Doris was a telephone operator in the days when an operator was more than an automated recording. These days, between hearing loss and words that don’t come out the way she wants them to, the last thing she does is talk on the phone. She was once a gossip and the matriarch of a charismatic Polish family. She was the life of the party, mothered four children, including a set of twins, was married to Eddie for more than 50 years, and told people that she was 29 years old until she turned 70. One story Doris loved to tell was of when her falsies popped out of her bathing suit and Eddie swam out in the lake to save her fake boobs…and her ego. Doris could drink most people under the table at one time in her life. Her beverage of choice is still a vodka tonic. As she would pull into a liquor store, she used to say that she needed to stop for her Vitamin V—it was all very charming. Those were the glamour days of alcoholism. As dementia sets in, the bottles of Absolut in her refrigerator are the last thing she feels she has any control over.
Sometimes Doris runs her hands along her arms, embarrassed by how time has taken away her porcelain skin, instead leaving her with a dark-spotted, wrinkled, paper-thin coat as a reminder of her age. Her mind goes and her stories fade. Once a master of socializing, the last remnants of her personality lay in her smile—the way she laughs. Her daughter struggles with the same feelings of guilt that she herself once dealt with when her own mother was struggling with the debilitation of dementia. Having lost her husband, her hearing, and now as her mind evades her, Doris finds solace in Sophie, the little fluffy female dog she affectionately calls “her son.” Some days are light and she seems easy-going, other days are grey, full of shadows and confusion. All days however, are marked by monotony as she waits for death. Once the self proclaimed “queen of shopping,” she now chooses recluse, adamantly fighting anyone who tries to get her to leave the safety of her apartment. And when she’s ready for bed, she’s ready for bed. It’s not worth an argument, even if it is only 4:30 in the afternoon.
In a society that is in such a hurry to leave Doris behind, she is refreshing. Between her twisted vocabulary and distaste for her hearing aids, she is ever-present and perceptive. Though most of her moments don't live on to be remembered, the majority of Doris’ time is spent peacefully unable to recall the past or contemplate the future. She relishes in the moment, picking leaves from the pool, finding every speck of dirt on the floor, and enjoying the food she eats, the movies she watches, or the nap that she fades in and out of throughout the day. She cannot remember any stories, but her personality persists, unknowingly charming the pants off her exercise class, her hairdresser, or anyone else she spends time with. If in one moment she is feisty, the only thing to do is wait another moment and her response is usually a smile. She criticizes as a habit, but there is no malice. Doris is concerned only for her family’s wellbeing and if she remembers having a bad attitude, she will apologize. She may not remember what she just came from doing, but most of the time she is grateful.
Her moments hold the value of the present. From a sheepish girl feeding her pills to the dog, to a frustrated old woman trying to figure out whether it is five am or five pm, her eyes tell the story that her words no longer can—these are the moments of a woman who spent 84 years watching this world change and is starting to forget all about it.
Jayme Gershen http://jaymegershen.tumblr.com