It took me over a year to convince my father to move into Riverview Gardens, and now, four months later, it looked like I’d done the right thing. He was eating well, sleeping well, even playing checkers most days with a man from Montreal. As for his dementia, it was no better, but no worse either. And, now that Riverview was in the process of building a new state-of-the-art facility with more space and more light and wonderful things like a pool and a library and a little movie theatre, I felt even more sure that I’d found a good, safe place for my father to live out his days.
The new building was going up with surprising speed. The last time I noticed, the Countdown To Moving chart in the lobby said, “Eighty-nine more days,” each day represented by a red brick. Dad seemed to love watching the construction from his window on the second floor. Much more fun, he said, than watching the soaps always playing in the lounge. After the site had a break-in, the board fence had been replaced by a wire one, so now he had a really good view, especially with the bright spotlights on at night.
Then last Sunday, I noticed a change. I’d just told Dad how it had taken ages for the city to clear the tree that had come down during the weekend storms, and at the end he’d said it was odd they’d had such a dry spring. Actually, he said it was odd they had none of, “You know, those tears from the sky.” I had to fight back my own tears when I realized what he meant. And what this meant.
Then on Friday I arrived to take him to see Rob’s basketball playoffs, but he had completely forgotten even though Rob had called to remind him the night before. First, he was flustered and then furious no one had told him. So here it is, I thought. “Diminishing cognitive functioning.” Just like they’d predicted.
I noticed other signs too, especially a new restlessness, even during supper despite how much he loved a two-pie night. There the cherry and pumpkin slices sat untouched while he paced between the tables, a look of despair on his face as he wrung his hands as if he was deciding whether or not to go to war. When I finally got him to sit down, he began telling me about playing hide-and-seek with his two brothers in Krakow. His eyes were filled with tears.
The following week, it seemed as if he was even more absent from himself. All he wanted to do was stare out his window at the new building.
Finally, I decided to report these things to the staff. When I began describing what I’d seen, I realized that it wasn’t just my father who had seemed anxious. “Maybe it’s my imagination,” I told the ward nurse, “but I thought Mrs. Himmel had the same wild-eyed look my father has. I saw her sitting in the lobby today not talking to anyone, just continually looking back over her shoulder.”
“This happens,” the nurse said. “They get confused. And paranoid too. Poor things. Just keep reassuring your father that he’s safe, and that we won’t be long in this old place. Moving date: September thirtieth. And not a minute too soon.”
“Yes,” I said, “I keep reminding him soon he’ll have a bigger room as well as a pool and a movie theatre. He knows that; he’s very interested in the construction, always watching the trucks coming in and out, especially those really big ones, the ones that are like boxcars.” I smiled a rueful smile. “This morning my little grandson and I were looking at the trucks and cranes near his daycare, and now here I am talking about trucks and cranes with my poor old dad.”
The nurse nodded and smiled.
“Today,” I said, “as we were watching those trucks, he started to cry. Know what he said? ‘Momma.’ I didn’t know what to say. What should I say?”
The nurse told me just to reassure him that things are fine, and not to worry. Tell him he’s in good hands.
That Friday night, Miss Klein and Mr. Górski killed themselves.
I didn’t hear about this until I arrived on Sunday and the ward nurse whispered the terrible news to me. Mr. Górski they’d found during evening rounds. He’d used a broken thermometer to open his veins. As for Miss Klein, no one had any idea until she didn’t show up for lunch. She’d left a note beside her empty bottle of beta blockers. The note said, “Never again.” Probably not willing to face the upcoming surgery on her other hip. “And to think both of them were survivors, camp survivors,” the nurse said. “Poor dears. They’d been through so much already.”
I promised not to mention these calamities, but the first thing Dad said was, “So, what do you think of this? Stan Górski’s killed himself. And not just him. Vera Klein too. Everybody’s talking about it.” He hadn’t been this clear in a long time. “Well good for them!” he said. “We should all be so brave.”
“Oh, Dad!” I said. “You mustn’t talk like that. After all you’ve been through.”
“You watch, Miriam. You just watch. They’re already trying to cover this up! Just like before.” He was shouting now. “And shut that door. People are listening.”
“Cover what up, Dad? What are you afraid of?”
He was looking out the window again, pointing and still shouting. “You have to stop them, Miriam! You have to do something. I can’t. I’m too old.”
“What, Dad? What?”
“What do you take me for?” He started to cry. “Don’t you see? They’re not just moving us. It’s starting all over again. You’ve got to get us out of here.”
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