  Okay, two trash bags.  I promise Linda will be watching for anything she'd want to save.
Janeth is thinking in non-essential fragments, getting progressively less focused and more confused.  It will be a blessing for all of us when she is settled at last in Advantage House.  As Kathie summarized it:  Hallelujah!
A final call from Jan last night.  Is this Thursday, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday?  Sunday, I say.  And it’s July?  No, dear, it’s June.  It isn’t July?  No, dear, it’s June third.  She tells me Ray has brought her a calling card.  I know nothing about calling cards.  I will soon learn more.
On the way home from Cohasset’s duplicate bridge, I pull into Stop & Shop’s parking lot and call my sister. 
“I’m about to get the milk.  Do you need anything else?” 
Her voice is close to hysteria when she speaks.  She says she is almost out of time on the MCI.  She didn’t realize she was running out of time.  “This is terrible, what am I going to do?” 
“What is an MCI?” 
“The Calling Card!   I’ve been using it for all my calls to you and all my other calls, and now I see that I’m almost out of time. I won’t have any way of talking to you or Linda or anyone else.  I’m in a terrible predicament!”
“Jan, your phone will work, just as it always has.”
 “No, you don’t understand, I’ve been using the calling card, not my phone, and I’ve used up almost all the time that’s left!”  Her voice is frantic and half crying.
        I repeat that I’m sure her regular phone will work, all she has to do is try it, and she’ll see that it’s still working.  “Do you need anything besides milk?” I ask again.       
“Yes,” she howls. “An MCI!”  I ask the same question and get the same answer.  I buy the milk and stop at home first to find out if I have a call from the South Shore Visiting Nurse.  Arnold had said he’d let me know if a nurse would be bringing Jan to her TB testing tomorrow.  First, I listen to a message from Beatrice.  She says Janeth has to give thirty days notice about her move; I should talk to Jerry Barnes in the office.
I call Arnold.  Yes, he has a nurse lined up for both days.  I ask him to send the bill directly to me. Then I call Jerry Barnes and learn that we will have several weeks to get everything out of Janeth’s apartment.  I e-mail this news to Kathie and say we can well take our time on the moving job.  Maybe The Salvation Army will be our salvation.
 Jerry also tells me, when I ask, that my sister is quite right when she says the button for opening the front door is on her telephone.  “This is the way the system was set up.” 
       I will tell Janeth how wrong I was to doubt this.
       I park in front of Southern Artery Apartments, call Jan and ask her to bring down the frozen Meal on Wheels that was not to her liking but will be to mine.  Wearing a white shirt and the striped pink pants, she brings down two frozen meals, and hands them to me.  She has been noticing her skinny arms, now that short-sleeves season is here.  This is why she wants whole milk, “not that I expect it to make my arms look any better.”
She tells me it’s so dark in her apartment, she can hardly see the papers she’s been examining.  “You know that lamp, the one that was dangerous?  I brought it downstairs.”     
“Didn’t you cut the plug off?”
“Well, yes, but it was of no use at all any more.  When movers come, how will they be able to see what they’re doing?” 
“They can open those vertical blinds to the balcony. That will let in a lot more light.”
Janeth looks dismayed at the idea of anyone letting light into her den.  And tampering with the balcony where she believes a man had hidden and assaulted her in the middle of the night.  Tampering with the barricade of shelves in front of the balcony, tampering with the blinds that she always keeps closed.  She says something I don’t understand about the screen being bent and the doors not working.  I know she feels as if control of her life and her surroundings is slipping away from her.
“Poor darling!  It’s so mean, having this happen to my baby sister.” 
       “It’s so mean, having this happen to my family,” she says, woebegone as a child.
What can I do but put my arms around her and tell her we all love her, we all hope she will be safe and happy in her new home. 
“I hope so, too,” she says so softly I can barely hear the hope.
I call Jan from home and tell her there’s something I’d forgotten about. 
“When I was talking to Jerry in the office, I asked her if there was a buzzer for the front door in everyone’s apartment.  She said it wasn't on the wall, it was connected to the residents’ telephones.  So  you were entirely right, Jan.  You kept trying to explain, and I didn’t listen.”
She doesn’t rub it in.  “You mean everyone else has a telephone like mine?  Huh!  That’s amazing!  I never would have believed that.”
Then she tells me she got so hungry, she ate what was left of some baked beans that had been in the refrigerator for ages.  I ask her about the seafood salad she mentioned a few days ago.  “Yes, I was so hungry I had some of that, too.”
       “And are you feeling okay?”
       “Yes, so far.”
I call her again just before eight to remind her about her Risperdal.  She takes the pill while I wait.  Then I remind her about the appointment she has tomorrow at eleven.  “A nurse will be coming to pick you up.”  
The usual despair sets in about what she will wear.  She guesses the same pink slacks she’s worn so much, she’s almost worn them out. 
“You have a nice cool nightie in one of those bureau drawers,” I suggest, aware that she will doubtless wear the pink perennials to bed. 
"That would mean I'd have to get out of what I'm wearing and into the nightie.  Then in the morning, I'd have to get out of the nightie and into the slacks.  I don't have time to go through all that."   
Oh, I see.  That explains everything I'd wondered about.  She has her reasons.