“She keeps telling us that you’re going to take her to Texas.”
“Texas?” I almost laughed and cried at the same time. I was standing in a hallway, somberly chatting with the weary-yet-hopeful nurse on duty outside of the cramped shared room that my 72-year-old great aunt inhabited at a modestly-staffed rehabilitation hospital.
After suffering a small stroke and battling crippling diabetes and heart disease for years, her five-foot-eleven-inch frame had dwindled down to 125 pounds and even walking was a feat.
“Yup, Texas. Funny huh?”
And then I remembered. Six months earlier, when I still believed she had several good years left, I had told her that I wanted to move to Canada. This was just after Dubya got re-elected. I’d made the hasty decision to apply to grad school and I was determined to take her with me. She was all for it, but one thing held her back.
“It’s cold there. Don’t it snow? Girl, I’ll freeze to death!” she clucked.
“So I’ll buy you a sweater. And a jacket. And a scarf. You’ll love it, I promise. Plus you can live with me.”
That was just before they placed her in hospice care.
She glanced up at me before taking another focused bite of mashed potatoes from the plastic spoon I offered, “These potatoes are cold. I’m so sick of this place, I wanna go home. How’s Cookie?”
“Cookie’s fine, she got a haircut the other day.”
Truthfully, I had no idea where Cookie had ended up, and I was glad she didn’t remember.
Cookie was a pint-sized, blind snowball of a mutt that had somehow found herself on Irene’s doorstep when she still had a home.
Right before her skyrocketing medical bills kept her from being able to pay the rent on the cozy three-bedroom house I grew up in. Right before the eviction that she kept hidden from me out of pride and embarrassment during my senior year of college, until it was too late. Well before she was too sick to live in the small one-bedroom apartment she ended up in alone, where Medicare wouldn’t cover the costs of a live-in nurse.
Cookie was dirty and ragged but cleaned up well with some shears and a whole bottle of shampoo. Within a week she had learned the floor plan of the house and skillfully navigated around furniture and through doorways with ease to follow Irene’s every footstep.
She would call me and tell me of Cookie’s latest adventure; going for a walk, or on a ride to the supermarket, or getting a bath in the bathroom sink. “We take care of each other, and the doctor tells me it’s good for my heart to take her on walks”, I could hear her grinning over the phone as she reclined in her favorite easy chair.
As Alzheimer’s began to take it’s toll along with the diabetes, she ended up driving Cookie to the nearest elementary school and shepherding her into the yard in the hopes that some lucky kid would scoop her up and rush home with her.
“I got rid of Cookie. I didn’t want to.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” I had asked incredulously. “I could have taken her.”
“Oh, I don’t know”, she sighed, heartbroken.
I tried the mashed potatoes. They really were cold. And horribly under-seasoned.
Tears welled up in her eyes as she whispered to me, “You know, I’m not happy here… I haven’t been happy in a long, long time. All I want is to be back at home with you and Cookie. If I could have that I’d be the happiest old lady in the world.”
“Me too,” I whispered back as I leaned over the guardrail of the bed and kissed her on the cheek.
“Cookie’s fine.” I repeated, then mustered a smile. “She’s getting along good with the cats.”
She nodded happily and patted my hand as I pushed her cold dinner plate aside and peeled the foil lid off of her sugar-free tapioca pudding.
We never made it to Texas.