Tuesday, April 16, 2013

tennessee waltz.

On some Sundays, I play the violin for Alzheimer's patients who live a few miles away.
They sit politely, listen to the simple songs,
electronic bracelets around their ankles.
Sometimes they clap, other times they forget to.
This is selfish, but I do it because usually, it makes me feel happy.

This past Sunday I visited at dinnertime.
Some of the women touch my hair, one asks me to spin in my dress while she claps and pronounces the outfit perfect.
They ask me where my father is.
They all tell me they're going home today.

Everyone ignores the woman who pushes around her walker and screams for help.

I play somewhere over the rainbow 3 times
and Tennessee Waltz twice.
One woman who loves to sing sits by my elbow.
She sings at each song, even the ones without words.
She weeps during Danny Boy.

After I play
I usually talk with a Korean lady, but today she doesn't know who I am
Or I suppose she doesn't want to pretend.
She brushes my arm away when I try to give her a hug.
I sit next to her as she resolutely looks away.
She claps along to the singalong tape of nursery rhymes, wheels on a bus,
She reminds me of the way Korean schoolchildren dance, hands straight, bent wrists, and her head swaying
She won't look at me when I try to say goodbye.

I sit with the Colonel, he speaks in a whisper and his hands always shake.
He tells me it's the 10th time he's heard the wheels on a bus tape today
And that he doesn't know why they keep playing that song.
I say it must be a favorite.
And he laughs giddily.
He asks me where my home is, and I consider a long time
before I say that it's Kentucky.
Kentucky is the horse capital of the world he says.
He tells me about his farm of beef cattle and
he talks about the day his son played football at a high school game and how he loved to watch it.
When I say bye, he manages to take my hand and he gives me a wink as though we have just shared a secret.

My taxi is late, so I wait downstairs in the lobby
with the residents who are only beginning to lose their memories.
They are watching a cartoon, Despicable Me.
I don't think anyone is enjoying it.

One of the men is asking when he can go home.
You're on vacation the nurses say. They smile, wide eyed.
Enjoy it. I wish I could be on vacation! One says. They laugh hysterically and wink at me.
The man calls them over one at a time with the same question,
As though it were a conspiracy and he wants to be sure the answers match up.
Are you sure I'm on vacation?
Yes they say.
Your daughter paid all the bills.
But how does she know how much to pay he asks.
They laugh again. Don't worry. She took care of it. She paid for everything already.
Enjoy it!
He keeps asking. He finally asks to call his daughter.
They say no, she's out of town.
He says he doesn't believe them.
Their patience is wearing out. Watch tv. Enjoy your vacation! they snap and again with a wide smile.
They ignore him when he starts to cry.

I sit next to a woman who asks me if I'm there to entertain them.
I say that no, I'm sorry I can't interrupt the movie...
She nods and sighs.
Wake up, sit in a chair all day, and then sleep
It's no way to live.
I'm used to going going going - she says.
She's shaking her head, and I can tell that she's about to cry.
She's trying not to, but her eyes shine.
She has multiple layers of jewelry on, earrings, several necklaces, a ring on each finger.
Don't be sad I say.
I know, she says. I shouldn't be.
When I leave she smiles so hard her tears spill over.