It’s raining huge drops and windier than you imagine Chicago to be. You’re wearing cotton lined sweats, Uggs and an Oakley hooded sweatshirt that sometimes almost serves a winter jacket (under too pricey leather jacket that the shoe repairman was able to fix.) You’re still cold in your 630 square feet of prime Manhattan real estate on a street that most people call “the wind chamber.”
The number 5 bus is just across the street, but there’s no bus shelter (wouldn’t look right in a historical district,) and the bus doesn’t come according to schedule. To get a cab you have to walk up a hill to West End Avenue. You’re only aware it’s a steep hill in weather such as this. On these days everybody wants a cab and few come with the yellow light on; it’s shift change time and many come with the yellow lights on, on the side and really mean it. They were supposed to stagger shift changes when they got their fare increase, but somehow…
The subway is an Avenue and three blocks past West End Avenue; three blocks that used to have much scaffolding to shield you but this week has none. It’s you and the wind, and you’d rather suffer it at home.
This is the downside of a Riverside Avenue address. You don’t face the river. but West End from the living room, and Northern Manhattan from the bedroom, so you don’t really think of yourself as living on Riverside which is really not an Avenue but a Boulevard. Guess Riverside Boulevard doesn’t sound as good.
You try to understand the difference between an Avenue and a Boulevard without looking it up. A Boulevard must be grander, and
change course with much open space.
The upside of living on Riverside is being close to the Hudson that in fall smells just like the ocean; the park is your backyard with piers on the river, and a walkway that is really a bike-way. You’ve begun to hate all bike riders because they curse you and all serious walkers for invading their space even when the sign says “no bikes allowed.”
A day like today is a no-walk-anywhere-day and you really need to in order to get yourself out of the slight funk you’re beginning to get into. Any time you begin thinking that the last spate of really great weather was autumn, 2001, you know you’re going to begin a minor depression; like a slight cold or fever, it doesn’t really stop you, just slows you down and makes you feel out-of-sorts.
Your sister called. Fave niece’s favorite game is “Who wants to be a Millionaire.” She plays it constantly. You told your sister that it was mommy’s other favorite show during the last couple of years. Your sister and you then talked about how fave niece’s just like mommy in many ways.
Oh you don’t want to think about your mother, and how when “Who wants to be a Millionaire” was on three times a week you’d be so happy because mommy would have one program to watch. She explained how she couldn’t follow dramas or even most sitcoms once she had lost her sight almost completely. Sometimes she could see shadows, and that would make her happy.
You know that your mother had a great life and most times that knowledge is enough. But on days like today you remember the end; how old she suddenly became. How guilty you felt for trying to have your own life when all she wanted was for you to visit her all the time. That’s all.
You’re not a super-daughter or super-woman who can do everything effortlessly. And since you had to take public transportation to North Shore Towers the journey could take two hours one way. She hated it when you arrived at noon and insisted on taking the four PM bus to Manhattan because the next one was at seven. You knew that she was being unreasonable and selfish and so did she most of the time.
She hadn’t raised you to be her constant companion and yet that’s all she wanted the last several years. The irony being that for some of this time you were a social worker at the nursing home you had worked at before.
The Social Service Director, so prim and saint-like would sniff her virginal nose at families that didn’t visit often, and show her disdain for you when you would argue their side. She had never personally liked you. You were too sexual; too young looking for your age.
She had to keep you for you were the person who had thought up the home’s most lucrative grant, and she took most of the credit. You weren’t even mentioned by name. You hadn’t thought it a brilliant idea, just practical–to have a cordless phone by the nurses station bed-bound residents without phones of their own could use. Really, you couldn’t imagine life without a phone. It was easy to implement and control. The director at first thought it was a stupid JAPPY idea from the Princess of all JAP’s. (Anybody who knew you at all knew that the last thing you were was a JAP, though you easily passed for one.)
You brought in one of your cordless phones and demonstrated how it could work. The aides might be a inconvenienced, but truly it would be one of the less stressful or gross part of their jobs. Your idea became a national model that won awards not that you shared in the glory. You know, you just realized how sick that was.
Though other social workers were currently married with children, and had much money; you epitomized everything she couldn’t understand.
You never quite grasped what she didn’t like about you or why she didn’t like you. You were used to your bosses thinking that they had found the goose that laid the golden egg when you worked for them. You probably stayed around too long to try to make her respect you for you knew that you were a dedicated and good employee.
After your mother died, fifteen minutes after falling in her bathroom, and cried into her Companion Button that she was scared and didn’t want to die, you walked around in a haze of darkness. You alone knew that your mother sometimes became disoriented in her own apartment. Not the traditional type of disorientation. She certainly knew that she was in her apartment, but very occasionally she wouldn’t be able to find her way.
She had an aide that came four hours a day five days a week and refused to get more help. She told you that if and when she died, she wanted it to be in her apartment so you listened to her. Maybe you shouldn’t have. Would you have allowed this to happen to a client who was living at home just like your mother?
