Louise was a petite 79-year old woman who spent her days watching TV and working her needlepoint, anchoring the tapestry frame against her chest with one arm while she slowly pushed the needle through with her good hand. I first met her casually because she was the roommate of another resident I was seeing. I’d say hello and excuse myself as I pulled the curtain for “privacy” while I spoke to her roommate, Cynthia, who was dying of cancer. I wasn’t too sure how much Louise could understand, since her speech was garbled and unintelligible, but we always acknowledged each other when I arrived for my weekly sessions with her roommate. When Cynthia died, I made a point of stopping by to offer my condolences. To my surprise, Louise burst into tears and held up her good hand for me to wait, while she labored over a note she wrote on the back of the recreation calendar. She pushed the paper toward me. I read it out loud. I was in the room when she died. I was in the room when my father died. She began to wail, and I murmured reassurances and stayed with her until she became calm.
I’ve been a cripple ever since I got polio as a girl. I never had a job.
“Yet you write so well,” I commented, “and your spelling is perfect.”
My mother home-schooled me. My parents insisted on an education.
She told me about her twin sisters, Lina and Lana, now 81 years old.
They doted on me, just like my parents did. She laughed, and took back the scrap of paper to add, They still do.
I can’t talk to them. No one understands what I’m saying.
“Why don’t you try using your computer?” I suggested. I set her up in the hallway and explained to some of her neighbors how the computer worked. She tried this a couple of times, but soon retreated to her television and needlepoint.