I don’t hate Melinda, but I don’t like her either. I am, how shall I say it—indifferent. Melinda is a like a big empty void to me. She is not on my radar. In fact, she actually ceased to exist in the universe altogether until my daughter, Maggie, would bring her up in conversation the past three times she visited me at Avanti. See, Maggie has a friend named Erin. Erin’s mother, Melinda, recently moved into a senior residence about a mile away from Avanti, and, as a result, Maggie and Erin became hell-bent on putting together a “granny playdate” for us with our caretakers. Our daughters had convinced themselves Melinda and I were long lost best friends who needed to be reunited. We were not. In fact, I only saw Melinda for a period of five or so years, once a year, at our respective husbands’ annual holiday party (they worked for the same engineering firm). Every year, we discussed loving pineapple upside down cake and one year even exchanged recipes. That was it! And mind you this was over fifteen years ago! We weren’t friends at all. Just acquaintances. I didn’t want or need a “granny playdate”. I have my own friends at Avanti.
But here we are…and I’m sitting next to Melinda in her wheelchair in the beautiful Avanti lobby. Nurse Sarah, who helps me, and Melinda’s caretaker, Billy, are on the sofa across from us chatting up a storm. Turns out they have a friend in common. I, on the other hand, have nothing in common with Melinda except the aforementioned love of the same cake. Speaking of that cake, Melinda’s hair was fixed in a teased pony tail on the top of her head. It was a strange water fountain looking hairdo. From certain angles is resembled a pineapple’s top where the leaves grow upright and fan out. The Salon at Avanti would never let any of its residents off campus looking so nutty like this! But I digress…
Oh, what a firecracker Melinda is—she’s already asleep! Truth be told, she has narcolepsy, so she goes “night-night” whenever her mind and body tell her to. And that’s not the only condition she has. Oh dear, I can see “intermittent memory lapses” has recently been added to her medical roster on the side of her wheelchair with my magnifying glass.
Suddenly, her eyes popped open and she lifted her head up. Then she started banging her hand on her wheelchair armrest!
“Let’s skip the pleasantries! I’m dying to see the joint! Move it Darlene! Avanti is all everyone at our place talks about. Let’s go down that hall,” she pointed and then clapped her hands.
No hello. Just a slew of commands barked at me like a dog! I already despise her.
“Nice to see you too, Darlene,” I muttered sarcastically to myself.
“I got this,” I said to Nurse Sarah and Billy.
It takes me a beat to get up from the chair with my Rheumatoid Arthritis. You’re always stiff again once you sit or lay down for a bit, but I was able to use Melinda’s wheelchair as a way to pull myself up. I decided I would use Melinda’s wheelchair as my walking device and handed her my cane to hold.
“What am I…your assistant?” she complained and took the cane from me like it was dirty.
“I’m sorry,” I said as I went to retrieve it back from her, but before I could do this Melinda slapped my hand and laid the cane across her lap sideways.
“Don’t get soft with me. Just move it, move it. I need air. I’m like a rat let out of a cage today,” she said. “Let’s go!”
What a mouth on her! So rude! I cleared my throat.
“Ahem,” I say loudly indicating that it’s my turn to speak.
I donned my best fake happy voice and began to explain how we were now wheeling down the main hallway that linked the lobby to a bank of guest rooms. I wanted her to understand how each residence has its own front door and how we were encouraged to decorate our door in any way we saw fit. Some doors had pretty wreaths on them with coordinating doormats, some had charming country style “welcome” signs and some even had twinkly fairy lights around the door’s edge.
“Harrumph!” she said. “We’re not allowed to do that where I live!”
I didn’t know what to say so I remained quiet and took her out the back door to see the Walking Paths and Garden. We were silent for several minutes. You could cut the air with a knife. However, the fresh air combined with the movement of the chair (like a baby on a car ride in its car seat) was beginning to calm her. Or so I thought. We went back inside. I stopped by one of the well-appointed living rooms where a resident and his grandson were playing X-Box together on a large flat screen TV. They waved to us.
“Grrrr! Grrrr! We don’t have one of those rooms and we don’t have one of those doohickeys for the kiddos. I’m making a mental note,” she continued as we moved down the hall.
She extended her hand to touch the bright white customized railing that ran the perimeter of the residence.
“At least my place has smooth handrails and walls,” she snickered.
“That’s intentional,” I explained.
“C’mon honey, nobody wants a bumpy hand rail,” she said in a haughty way.
“Actually, you do. See, it serves as a sensory touch guide for our memory impaired residents to feel their way back to their room. Each hallway has a different pattern,” I smiled.
Melinda grimaced. There was another awkward silence. I pushed her toward the Theater Room where a fleet of luxury upholstered reclining chairs filled with well-dressed and well-coiffed residents were watching the film “Steel Magnolias” and drinking virgin mint juleps together.
“Do you like Chick Flicks?” I said trying to break the tension.
“Now, you’re just showing off! Everything is better at Avanti!” teased Melinda like a schoolgirl bully.
Suddenly, I actually felt bad for her and found a compliment deep down in my soul to offer up as a consolation prize.
“You did have the best pineapple upside down cake recipe in the late 1990s” I offered. “Now, it’s my turn in the sun. Avanti is a game-changer in their field. It’s thoughtfully designed.”
She was asleep again. I guess a juicy jealous sleep had overtaken her body. So, I wheeled her back to the lobby where Sarah and Billy had been respectfully watching us from the end of the hall—giving us much needed solo time, but still within helping distance should we need them.
I was relieved this playdate from hell was over!
Gently, Billy squeezed Melinda’s hand and patted her arm to wake her.
“It’s time to say thank you and goodbye,” he said.
“Where am I?” she said with a jolt.
“At Avanti,” Nurse Sarah smiled.
“Fancy schmancy,” she sarcastically muttered. Then she slumped back to sleep.
Put a fork in me—I was done—done dealing with this rude beast Melinda!
“Don’t let our posh custom door hit ya where to good Lord split ya!” I said as I pushed her wheelchair toward the front double doors.
“What?” said Nurse Sarah while Billy raced to stop Melinda’s rolling wheelchair.
“Oops, did I let go of her chair?” I feigned.
Nurse Sarah shot me a “be nice” look and turned to Billy.
Miraculously, Melinda was still asleep, snoring away to her heart’s contentment.
“You are so kind to Melinda. Please forgive Darlene. She must have accidentally lost her grip on the wheelchair,” said Nurse Sarah to Billy.
“Thank you. Surely it was an accident. This wheelchair’s back-brake lock may need attention. I’ll check it when we get back to our residence,” said Billy.
Billy walked closer to Sarah. He was smitten with her already.
“I’ll text you, so we can arrange another time for these friends to get together again,” he said.
“Wonderful,” said Nurse Sarah who then unconsciously flipped her hair away from her face.
“Oh, I mean, forgive me Darlene—if that is what you’d like?”
There was a magnetic, electric, wild charge in the air of potential sexual energy between these two young kind people—and who was I to stand in nature’s way. I loved love itself and would never stand in the way of it. In fact, suddenly, I felt it my duty upon this great green fertile earth to help it along.
I walked toward them and Melinda.
“Oh, yes, I look forward to our next playdate,” I said as I gently slipped my cane off of Melinda’s lap and into position by my right hip.
Billy and Sarah shook hands and held each other’s gazes long enough that I could drink-in their young love—a delicious medicinal elixir for all that ailed me including hanging out with a pineapple top green-eyed snoring monster named Melinda.