A wise man adapts himself to circumstances, as water shapes itself to the vessel that contains it.
- Chinese Proverb
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The nurse rapped on the door of Room 125 at Sunny Hills Care Center and peaked into a very plain room that contained a rocking chair, a dresser with two picture frames on it, and a bed with a very old, plain woman slowly knitting an unrecognizable blob of yarn.
“Otillia, you have visitors.”
Tillie didn’t raise her head from the blob she was knitting. “Tillie,” she said quietly.
“What was that, dear?”
“My name is Tillie,” she said in a slow, thick voice.
“That’s right, Tillie. Why don’t you show your family that pretty scarf you are making?”
“It’s a sweater,” she snapped.
Tillie snapped her head up; yanking her needles out of the row she was working on. That voice sounded familiar. Two children, a boy and a girl, maybe around ten years old, approached her bed. The girl was a little older and her face was partially hidden by strait brown hair. The boy was shorter with a face that had not quite lost all his baby fat. Tillie knew she should be able to recognize them, especially if one would call her grandma. That must mean she had had a child at some point. And that child had children. Through the foggy mist in her memory she saw a little blond haired girl running naked around the house, towel trailing behind and dripping wet.
“Julie! Come here, you’ll catch cold.” Her voice was scratchy and worn from years of use. It didn’t sound right, like listening to a recording of your own voice and wondering if you really sound like that.
“I’m right here, Mom.”
There middle aged woman standing at the end of her bed. Her deep brown eyes were watery with concern. She remembered her eyes; they have never changed. But she could not understand why her hair had become brunette laced with red streaks. That color did not belong to that face.
“How are you feeling?”
Feeling? Her hands were sweaty and she did not know who these children were hovering over her bed. Her tooth was sore, she didn’t know why; maybe she cracked it on something. What does she mean, feeling?
Tillie could only stare at this woman. Her mouth was held lank, her tongue trying to remember how to make a word. “Pppeeeehhh…” Why wasn’t it working? What did she want to say anyway?
“What, can you say it again?”
Say what? She didn’t say anything. Nothing would come out. Why were these people bothering her?
“Go away.” Tillie knew how to say that, she said it often enough during the day. Those two simple words, however, affected this woman differently than the nurses in their simple blue scrubs. Her daughter, yes, she could see it now. Her eyes, it must be her daughter.
“Mom, it’s okay. You don’t have to talk if you don’t want to.” Her eyes closed briefly and two tiny rivulets of tears fell down her face. Black mascara leaving trails for more tears to follow. Tillie was alarmed by her daughter’s distress. What had made Julie so sad?
“Julie? Do you need something?”
Relief fell around her daughter at the mention of her name, her recognition.
“No, Mom, I’m very happy. Don’t worry about my need. I’m going to speak to one of the nurses. I’ll be right back. Kids, why don’t you show Grandma your surprise?”
Tillie’s gaze followed her daughter as she left her small room out into the hallway. She caught the words “better” and “dementia” before the door closed. She turned her attention to the wide-eyed children shuffling their feet before her bed. If she believed what her daughter had said, these kids must be her grandchildren. She tried to remember them but only recalled the smell of the pine needles from an unseen Christmas tree. Christmas with snow. Wrapping paper crinkling as it was stepped on, being tossed aside after hiding treasures.
Tillie looked out the window at the red and gold leaves outside. Leaves crinkling like wrapping paper. Could it have been that long? Did her daughter abandon her to this world of medicine and sterile bed pans? She had to look away from those faces. She glanced down at the sweater she was work.