I was feeding this little old lady a sliced up banana at work the other day and I just had this vision to tell her story. She’s been in and out of our place a few times this year. She keeps getting sent to places that supposedely specialize in dementia and Alzheimer’s and whenever she gets agitated because she doesn’t understand what’s going on, they have her Baker Acted and she comes back to us to find her another place. I can only imagine what’s really going on in her head, but I wanted someone to at least try to understand.
Oh, How She Used to Dance
Her feet had once been so lovely. She looks at them with a grotesque displeasure as the chipped, yellowed toenails wiggle before her. The young man with the white smile shakes his head as he stretches out some blue socks with white tread and places them over the crustacious little piggies.
Surely they can’t be mine, she thinks to herself. Yet she feels the sterile cotton slide over them. When the young man with the white smile turns to attend to his clipboard, she looks again to the blue socks peeking up at her from behind the plastic tray that confines her to the hideous blue chair she has been in since arriving here. She wiggles her toes and the blue socks dance before her like an amateur puppet show.
She remembers being on the street corner of Hamburg where wooden faces frolic above the velvet drape from which their voices arise. She giggles with her friends as the buoyancy of youth overtakes her. A street minstrel plays a harpsichord and the young girls dance, compelled by that divine force of joy that emanates from each note of music and courses through their bodies and into their dainty feet.
Her feet. Not these revolting pieces of flesh wrapped in treaded blue cotton that wiggle before her. She reaches across the plastic tray and pulls one of the socks off. She feels it slide over dry, wrinkled skin, revealing blue veins, callouses, and open sores. It couldn’t possibly be her foot. She discards the sock to the floor and repeats the transaction on her other foot, revealing a mirror image of the withered appendage.
These are not the feet that danced the streets of Hamburg. These are not the feet that. felt the rumble of the tanks. These are not the feet that ran behind her father as the Gestapo gained on them.
Where is her father? Why has he not come to rescue her from this awful place? She holds her head in her hands and sinks her palms into the pits of her eyes. She wishes her feet would return and carry her away from this place, back into Gunther’s loving arms. Where had he gone. Surely he was with her only a moment ago.
She slides her hands down her face. Her brittle fingers feel their way across skin much too coarse to be her own. She holds her eyes shut as her hands run down the green checked garment they placed across her chest. She feels the cold plastic of the tray across her lap and hopes against hope that it will give under pressure, that she will be back with her husband and away from this place. She pushes with all her might. She feels the tension in her joi.nts. Her muscles ace with the flex.
“Be calm, Anna,” the voice says. “You’re in a safe place.”
The voice is crisp and deep, with a hint of friendly concern. Though she knows the voice belongs to neither Gunther or her father, there is comfort in its timbre. Keeping her eyes shut tight, she gropes in the seminal darkness until her hands land upon the outstretched hand.
“Calm down, honey. You’re gonna be all right.”
She pulls the hand close and kisses it gently. She opens her eyes and sees the young man with the white smile. She tries to speak and words rush to her mind in a barrage, each racing for escape through her lips. She implores the white smile with her eyes as a cacophany of words, both English and German, jump from her tongue.
She shakes her head and lets go of the hand. The man with the white smile softly caresses her forehead and goes to join the others at the desk. She looks again at the withered feet at the end of her prostrate legs. How did she get so old? How did she come to be among these people?
There is another in a chair like hers, head tilted back in a slack jawed slunber. Another man, much younger than the sleeping prisoner, rocks slowly back and forth, mumbling unintelligably. Others still amble slowly down the hallway leading godknowswhere out of her sight. Except for the man in the white smile and those who join him behind the desk, everyone wears the same green garment that adorns her shoulders.
Were they criminals? Had she been finally captured by Hitler’s army? None of her captors spoke German, but they had accused her of taking something. They never directed their accusations at her directly, but had stated one to another that she was in the possession of something belonging to someone named Alzheimer.
If only she could express to them the mistake that had been made, but her words will still not come out in the language or chronology she desires. She does not know what she has taken. She has never heard of this Alheimer person.
Perhaps he was Gestapo. When she arrived at this place, she was bludgeoned with questions, as her father had reported after his first arrest. They even asked about him.
Though it seems like only moments ago when she saw him last, she remembers it in full detail as the SS dragged him from her only weeks before her uncle brought them to America. He wasn’t coming for her. And Gunther was with her only seconds ago, but she remembers standing by his graveside. She closes her eyes again, holding her arms around her as to feel his warm embrace.
She feels something softly grasp her foot and opens her eyes to see the man with the white smile placing blue socks upon withered feet. When did she grow so old? When did she step into this life? Oh, how she used to dance.