Return to Assisted Living


What is it to think you have a purpose, a mission, a plan?  What is it to have none?

She had successfully completed a daring escape that looked, on first glance, like nothing more miraculous than a woman of a certain age, privilege and stature moving on her dancer’s legs past the desk of the assisted living facility and walking the miles of concrete sidewalks that lead to the freeway entrance.

What is it to be rooted in time and place?   What is it to be untethered but alive?

An assault. The cars like speeding warriors, the sliver of shoulder on which to rest or change direction. The sense that pedestrians, her  homo genus, her category, were not welcome on this stretch of land, and the deeper and more perplexing question of where she would be welcome. Who or what would see her, know her, recognize her, redirect her?  How could she get home? Where was New York? Where were the familiar smells and tastes, the  slightly burned salt pretzel in Central Park, the welcoming arms of a loving person?  Was she married? Was she once married? But no more?  Was she old? How old? Was she breathing? Yes. Eating? Good idea. She had Reese’s candy bars in her bag, left behind by that woman, her daughter, her girl,  who took all her money and…fled for the hills…

How did she land here on this stretch of freeway?  This California freeway, that’s it. California.  She’s in California. She was going to come out in 1959 to do a screen test, but then Jack proposed marriage and she wanted that. Oh, yes, she wanted that.

On their honeymoon…1959…they traveled through Central and South America, following the Carnival, looking like movie stars, feeling love that was new and sensual and filled with promise. The photos capture a time when things were about to change between men and women, things were about to change between husbands and wives, but they hadn’t yet.

She had left The Place in Hollywood at 2 PM and was not returned until after 4 PM, so I can only speculate about the lost hours. I can say that she walked a mile, two miles, or more. I can say that the heel of her shoe broke off, or was broken, causing a kind of limp in her gait. I can tell you that the contents of her bag included “Funny Money,” given out as award money at auctions, shows, board games and other events.

Thank you, I can say now, for not walking into the oncoming traffic, for not having the illusion of invincible strength. Thank you, mother, for holding onto a fragile piece of logic, thank you for remembering the concept of danger, of speed, of harm and of mortality.

The officers found her at the freeway entrance, with her broken heeled shoe and her bag filled with miniature chaos. When they asked her where she lived, she showed them her expired I.D. But it was the funny money, printed with the name of the facility, that explained it all.

She arrived at The Place in the back of the squad car and was taken, not to her room, but to the lockdown facility known in assisted living parlance as “the more advanced wing.” Each facility she went to had a euphemism for the same type of secured ward. I won’t forget the piercing buzzer sound, the sound of confinement of prisons of, institutions, of punishment, of loss.

 This time, she landed in The Neighborhood.







* “The 101 east from Topanga (Canyon Boulevard) to Vignes St. is the most congested corridor in the nation right now, an average drive per day of 33 minutes,” said Chris Handley, [Inrix’s] vice president of products and analytics.




Published by deirdremendoza

Deirdre is the author of the story collection, Real Lives of Married People, and the creator of DOGGED, a series about memorable canines and their human friends. Her writing has been published in Ms., The L.A. Times, Variety, WWD, and many other publications. She teaches creative writing at colleges and universities in Southern California. Coming in 2021 WG workshops!

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