Candy Rant

"I killed a rat with a stick once."

Sunday, January 27, 2008

I Have Seen the Future, and It is Frail

Finally. I got the chance to meet Mrs. Fossilfuel.

I first met the overnight caregiver, Sondra. She's in her forties, pitch-black dyed hair, trying hard to look goth, not achieving it.

She was helping Mrs. F. to the bathroom alongside her walker. Mrs. F. looked up from her hunched-over stance and said "Candy, I'm grateful for you." I said "I'm grateful for you, too."

I had to start boarding up my tear ducts, because I don't do well with such frailty. When I used to go with my dad to visit nursing homes, I got headaches from gritting my teeth at all the blatant misery, and at all the feeble, incoherent bodies.

This woman is coherent. And very very particular about: Everything.

Sondra showed me around. She spoke a long, dizzying litany containing instructions like this:

"...and she HATES it if you leave this cabinet door open..."

"...and she HATES it if you have on the TV, even at a really really low volume..."

"...and you can only pee in THIS bathroom and she will ask you if you messed up the toilet bowl..."

"...and look, here is her silverware. See this spoon? This is her SON's spoon. It has a black floral design on the handle. Do. Not. Give. Her. This. Spoon. To. Eat. With. And see this? This is her son's knife."

And so on. Her son lives in Seattle. But is perhaps somehow gifted in the telepathic arts, and knows when Someone. Used. His. Spoon.

Sondra was about to clock out and showed me her pan of chopped potatoes on the stovetop. She said Mrs. F. finished "not lunch, but breakfast at noon. (Right then I thought, "Bitch, she's 98. She can eat whenever she f*cking feels like it.") She'll need dinner at some point, and you should fry these potatoes but do not get them mushy. And steam half a zucchini and a whole carrot and make sure they're springy. She only wants them springy. You will hear about it if they're not springy."

Piss. OK, first of all, I do not cook. Ever. I have never fried potatoes, and I've used a steamer maybe twice before in my life. So long ago that I couldn't even remember how it fits in the pan. I was going to get bitchslapped by Mrs. F. and I would be shamed into the next century.

Sondra made her sound like a persnickity she-beast. Since Mrs. F. was within earshot but out of sight, Sondra inserted sweeping arm-moves and sarcastic eye-rolling and even a snarky leg kick that easily translated into "Yeah. Get a load of the old hag." Sondra rubbed me the wrong way.

As the day progressed, I found out that she also rubs Mrs. F. the wrong way. When her son called, I of course eavesdropped. Partially to get a better read on her, partially because she's unsure how to work the phone. Oh, and also because I'm nosy. I was delighted to hear her say "Oh son, this new woman, I liked her immediately. Her name is Candy and I just like her looks. She's an older, married woman."

A 98-year-old called me an older woman.

She went on: "But this other girl, Sondra, she's just weird. She tells the most way-out tales you've ever heard. I'm afraid to be around her."

She also told her son that she doesn't need four people coming from that agency. And that those people are all "after the buck." Good God. If she knew what we make, she might rethink that. But then again, she may be calibrated financially to think that this particular hourly wage is big money.

The two most somber moments of the day:

1. Helping her urinate into her makeshift bedpan, a large cottage cheese container, as she stood next to her bed, me steadying her. She was too tired to make it to the bathroom. Her thighs, unbearably thin, shook uncontrollably as she waited a long, long time to produce any output.

2. Helping her change out of the slip she thought she had wet on (she hadn't), into a fresh one. It is a delicate affair. She does still have some modesty, even after the indignities she has endured. I put the new one over her head, wrestled gently with the straps, as she tried to shimmy the old one downward. I had not been told that she has very recently had a mastectomy. Inside my head I was on fire with grief for her. My inner voice was screaming at me: DO SOMETHING! DO SOMETHING FOR HER!!!

And this was the thing that got me through the cooking. I thought "Candy. Look what she's enduring. You can surely cook some damned vegetables. Buck up."

So I cooked, and I made her drink of choice: hot milk with half a teaspoon of instant decaf crystals mixed in. I was terrified she would find the food unacceptable. I prettied it up as much as I could.

"Oh, that tasted good!" she said. I cannot believe how happy that made me.

Take that, Sondra. She hates your cooking because you're weird.

When my relief got there at 6 in the form of Sherrie, the favorite, I found out just how weird Sondra is. She has told Mrs. F. that she can raise the dead. Bitch is crazy.

I go back next Friday. Until then, it's part time office work. There is much to learn from Mrs. F. Just thinking about the tiny things she demands control of shows how desperately we all want control of something. A dishtowel, a meal, a spoon never to be used, the way we live our lives, right up to the very end of a century, if we're wildly blessed with that kind of time. Though I can't decide if it's a blessing or not, to end up so frail, so alone. But she seems to be fighting for every day.