Legally, you’re 100 percent correct. You can’t force an adult who has capability to live how you want them to. You did have a client who lived in a fifth floor walk-up and went home to it though you tried to get her to exchange their apartment for an available ground floor apartment on the same floor. She refused, and you wrote on the case summary “unsafe discharge.” You had convinced her to stay in the home until her apartment was cleaned, exterminated and deemed safe for human habitation.
You had many other clients with similar situations. As long as you wrote that you counseled them against it and wrote “unsafe discharge,” you were working within the law. You didn’t even have to look for alternative answers or do anything taxing, really. Most times Medicaid home care agencies would be involved but they would basically just rubber stamp you. Though they could approve or disapprove it before you worked on it, and had the final say.
Yet you had one blind client (resident really) who had been living in the apartment building for the well-elderly associated with the home. The
home-care agency approved her leaving the nursing home. You told the resident she could go home.
You had a complicated relationship with this woman because her daughter had been the developmentally-disabled clerk (really a victim of fetal-alcohol syndrome) at your last job. You counselled the daughter often. She would listen to you as you had been one of the few employees to treat her with any respect. Everyone agreed that it wa
s best if the mother knew nothing about your relationship with her daughter. It didn’t feel right.
The mother would tell stories about her “happily single” daughter, her growing up years, her present life, and other untruths and it would break your heart but what could you do? Confront an old lady who was trying to come to terms with her life? Never.
Just before she was slated to move back to the apartment the home care agency rescinded their approval. They couldn’t let a home care aide (she would have 24 hour care as she was on Medicaid and deemed needy enough) give her, her meds, and as she was blind she couldn’t take them herself.
Your mother had invented the rubber band guide to med containers as she would put rubber bands of various thicknesses on each bottle. But your mother had always thought on her feet, had always trained her memory and mind. Your mother had always been a beautiful fun woman who attracted people like bees to honey.
After she became blind and lost her confidence she became scared and grateful for any contact. You couldn’t stand that. She did have good friends who hadn’t deserted her but when you would see them you thought that she bored them with her tales of traveling around the world with your father. It turned out that she hadn’t, but you were so scared and on guard for any signs of human frailties.
After she had become blind she became a human phone directory. You had always called her when you couldn’t find a word in the dictionary due to your inability to hear words correctly. Nothing to do with your hearing, it’s perfect; a lot to do with how your mind processes information. Until she became blind she could spell anything.
Now she lost that ability because she needed her brain for more pressing matters. She drove both you and your sister crazy because she’d make you check her clothes for stains and when she owned the house she had made both your and your sister’s rooms into extensions of her closet.
When she agreed to the aide she agreed to let her look at the clothes. This had made you much less resentful.
But the resident couldn’t learn the rubber band guide to meds. After you told her, she blamed you and you couldn’t blame her. You had been the bearer of first good news then bad news; shoot the messenger, please. Your relationship became adversarial, but you continued to counsel her daughter in maintaining her own life.
Yeah, really, you couldn’t count the times she had been sent home from the Social Security office for not bathing or having worn filthy clothes. She dirtied the bathroom we shared with claimants as much or more than any of them and was one of the reasons you practiced the Kegel at work.
Later at the home, the nurses would try to teach it to the residents but most couldn’t remember how to do it, five minutes after learning it. Practice never helps, they were so different than your mother who was older than many of them.
When your mother falls and then dies, four days after her 86th birthday, you bring all this baggage and guilt plus more. And your mommy who had always been considerate until the final chapter, died on the first day of the week New York ran out of empathy, October 13, 2001.
At first you were nice; totally messed up but nice. Then six days after the death one of your best friends told you to get over, it was old. And soon you found most of the city in agreement. Your mother was old; mourn the young.
The friends you kept understand much more now. We were a city in collective grief, and our grief wasn’t acknowledged as more rampant than the rest of the country’s. The Towers were more important to you than the Empire State building though your dad had clients there and even an office when he became Mr.-Hot-Shot-Accountant.
The Towers were important to you because you had hung out at its bars and restaurants in your long prolonged youth; it was the only mall you could stand. Your sister lived in Battery Park City and you would take the wonder child, Little Luce to see wonder baby, fave niece. You hung out outside the Financial Center, and you walked down paths that had room for both bikers and walkers. You went to free concerts–Janis Ian was the last before. It was a wonderful complex and all but the hole that’s called Ground Zero has risen again.
Your grief has ebbed and flowed with the tides of the Hudson. When the weather is good, you feel good, but the weather has been shades of rain for much of the past three years–and winter has become almost arctic.
On days like today when the wind bears freezing into your apartment, your brain turns arthritic and you mourn for your mommy and wonder why you have to have such a marvelously, complicated family.
Then you feel glad for having been adopted into them. Your parents drove you crazier than a loon who left the lake, but crazy is relative, and some kinds of crazy can be good.