When I got to the care center tonight I sat down between a grumpy Angie and a sleeping Mary, ready to cajole them with mushy, starchy vegetables and gravy, when in walked another volunteer and stood over me, watching me. I've met this volunteer before, but only once or twice. She's from Africa and she's very nice, but she obviously wanted me gone from Angie's table. I pretended I didn't know it because I wasn't sure why this volunteer gets to "call" Angie and Mary, but she didn't move. Finally, before the food arrived, piping lukewarm, I asked the volunteer if she wanted to feed Angie and Mary. She told me yes, in a way that indicated that it was never going to be any other way. So I was banished to...the other table.
The other table was my original table, the one where I first met Ardella and Mattie, all of whom have moved on (to other places in the building, not heaven). But the only gal left from my original group was Lorraine, and she was in a bad mood. When I arrived I had placed my hand on her shoulder like I always do, but she brushed me away, so I knew she was having a bad night. I pulled up a chair between Gudrun and Eileen and asked the nurse what level Gudrun was at so I would know whether to physically feed her or just encourage her. I know Eileen and I really like her. She sits in her wheelchair, looking maybe sixty years old at the most, head bowed in either meditation or sleep or thought. I'm not sure. Usually Eileen breaks out into a falsetto song while her head is bowed and if you don't know where the singing is coming from, you wouldn't think it was from this sleeping woman!
Gudrun talks. A lot. In Swedish. With a little English thrown in from time to time. Swedlish, really. She just talks and talks and talks and I just nod and nod and nod. Then she picks up her napkin and starts to walk away. I have to convince her to stay and eat, but it's not easy. Occasionally the nurse has to warn her sharply to sit still and eat. I feel bad for her, chastised like a child. But it's necessary. I pretend to understand Gudrun between bites of pureed hamburger, but I think I'm just agreeing that she should get up and leave, which she shouldn't, because she just keeps trying to do it. Lorraine swipes at the nurse, not wanting to eat and upset that he keeps asking her to try some food. Eileen feeds herself except for the applesauce. Then she secretly sings.
All the while I can't take my eyes off of Katherine, who is sitting next to Lorraine. Katherine is the woman who cried and cried at the Christmas party saying she didn't deserve any gifts because she shot him. Whatever that meant. I don't always see Katherine, but when I do I am mesmerized. She's tiny, like a frail old kitty. She's all bones and eyeglasses and thinning hair (perhaps a bonnet is in order!) and always a man's plaid shirt. And she always talks about very dark things. Tonight when crazy Anita, the lady who screams everything she says at the top of her lungs, pushed her clothing protector one too many times toward Katherine. Katherine just looked at Anita over her giant glasses and said meanly, "Do that one more time and I'm going to hit you in the face." But Anita is too far gone on her journey of dementia to understand it. Which would seem like a nice place to be, until you see Katherine. Katherine is constantly scared and angry. Tonight she repeatedly said that he "might try to kill her tonight." But she never explained who or why and she probably doesn't even know. At one point she kept eying a man at a far away table and telling the nurse that "he" was over there. The nurse asked who was over there and where? Katherine said she couldn't see him right at that moment but that he might just be hiding behind someone fatter than him. That was kind of cute, compared to the nightmares she usually talks about. Finally she decided it was time to leave and I said, "Good night, Katherine." She replied that I was talking about her, wasn't I? I told her no, I would never do that. She said I'd better not. I told her I'd see her next week and she said, "Probably not. I'll be dead before morning. If you hear a bang, it'll be from my apartment." What on earth happened during this woman's existence prior to the care center? Did she live a life of violence? Was she oppressed by someone, kept from realizing any of her dreams? Or was she a regular happy wife and mother whose new reality bears no resemblance to her old one? I couldn't stop thinking about her as I left the home for my own.
When I arrived back at my place with its snow crab trees busting at the seams to bloom but not quite ready, there was a giant rainbow towering over the neighbors' homes. Nice reminders that there is still beauty in this world, if not in Katherine's head.