Sources of Joy – Days 57 – 59
Visiting João in the care facility on Wednesday afternoon was a mixture of oddities and the perfectly natural. The odd thing was that a friend gave me a lift to the next town; the perfectly natural thing was that she should accompany me. In fact, I had asked her privately about two years ago if she would come with me to lend moral support were the day ever to come when João entered a care institution permanently. It was lovely to be a passenger in a pristine car with someone who knows us both, is a true ray of sunshine, and with whom I feel very comfortable indeed. I should warn you that I have yet to find the source of joy in the following:
The second oddity was meeting with João for the first time in two weeks. I phoned the home about 30 minutes before so that the staff could give her the message of our anticipated arrival. As she bravely soldiers on with a combination of serenity and confusion, the changes in João compared with her former self seem to become increasingly marked. The all of me screams in mixed anger, anguish, sadness and selfishness, “I cannot deal with this!”, and yet I do. Outwardly, my disembodied eyes observe that I am calm and loving, and – here’s the shocker – patient! What other response is one supposed to have when faced with a person waiting for her visitors looking most odd indeed?
Even from the end of the corridor, I notice this familiar figure has turquoise blue nail polish on her fingernails (she never wears nail polish – and the blue?!), bright pink socks which do not belong to either of us (again, not a colour she usually wears), and pale blue tracksuit pants which I have never seen in my life. Thoughts such as, “What happened to that enormous pile of clothes I ironed and packed for her before she came here?” race through my head, as do a series of blasphemies and expletives which I never think of or say in abbreviated form, including, but not limited to, OMG and WTF. My giddy effing aunt!
Thankfully, the garments covering João’s top half do belong to her, a light khaki T-shirt and a purple lightweight jersey. The person who dresses her at the home has taken to decorating João’s head with the colourful kerchiefs she normally blows her nose on when chez nous. Today, we have a pretty mauve affair, as a type of Alice band. Well, I suppose it is all very nice, and I am glad the people at the care facility make João feel special and pretty; I am just not used to it. Pretty. No. Striking, dressed to kill, beautiful, incredibly sexy, dynamic, magnetic, striking (yes, I have mentioned that twice, but she really was most striking most of her life). Yes, she was all those things. Pretty?
What comes out of my mouth as I walk the gauntlet of about twenty paces down the corridor is “Hello, darling.” You see? Normal. Perfectly normal.
Our friend wheels João to a nearby café while I deal briefly with a couple of administration issues. When I catch up, the two are busy with soft drinks in the café. João appears well-rested and calm and happy. She does not say she is missing me or ask anything about home, does not ask my friend how her recent visit to her daughter in UK was, loses interest in my extremely brief story about the car problem. Her responses are about as glazed as the expression in her eyes. Her vision may have deteriorated further because she does not look directly at me, but rather, about four inches to the left of my left ear lobe. I begin to wonder if the care facility has Prozac® piped into the water supply, but then dismiss that idea as fanciful. I do a mental run-through of my schedule for the evening and realise that my having a few shots of strong stuff is out of the question, even though I am not driving. She agrees that renting an apartment permanently at the beach is an appealing idea. She comments after my (again, brief) listing of options as to location that I seem to have everything under control and without skipping a beat moves on to another invented story which involves a lot of pointing of the index finger, which I have to dodge, as I did in the previous story which had the same plot, but different characters.
Pointing one’s index finger in southern Africa is a common gesture used for emphasis. I am aware that in Europe, however, it can be construed as aggressive and even offend. I lapse from time to time, especially when in intense discussion, but normally recover quickly enough. I am concerned that this person referred to once upon a time as my lover may be offending fellow residents and staff at the care facility, and gently remind her to use an alternative gesture which results in one offering an open palm to one’s interlocutor. She does not get it. I switch from English (the language we have always spoken at home) to Portuguese (João’s other mother tongue and the language of the care facility) to explain what I mean. This gets her attention. I ram it home by singing a little hymn which precedes the Lord’s Prayer in Church, ostensibly for the benefit of the kids, but for which adults are strongly encouraged to do all the hand actions. I do this to remind her of her faith – since she has not mentioned God once in over an hour, and this is unusual – and because one of the actions accompanying the song is the hand gesture I am trying to get her to use as a substitute for the aggressive finger-pointing. She gets it, and likes the chorus, and kind of mouths the words and actions the second time I sing it. Unwittingly, I feel I have been manipulated into doing what João wants: treating her like a young child, so that she can be exonerated from behaving like an adult.
