If you’ve been reading, you’re aware that my grandmother has been slowly losing it. Grandma has lived in a swanky old folks home for years, residing in a perfectly appointed apartment with my Grandpa until he became too sick and old and was thus moved to the Second Floor Health Center. My grandmother would spend all day visiting him, and then occasionally go upstairs to the Third Floor Health Center and read the invalids selected articles from TIME Magazine.
“The third floor is where they put the ladies who’ve lost their marbles, dear.”
As my grandmother has gotten more ill, she’s been moved from her dear apartment down to the Health Center, and my mother’s gone to extremes to make her Second Floor room as familiar and comfortable as possible. Pewter frames and Limoge boxes surround my grandma as she struggles with the remote control and attempts to speak in broken French to her Haitian nurses. A week ago, I drove over to meet my saintly mother and visit with Grandma. Normally, one can hear them both talking from blocks away, but I wandered the Second Floor Health Center and couldn’t find a trace of mom or Grandma.
“Excuse me. I’m looking for Mrs. Peterson.”
“Oh, well she be moved to da Tird Floor.”
(screaming) We move her! Tird Floor!”
Oh my god. Acceptance slowly crept in. I mean, I’ve always thought she was nuts. But the Third Floor? That means medical professionals agree.
Yesterday, my mother promised to ply me with wine if I’d meet her in Grandma’s (third floor) health center room and visit. Turns out, the Third Floor is a pretty appropriate place for dear Grandma these days, and my miraculously patient mother smiles through mood swings and constant confusion, bizarre demands and insistence on highly unnecessary re-explanations. To make matters worse, a nurse came in and remarked that my mother and I could be sisters. I won’t tell you how old Joanne is, as I’d be disinherited, but we could not be goddamn sisters.
It takes decades to say goodbye to Grandma but we finally made it into the elevator, and escaped the dreaded Third Floor Health Center.
We walked out to the front door check-in area, manned by a old dame we’ll call Jill. A little background on Jill: Late in life, Jill’s con-man boyfriend swindled her and violently and dramatically murdered her rich elderly aunt, hoping to cash in on Jill’s monetary windfall. Jill was quickly on to him, busted some detective balls and eventually got the asshole arrested. She then wrote a true crime book about it (including the gruesome crime-scene photos), was on Dateline NBC, runs a victims rights organization and works the front desk at my Grandmother’s retirement home. Jill is a fucking tough broad in a floral blouse and silver perm, and needless to say, a character.
“Oh, Jill. Thank God.” My mother announced. “Can you find us one of those lists of TV channels for mother?”
“I got those right here, dear. How’s our girl doing?”
“She’s confused.” Mom sighed. “And she’s pissed about it.”
“Aw Christ, Joanne. We’ve got those gals all over. In the apartments, in the Health Center, and Lord knows, in that Third Floor Nut House. I had one gal, a real cookie. A real great lady. Went on cruises in her heyday. And she’d wander around, thinking she was strolling around the deck of a cruise ship. And I’d walk with her. On and on, she’d go. She’d want to have dinner with the Captain? Fine. We’ll need to clean your good dress, then. The Percer is being rude? I’ll speak to someone about that. You’re mother’s waiting to meet you and we need to hurry? Well, hell, ladies. She’s 91 years old. Old mom’s been dead since 1957 but I don’t need to tell her that. So I says, Oh, your mother, phoned. She’ll be waiting for us. You see, Beth? You got to get in their space, is what you got to do.”
With that, an emergency buzzer blared on Jill’s desk. “Oh, shut up, you.” Jill rolled her eyes and flipped off the sound. She patted her bouffant and continued. “You don’t need to be the one who tells ‘em Sister died in the 70’s. They don’t remember anything but they’ll remember you’re the one who told them that sis was dead when they’re sure as sunshine she wasn’t. They’ll forget it all in 20 minutes anyway.
You get in their space, Joanne. Now, your mother’s not quite that loony yet. But she will be. I’ll go up and see her tomorrow. I’ll check on in on her, don’t you worry.”
Jill had us in hysterics, performing a routine so perfectly dry and deadpan and horribly blunt, I instantly wanted to make a movie about her. Years of trying to get someone executed will do that to you, I guess.
Mom and I finally bid Jill adieu and headed to our respective cars. Mom exhaled loudly and looked over at me. “Let’s go get drunk.”
Welcome to my gene pool. Don’t judge. We learned it from the lady on the Third Floor…