It must be the nights that are the worst. To be alone in the dark. No snuffling, snoring, irritating presence in the bed beside her. No one to speak to. No one to complain to. No one after forty years of someone.
She feels so superior to many others at the Retirement Community. Superior to those who truly have no one. To those who have lost their loved ones, their partners of a lifetime, their companions and best friends. They are indeed alone in the dark. But Mom has Al. Or she would have if he would only come. But he is in Virginia, and she is in Texas.
Tall and gangly, still a tennis player at eighty seven, toothless and so sensitive in his hearing that he plugs his ears with cotton. Weird in his inability to communicate clearly. Weird in his ability to read four or five newspapers and remember every word. Weird in his lack of ability to string thoughts together coherently. And weirder still in his dumpster diving, lack of a home, and carrying all his worldly possessions in the back of his car. There is barely enough room for her. But she loves him and wants him with her, or her with him.
They met on a tennis court forty years ago in Miami. What created the connection? She has a Doctorate in Education. He can scarcely write. She is gregarious and curious about people. He can barely be around them. They both live off of Social Security, but she is uninterested in money or investments as long as she has enough to survive. He is constantly investing naively in disastrous schemes that lose him everything he has. Again and again and again.
What he has is wanderlust. He follows the tennis circuit, north in the summer, south in the winter. As a child, Mom also made that trek. Her father owned a wall-paper company in up-state New York that left him wealthy enough to bring his Kentucky wife and three daughters to Miami every winter. Their home on Biscayne Bay was a lovely place and Mom attended a girl’s school that didn’t begin until Thanksgiving or go past April for all of Miami’s other wealthy Winter residents. So when Al offered to take her with him on his trips, she went willingly.
Traveling meant a new place to pack and unpack every night or every other night, or maybe once a month. He rented a room in people’s homes. You just have to look under “Rooms to Rent” in the newspaper, in case you are so minded. As I have mentioned in other blogs, they also camp out. There is no need to own a home when you can carry everything with you like a Hermit crab.
For the last 40 years, until we got her a cell phone, we rarely had communication with her. We never knew where she was or what was happening to her. She might appear on our doorsteps, with Al in tow. They might stay for a week or two, then suddenly, without warning, she and Al would be packed and gone. Wandering north or south depending on the season.
Now, she can no longer use a cell phone. She doesn’t know how to turn on a TV. She has forgotten how to use a microwave or a stove. She has begun falling. She doesn’t know where she is. But she most assuredly misses Al. And I made the mistake, I think, of getting her a regular phone and writing Al’s number down beside her bed. And she has learned to call him. Constantly complaining, begging him to come get her.
He hates our town. And certainly won’t be tied down for any length of time. He won’t stay with her although he may camp in the empty house or lot next door. He thinks he knows courts and court cases and keeps asking about contracts. Do I have a contract to keep her there? They are married and whose rights prevail?
Do I let her go? Can I even stop her? Without a cell phone now, how will we know where she is or how she is? Last year she was in the hospital in Philadelphia. Another in Orlando. We only know because the bills have begun arriving at my address. At least if she is here I know I can get her to the hospital. I know she is well fed and cared for. Her room is cleaned, her sheets changed. I can check on her three times a day.
But family is no help in those lonely nights. And Al may well be riding to the rescue. What is a daughter to do?