Her story about the Luau Party was filled with the kind of lusty murmurings that awaken memories of a younger self. The rest, the details provided here, are made up, imagined, patched together, much like everything else I know about the twelve years in which the woman known as my mother slowly disappeared.
There were ukulele songs piped in from the tinny speaker system, oddly meant to connote an island paradise. Populating this walled-in resort, were colorful leis – pink, green, blue, orange, purple— worn around each resident’s neck and clashing against the Easter egg blue of the Pal’s starchy uniforms. There were soft Hawaiian bread and jam sandwiches, a pink punch concoction made from water and powder, and cardboard hibiscus garlands strung from the center of the room.
My mother danced in her kitten heels, and later barefoot, moving her hands in the ebbing motion of the ocean. Charles from Kansas was there in his pale cardigan topped by an orange lei. He danced with my mother until he lost interest, forgot that he was dancing, forgot that he was momentarily free, and froze in place like a stick figure who’d lost his maker. My mother’s nemesis was there, the cantankerous woman with the purple unicorn fixed to her walker. She didn’t remember she had hissed at my mother earlier in the week, hating Pat for trespasses that couldn’t be named. Instead, she took my mother’s hand and swung it back and forth, the way sweet schoolgirls do on the yard, as if to say, on the dance floor at the Luau party, we can have a detente.
Uncensored, the party continued. Smiles on the faces of the PALS, non-ambulatory residents strapped into wheelchairs and locked in place on the sidelines, plates of creamy mayonnaise filled salads and half-eaten sweets looked no different from the trappings of a low-budget workplace party. The outrageous behavior, the shouting or stomping, the stealing of another’s cake, or the gelatinous, bigger than expected dance-floor moves were all within reason. The party rocked on until 6 PM, when the music stopped, the guests were stripped of their leis, sticky, veiny hands were washed with antiseptic soap, more magic meds were ingested, and each resident was led to a dorm room, undressed, and tucked into bed.
Except for my mother. Her room was not in The Neighborhood. She was still allowed to sleep in her suite upstairs. She was meant to be escorted home after the Luau. Her story, my story, continues from there.
Oh yes, it happened. It happened with him. Everyone left. He was big, like a bear. The room was where they kept the… I don’t know… cleaning stuff. He opened the door to the room with a…key?. He had the key. We had to be quiet…shhhhh… he put his arms around me. He’s so tall… and then… and then we… and then we… and then…
During the investigation, Tom and I had become adversaries. My emails to him were curt and went unanswered for too many days. He claimed he was conducting an internal investigation. Getting to the bottom of it. He claimed no one had “seen anything unusual.” No interactions between my mother and Ilian, the PAL in question, were reported. His recommendation was to drop it. Chalk it up to her vivid imagination. Unless, of course, I wanted to get outside agencies involved.
I spoke with your husband and gave him the same information that I gave you.That after speaking with the PALs that are currently working and worked the Luau, she was in a public, visible location the entire time she was in the secured dementia area. We also confirmed that she was escorted up to her room after the Luau and was checked afterwards… Let me know if you have any questions. Thanks, Tom
I did have questions. Thousands of questions. But they were mostly rhetorical. There were no witnesses, no reliable witnesses, to confirm or deny what actually happened. Here is where memory goes faulty. Here is where fiction and actuality become distant cousins.
Advocate. Advocate for her! Around the time of the incident, I asked Tom to make sure my mother was bathed and dressed by female PALS. Prior to the Luau night, a diminutive Filipino PAL, with a limp and a ring on his finger, had bathed her with his tiny feminine hands. I thought that should halt. No, the bather PAL was not under suspicion, but I thought I should rule out anyone—small or large—who might be The Bear.
I called a friend who had been a forensics nurse and recounted the story of the Luau party and my mother’s love interest. She thought I should move forward with a police investigation. She thought a rape kit, an exam, and formal charges should be filed. This seemed worthy of consideration but stressful for Pat – and invasive at best.
That night in her room, after I learned about our options for moving forward, my mother told me that she “hadn’t seen him [her lover] in a while.” She thought maybe he was “away, out of town.” She said she missed him. She hoped he’d come back soon. I asked her if she remembered my late father, to whom she’d been married for 46 years. She said she did remember him. He was her favorite. Then she put her head down on the pillow and rested her dancer’s legs.
She was relatively lucid that night. For years she’d had similar moments in which she seemed to unpack a small valise and make a valiant return from her own exile. She seemed to know me or at least the warmth of me, and to be familiar with herself.
For years, she’d had these fleeting moments of connection, which fooled me into thinking she was present, that she had understood our conversation, our interaction. Maybe there was an understanding, something primal, that lives between the cracks.
That night, for a brief and wondrous moment, I wanted to believe that no matter what occurred after the music ended at the luau party, my mother was in love.