I stop. At this moment, I realise the Portuguese woman at the next table has listened intently to the repeat rendition of this chorus. My arms return to my side, and I offer my friend a comment regarding the apparent popularity of our new priest, despite initial resistance to all the arm waving at the outset, from the adults mainly.
Clearly, a change of subject is required. I have not told Jane the latest hilarious happening in the village involving someone we all know and, reassuringly for me, this provides proof that I cannot stay pious and patient for long. I give João the greetings of all friends who sent them. Some she receives with gratitude; others she claims never to have met. Suddenly, I feel very tired. A brief look at the time reveals visiting hours are almost over. On our way back, João admires the view of trees against blue sky. I am relieved when we check João in. Ignoring the blue nail varnish for the umpteenth time, I tell her when I shall visit next. This is useless, because she has no concept of time.
I do not know how I either of us is going to adjust after this break. I have a list of things to do which may well lead to her receiving permanent care sooner than originally hoped for. Just what I need: something practical on which to focus. There is no betrayal, nor guilt. I feel as if I am in someone else’s bad dream and cannot get out. Possibly, the only consolation (a kind of sad joy) is that we did speak often before João went into the home, and all I have to do, I guess, is remember the content of those many conversations in order to have an inkling of what is going on at any given time. I know that these conversations explain the very amicable lack of animosity between us. It still does not make it my dream though.
The next day, I worked in subdued but focussed fashion in what I call a “long morning”; one where I start working very early so that I can fit in an eight-hour day before taking time off in the afternoon. So, say your regular day (if you have one of those) is 08:00 to 17:00 with an hour off for lunch, then in order to finish at 15:00 and still fit in eight hours, you need to start work at 06:00. After my long morning, I took a fairly long walk (45 minutes at a moderate pace) in the hot afternoon up various hills to my acupuncturist. I stopped to drink water in shady spots along the way. The Algarve is dry. I could not have done this without water. It does seem crazy to expend all that energy in order to relax, but my body is having a hard time resting without feeling exhausted first. I am simply helping it along, as an interim measure to achieving relaxation at will. The sense of achievement in not stopping when ascending a steep hill does make me happy, though. My knees are mostly shot from all the hockey of my youth, so running is out of the question. That is my story, and I am sticking to it.
Yesterday was my day off for apartment hunting. My car is still at the mechanic’s, so I took a bus down to Quarteira. Now, there’s a relaxed place! I narrowly missed securing a two-bedroom apartment a mere block away from the beachfront, although I did get to look at it, so now the estate agent knows the kind of place I am looking for. All six estate agents I visited on my extensive walk in and out of side roads and main “looking for signs” told me that I would have better luck on long-term rental if I returned in September, since most places are being rented for the summer. I failed to see the logic behind that, but unless I receive one of those miracle calls on Monday or Tuesday, I can probably rule out living at the beach for now. I tried a few agents in a non coastal town too, but no luck so far.
After all but the visit to the last estate agent, I found a place to change into my beach gear, purchased a large ice-cream which I almost dropped, sat down on a concrete bench and chatted to a man with a little dog, while I slowly whittled my ice-cream down to a manageable size and progressively covering my hands with ice-cream dribble. Then I sauntered off to the beach. The water was cold, so I sat near the water’s edge, and let the bigger waves surprise me, until my legs were thoroughly frozen. I finally took a very quick swim, and managed one full dive under the water before running back up the beach and lying motionless for fifteen minutes. I was too lazy to reach for the camera in my bag to take odd upside down photos featuring blue sky with huge people in the foreground. That was enough for one day. I was disappointed about the dashed hopes of living at the beach in the near future, but glad that I am made such a sterling effort. I have made a note to structure my summer work schedule very carefully to include frequent beach assignments.
I went for another unintentionally long walk today in the area where I currently live, because I could not get through to a woman’s phone number, given to me by the mechanic’s wife. It is a distinct advantage that everyone knows every one else’s business in this village. The woman was not at home, but when I returned to the bottom of my road, I got encouraging news from the women gathered there waiting for the bread delivery van. Apparently, the apartments in the front of the property which (because of all the stairs) are not suitable are not the ones for rental. There is a newly refurbished little cottage or apartment set away from the road at ground floor level. So, I shall try again. No doubt, at least one of those women will let the owner know I am interested in viewing the accommodation on offer via the grapevine before I manage to do it myself. Good!
Well, I have walked quite a lot in the last three days. That has to count for something!