- The Club
I was glad when the night people stopped visiting my mother. I was glad when they stopped flattening themselves into pancakes and squeezing under her bedroom door just to torture her. Two of these night people, corpulent Polish women, would sit in tandem on my mother’s arthritic knees, bouncing their fat buttocks up and down until she screamed in pain. Others stuck red-hot pokers in her bladder.
“Didn’t you see that thing on TV?” Mom asks. “They’re doing this all over California. Chicago, too.”
“Why would a couple old women do that?”
“For kicks. They’re like gangs. They think it’s funny.”
My mother lives in a “board and care,” a single-family home licensed to provide live-in care to four elderly residents. Mom’s Filipino caregiver, Iris, sings as she changes adult diapers. Iris’s husband, Rupert, emanates silent fumes of resentment as he hoists residents from bed to wheelchair and back again. Once he told my mother she’d be easier to lift if she weren’t so fat. That was back when she was fat and her stories were true.
Mom’s tone, when complaining about the night people, is never terrified, merely annoyed, like when she complains to Iris about too many nuts in her butter pecan ice cream.
“They do this to other people, too,” she says.
“Just ask Stella.”
“Stella’s dead, Mom! Ten years at least.”
Unlike the other residents, stone-faced and docile, Mom still expresses a wide range of emotions. When she hears the news of her childhood friend’s demise, her mouth opens in silent shock. Her eyes, still big and round, open [End Page 111] wider and well up with big cartoon tears. Her face contorts comically. I almost laugh. I almost cry.
She dabs her tears with a tissue from one of her five “designer” Kleenex boxes. Only one totes tissues. The others overflow with things Mom wants near at hand—her reading glasses, phone, TV remote, candies, magnifying glass, pens, and hairbrushes—as well as tiny stuffed animals, fake flowers, and other useless tchotchke. In fact, the Kleenex boxes are mere bricks in a bigger wall of junk that includes life-sized stuffed animals, a half-dozen baby blankets, and stacks of National Enquirers, Reader’s Digests, and crossword puzzle books. This wall runs the full length of the bed, and Iris worries that it forces Mom to sleep too close to the edge, inviting a fall. But this crowded bed is Mom’s last hurrah, a scaled-down effort of a classic hoarder to maintain her comforting stash.
“I heard them plotting against me,” Mom says. “Rupert and those other guys. Something about the Nemo Club and going to a hotel.”
“You got that from Finding Nemo,” I say. “That fish movie, remember?”
A couple years earlier, we took Mom to see Nemo at the theater. My husband and I elbowed each other whenever the cartoon fish Dory spoke. Dory was a younger version of my mother: forgetful, ditzy, often interrupting the conversational flow with non sequiturs—but never delusional.
“There is no Nemo Club,” I say. “Don’t act goofy.”
“Haven’t you figured it out?” she asks, angrily. “Nemo spelled backwards means omen!”
Meanwhile Iris is frantic. “What if she tells the ombudsman that we’re poking her in the bladder? Those ombudsmen believe everything!”
Iris’s fear inspires my own: if Mom keeps this up, will I be asked to move her out? She’s safe here, happy here. The nursing home almost killed her; keeping her at home might kill me. I share her genes: they gave me weak joints and muscles unfit for lifting women off of beds and toilets and onto wheelchairs. I share her genes: they render me prone to anger and unable to cope with the constant demands of elder care. I share her genes: they steer my imagination in unexpected directions, and when I awaken from my trance I’ve missed the freeway exit or left the ice cream in the backseat to [End Page 112] melt. Once while helping her walk up the...