I’d like to die at home, in my sleep. Comfortable, sort of thing. My last day would be a good one. I’d eat. I’d read. I’d talk to my mother one last time. I’d curl up on my side and drift off, and my death wouldn’t wake me. It would just come and get me, and I’d never know.
A carefree death. I want that.
Y’know, I used to volunteer at this old folks’ home. Or, not an old folks’ home, exactly, but the geriatric ward of a hospital. Where you go, I suppose, when you don’t have kids, or your kids don’t have money, and there’s just nowhere left.
I’d come in on the weekends and clean up a bit, do some sweeping and mopping, make a few beds. I’d bring presents, wool for the ones who liked to knit, books and clothes for the ones who didn’t. I’d sit and chat, listen to stories, brush people’s hair, and when it got to be lunchtime, I’d wheel all the oldbies out of the TV room and into the cafeteria. I’d feed the ones who couldn’t feed themselves, wipe their faces, clear the tables, and wheel them back to their soaps.
I’m making it sound too nice. It was a horrible place, just old people sitting abandoned, parked in front of the telly with nothing to do. Some of them, they’d just leave in the halls. I’d walk by them on my way in, grandpas in wheelchairs staring into space. And the walls were this miserable beige, and the floors were green tile, and the view was a car park and the highway beyond. There wasn’t a library or a swimming pool, or puzzles or tennis courts. There wasn’t anything you’d want, riding out your back nine.
There was this one lady, well into her nineties and well into senility, and she’d grab my arm when I walked by. She’d pull me down next to her and look straight in my eyes, and she’d say “I can’t feel…I can’t feel…,” over and over again. It wasn’t a whole sentence. She was looking for a word. Trying to tell me what she couldn’t feel. And I’d say to her, I’d say, “what? What is it? Do you want to feel the sun? Do you want something soft? Hot tea? Cold lemonade?” I’d sit and I’d prompt her, everything I could think of, but I never got it right. She’d look at me and shake her head, with this awful disappointment on her face, and I never got it right.
I’m afraid of Alzheimer’s. Terrified of it. And everything’s linked to Alzheimer’s—allergy pills, heartburn pills, non-organic produce. Bad teeth. Being female. Not getting enough sleep. Getting too much sleep. Stress. Inactivity. Poverty. Not finishing university. Everything, man, everything. All roads lead to Alzheimer’s. I don’t want it. I don’t want it.
The worst part of Alzheimer’s would be the helplessness, the inability to advocate for yourself. Because sooner or later, someone would treat you with contempt. You’d soil yourself or drool down your front, and someone would look at you like you’d just ruined their day. Maybe it would end there. Maybe it wouldn’t. Maybe you’d recognise it, if not consciously, then on some instinctive level.
I don’t want to end my life frightened and ashamed.
It’s just, your dignity’s all you have, when there’s nothing else left. When you’re poor, y’know, when you’re a prisoner, when you’re at a social disadvantage, you can hold onto that. You can cloak yourself in serenity, speak sweetly and refuse to lose your temper. You can be king and be kind, and be noble, even if only in your head.
I don’t think I could do that if I couldn’t control my bowels. How do you stand up to someone who’s wiping your arse? How do you tell them to stop making that face, stop making that tchah sound, stop scrubbing so hard, and not sound ungrateful?
I don’t want nurses standing in corners, gossiping about my querulous old-lady voice, calling me Her Highness in a nasty way. I don’t want to get slapped or left in a hallway. I don’t want any of that.
It always smelt of carrots, that old folks’ home. Carrots, piss, and disinfectant, but mostly carrots. I hate carrots, at least the boiled sort. They’re okay raw, with a bit of oil and vinegar.
I have to get out of bed today. It’s been almost a week. I’m getting all…all…how would you put it? Not maudlin, exactly. I’m all down the rabbit hole, building nightmares from memories.
Oh. That reminds me. Time for our daily dose of that.
It looks better upside-down, doesn’t it? They should replace the road with a reflecting pool. Let the cars go the long way, or have gondolas instead.
(Now, I have that song in my head, inochi mijikashi koi seyo otome…. “Gondola no Uta.” I like that song.)
I’m going to order some Greek food and do some exercise. Well, the exercise first. I’m not hungry yet. But I’m getting out of bed.
(Note to self: buy toilet paper.)