We had dinner with an old friend. She’s not all that much older than us – maybe six or seven years? I met her when I first moved out to Berkeley. She was already a graduate student in Comparative Literature, when Tom started in the department, and they had a few classes together before she finished her degree and went off to a job. But her professors were Tom’s, and later some of them were mine too. And she grew up in this area, and what with meeting at various professional conventions and all, we’ve managed to stay in touch over the years. She’d recently retired, misses teaching, and had been trying to figure out what next.
Well, now that decision seems to have been taken from her, and she seems to be back here to stay. Her daughters have done an “intervention” to deal with what appears to be the early stages of Alzheimer’s. They basically scooped her out of her house back east, took her off to a high-powered place to be tested, and have now settled her into a very classy residential facility in the city. It could be so much worse – the place is clean, clearly expensive as hell, and one of her daughters lives quite nearby.
They are making every effort to make it work for her. But somehow her kids don’t seem to have the slightest idea who she actually is. They did both go off to boarding schools for high school, and their dad was a high maintenance type, so it makes some degree of sense that they may have just missed some of the essentials.
They have her set up here with none of her books, none of her stuff. She arrived here with a suitcase of clothing. But she’s a medievalist with a strong classical background and has spent forty years teaching and publishing. This is like having someone take away your arms without noticing they did it. She was incredulous to find a gigantoid tv screen taking up half her wall, installed by her daughter who had no awareness that this would NOT be something she’d want in her space. But that’s what her kids have set up: they furnished it for her in finest early Department Store. The room is like a classy hotel – sterile except for a great deal of schlocky art. She says the nice ladies who live there – and she means nice in a not-totally-sarcastic way – are rich women for whom this is just another country club/cruise equivalent.
We took her to the zoo, and did a long tour – which ended up being the longest walk I’ve done since October and I made it all the way back to the car without collapsing. We went out for dinner and we talked a lot. She is mostly okay. She appreciates that her kids are trying to care for her, but she is going stir crazy. She has to sign in and out, and people have to be approved to go out with her. And, more, she’s feeling completely uprooted. And when she hit on that word, she started to cry. She wants to go home; she misses her friends there; she misses her life.
But it is really hard. She’s always been a bit scattered. Always, going back to the first days we knew her. But, there is a new degree of failure to keep on the track of a discussion. That she has always seemed scattered masks a lot, but there is something more off than before. And apparently she managed to get lost twice in the past year, as in wandering about with no idea how she got there. I am willing to believe that if the doctors think she needs something like this level of care, that probably she does.
But the fit is so bad. And, yes, I know that the fact that the place is clean, and well-run really should trump the rest of it. And I’ve dealt with batty relatives, and I know how hard it is.