  • At 5:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I knew you could fry potatoes and you did! Yes, she'll like you and I'll bet you'll be her 'favorite' before long. You are such a sweet heart, literally, and I'll bet Ms. F is going to give you some great stories. And, no, frail is not for the weak of heart.You are a real gift, kiddo. Love, Anita

  • At 7:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hooray! You did it!!!! And she likes you!!!! I knew she would--how could she not? I agree with Anita. You're going to be her favorite.

    Once again you made me laugh and cry, all in one post.

    I hope that Sondra never goes back there. She is weird and she scares me too. And to think: If she is one that is allowed to come back, what were the others like?

  • At 7:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I think Mrs. F. is not only going to give you some great stories, but she's going to give you a book.

  • At 9:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Ann from Michigan-

    I couldn't have said it better myself. Mrs. Fossilfuel sounds a little bit too much like Mrs. Doubtfire but you can think of a different title. Glad that you are being paid. I was getting worried that you were just volunteering.

    Have you ever seen the movie Magnolia? Just wondering. . .

  • At 9:40 AM, Blogger Gail said…

    I knew you'd end up liking her.

  • At 11:15 AM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Yeah. I'm practically a chef now, Anita! My next dish: Kraft macaroni and cheese. No. I'm pushing too hard.

  • At 11:16 AM, Blogger Candy Rant said… way will I be her favorite. Sherrie stays all night with her 4 nights a week. I'll never try to compete with that. She works 60 hours a week for this agency. That would kill me.

    Sondra? Yes. Too creepy for me.

  • At 11:17 AM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Ann...if nothing else, I'm going to hopefully piece together a long essay about my semester away from teaching. Thanks.

  • At 11:19 AM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Belle, yep, I saw Magnolia. Thought it was one of the weirdest things ever. And in retrospect, even weirder since Tom Wacko Cruise is in it.

    And yes, this is paid work. I can't afford to volunteer because the grocery store won't volunteer to give me food. :)

  • At 11:21 AM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Gail, I'm not sure I like her. It's hard for me to separate the frail old woman that I feel desperately sorry for, from the personality. I admire her for fighting to stay alive and independent. But she's also very racist, judgmental of all religions outside her own, etc.

    But I find it way easier to forgive someone for being an ass when they're in this shape, of course.

  • At 12:36 PM, Blogger Domhan said…

    Your last paragraph is absolutely wonderful. (Well, of course, the entire post is wonderful, but I'm picking on that last paragraph.) Yes, we want control of something. We all do. But this poor woman--I wonder about her past, and the control she had, or didn't have, over her life when she was a young girl. She might have been a young mother during the depression at a time when you had to make your own cottage cheese if you got any at all. (Not even a container from the store to pee in!)

    Candy, what a humbling, enriching, powerful and empowering thing you are doing.

  • At 2:11 PM, Blogger Citlali said…

    Wow. I'm going to ditto futuresis and domhan. Yes, I'm copping out but they said it SO well. It's going to be great hearing about your new experiences. And let's not forget that Saturday has now become your trip to the casino for a free spin on the slot machine: you could win a whole day's pay for FREE! = ]

  • At 8:58 PM, Blogger planbreaker said…

    Great post. Between this post and the stuff you write about your parents, you can make a career out of writing essays about the humanity of the aging process. Seriously.

  • At 7:54 AM, Blogger Unknown said…

    I've recently known someone just like Sondra and she (briefly, but no longer a friend) wasn't as half as weird as she wished she was--just a sad, gothed-out fortysomething inventing her own super powers. I'm glad for Mrs. FF that you're there, and I hope to read more.

  • At 12:29 PM, Blogger Norma said…

    how could anyone not like you candy? you're fantabulous!!!
    this blog made me cry.

  • At 5:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Beware Sondra. Remember. She can raise the dead. Because she was Isis in her former life.

  • At 5:51 PM, Blogger prairie biker said…

    Yes, but would I find Sondra too creepy? Sometimes I wonder. I hope she can raise the dead, then I won't need the Viagra.

    And Candy Dear, guess who's cooking next time she comes to visit?

  • At 7:41 PM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Thanks, planbreaker. I'm trying to put a book together, but am working with 1,000 distractions. You know how it is.

  • At 7:42 PM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Mel, it's possible that we know the same person.
    Or 2 very similar people.

  • At 7:44 PM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Norma, believe it or not, there are those in the world who do not find me fantabulous.

    But my great luck in life is that the people who do, are those I feel the same way about.

  • At 7:45 PM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Ana, whatever the hell she was in her former life, I wish she'd go back there.

    Oh, and Prairie Biker? Hayull NO I ain't cookin. Unless you want fried taters.
    And hash brownies.

  • At 11:06 AM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Thanks, ldrose. Though I've only looked after this woman for one day. I may be awful the second time. :)


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