For ten years, Lindy has resided in her current longterm care facility without receiving a card or a visitor. It took a few hours to drive up from the Bay Area, enough time to remember our girlhood friendship and consider she’s been locked up forty-nine years. I came up with nothing new.
The building looks like a clean doctor’s office with a large lobby and locked doors. Cheerful wall posters wish for a Merry Christmas, and a lit tree stands in a corner. People are friendly, and everybody knows everybody.
Lindy sits with her walker in another part of the facility where residents hang out. She’s got short white hair cut in a darling style, perky little earrings, and a pretty flower in her headband. She wears a zipped up hot pink parka, matching pink tennis skirt, bare legs, and short pink socks with tennis shoes. She needs some help from her chair, but once she’s up, Lindy’s mobile and walking around. Her eyes brighten when she sees me, but I don’t know if it’s for me or for the bag of presents I have for her.
She has no guile, not pretending to be someone other than herself. I hand over my manuscript Mama’s Little Firecracker, telling the caseworker that Lindy’s story is scattered throughout it, since we grew up together, but it’s mostly my autobiography. The caseworker wants to know more about her patient, so maybe I helped Lindy in some way. I hope so.
I told Lindy I would finish writing and bring it to her one day. Today’s the day.
The smoking area is used throughout the day with times posted over the nurse’s station. It’s smoke time, so we go outside double doors onto a long concrete patio with several other patients. Lindy’s roommate follows us out and opens her jacket to show me her sweatshirt with, “It is what it is” scrolled across her front. Isn’t that the truth!
I watch Lindy smoke. She takes a filtered cigarette and removes the filter from the brown paper section with her fingernail, and smokes without a filter, like we did as kids. No pressured urgency, no fanfare. I stand beside Lindy while she takes her time inhaling and rolling the tip around to smooth it into a point.
After smoking, her caseworker accompanies us to a table near her office, offering a quieter place to open presents, and she leaves us. I still get a kick out of watching Lindy open up boxes to see what’s inside.
I ask to take a couple of photos with my phone. In the first, she scowls, and it’s clear she’s without teeth. She brightens up standing next to her caseworker, who smiles broadly, super happy that Lindy has a visitor after ten years. The third photo is the two of us standing together looking at the caseworker taking the photograph. It’s remarkable to see Lindy’s face go from scowl to smiling, with her beautiful green eyes. She looks like her mother more than ever, and I look even more like mine.
Lindy acts satisfied by the gifts, and takes time to open them. I brought nothing great, a shortbread cookie tin, fleece clothes and a small purse with some lipsticks. She asks me to carry the gifts back to her room. We ramble side by side, back through a corridor to a nice wing of rooms. Her bed is made and her clothes are folded on a chair beside it. There are more clothes inside a small closet next to her roommate, like a college dorm. She says, “You can go now,” so that’s my cue. We mosey back to the nurse’s station, and I say goodbye.
The roommate’s shirt says it all, It is what it is.