I’m sitting in the lobby of the [redacted] Nursing Home in Missouri, surrounded by elderly ladies slumped in wheelchairs, working on a chapter — 3 chapters — of my book. I’m here visiting with Aunt Mary this week, trying to help her children arrange/negotiate her short and long-term care, and running a number of errands, but right this minute I’m in the lobby working on my book because there are blocks of time when it’s early in the day and I can’t be in the room. Right now my aunt is getting her bedding changed and being bathed (after I begged — demanded?? — the staff bathe her even though “sugar, she’s not on today’s schedule”). The Smiling Man who runs this place is constantly asking me I need something, if he can help me, if I’m looking for something or someone —- he seems anxious that I’m wandering about the place without an escort and using a laptop. “Are you looking for something?” he keeps asking. “No thanks,” I say. “I’m okay. I’m just working.” I don’t think he believes me.
Outside the nursing home, the whole town is abuzz. Ben Affleck and Tyler Perry are here shooting GONE GIRL. You know this because the town is small and Ben is in the news all day long. Where’s Ben? Have you seen Ben? I spotted Ben at the gym! Ben waved to me from the car! Today’s news is all about the fake police station, complete with fake green grass outside, and how fast the crew put it all together. What a spectacular and believable job they’ve done.
This trip home is a parallel universe, and neither are familiar. Here at the nursing home, 3 long hallways sprout off the lobby: Wisteria Lane, Country Meadow Lane, and Blueberry Lane. Aunt Mary lives in the last room on the right on Blueberry Lane. All along “the lane” there are fake windows with fake shutters between the doors, and cheery fake “welcome” wreaths all around, and big banners of fall colors. It’s like the movie crew snuck in here too, and then snuck right back out. There’s a lady who chants “I need help, I need help, I need help…” before she dozes back off. And another sweet lady with a blanket over her tiny shoulders who sits by the front door, asking everyone who comes in, “Can you take me to my grave? Do you know where my grave is?” Strangers do their best to offer her comfort.
I’m reading and typing, making a list of the errands I need to run today and checking my watch to see when I can get back to Aunt Mary. The Man, the Smiling Man, keeps his eye on me. The morning news says Ben and Tyler were spotted at Starbucks this morning. I feel like I’m in a Margaret Atwood novel.
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