A Room with a ViewbyWmForrester©
With the help of her friends, National Nude Day gives Ruth back her memories by restoring her view.
The only thing that Ruth liked about the room she shared with Dorothy at the nursing home was the view. If it wasn't for the view, she wouldn't be happy here at all. Everything was too new, too small, too white, too antiseptic, and too cheaply made. Unlike her house, a 100-year-old old English Tudor styled cottage with original windows and woodwork, hardwood floors, a slate roof, a garden oasis out back, and colorful, fragrant flowers in front, her room held no such charm or character.
It was just a room, albeit with a view that admittedly was so much better than the view she had at home of her familiar street. If she was to trade one for the other, her house for this nursing home room, perhaps, she received the better end of the deal by having this view. Perhaps, it's not so bad being here after all.
Where so many of the busybodies preferred a room in the front of the nursing home, one that overlooked the entrance for them to monitor visitors, they needed that view to give their empty lives meaning by feeding their gossip with a purpose. Perhaps, by living vicariously through the freedom of those who were able to freely come and go, they didn't feel as she did, as a prisoner on death row waiting to die.
Ruth preferred, instead, the inactivity and the quiet of the rear of the building. Willingly not wanting to be part of the nosey group of elders with their inane talk and their childish gossip, she didn't mind keeping to herself. She read and knitted her time away while happily humming and enjoying her view.
"I'm not here to socialize," she'd look up from her knitting and say with a smile to anyone who asked her why she seldom left her room. At first sight, she was a little, old lady seemingly so pleasant and charming, only what she'd say next was unnerving. "I was left here to die."
Then, there were those residents who preferred rooms closer to the dining hall or the recreation room so that they wouldn't have to walk as far when they wanted to eat or recreate, which seemed all the time with many of the residents them favoring the former over the latter. Finally free of the responsibilities that came first with raising children and then with helping to raise grandchildren, many of the other residents reverted and were so much like children themselves in the way they enjoyed and took full advantage of all the nursing home had to offer by making friends, playing cards and board games, and watching movies and laughing, almost as if it was a girls' and boy's club.
Ruth wanted none of that. She was beyond the pretenses of making friends and playing games. She was depressed with a sadness that only her view could make better.
"My life ended when my children left me here to rot," she'd tell anyone who'd listen. "Now that I'm here, I'd rather just be left alone in peace with my view," she'd say turning away from them to look out her window and rebuffing the advances of anyone trying to coax her from her room.
She was glad her room was away from the noise of the gossip and inane conversations of the other residents. She tired of listening to how they exaggeratedly remembered or how they boastfully imagined their lives were before they were forgotten about and discarded here by those who didn't love them enough to make a committed sacrifice to care for them. She carried the sadness for them that they chose not to burden themselves with, a sadness that would make them more like her and a depression that would make them unable to get them through their days without medication.
"If your lives were so great before your children put you here to die and if you were so loved," she'd say to those, after a while, who endlessly bent her ear with the same mundane conversation about how wonderful their children were. "Then, why are you here?"
Like an echo that reverberated across a serene lake and that grew louder as it traveled further, the words suddenly and shockingly shattered the quiet calm so much like breaking glass.
"Then, why are you here? Why are you here? Why are you here?"
Those who heard Ruth utter those words were unable to give her an honest answer without having to confront their worst fears. They were here because they were no longer useful. They were here because they were too much of a burden. They were here because they weren't loved enough. They were here because it was easier for their relatives to put them away in a place where they wouldn't have to deal with them and with the guilt they created and carried with them 24/7. They were here because of any and all of those reasons and it was only when they didn't think about why they were here that they were able to happily exist without being consumed by the sadness and depression that consumed Ruth.
The other residents making friends and the activities that the nursing home provided, kept most of the residents occupied and entertained enough that they didn't miss their families. Not so much that she missed her daughter and son, Ruth missed being independent. She missed her house, her friends, and her neighborhood. Yet, at least she had this view.
After a while, easier to avoid her than to confront her, those who sought out Ruth would rather let her be alone with her view than to confront their sad existence and answer Ruth's question of, Why are you here? Like wilting flowers without water, abandoned without love, appreciation, respect, and attention, they were all left alone amid strangers to linger and to die. Yes, there were some who blossomed being in an environment of their own, but too many of the residents withdrew and languished here. Ruth was one of the lucky ones. Had she not had her special view, she would have been much like many of the others depressed and ready to die.
Where her room was situated on the second floor, at the end of a long corridor, and in the back of the building away from everything and everyone, it was as quiet as a five star hotel, only not nearly as luxurious or accommodating. Clean and Spartan was more the appropriate description of her room and because of that it always appeared tidy and never cluttered.
"I resent being dumped here," she admitted to Dorothy, her roommate. "After working so hard to get my life in order and my house in the way I wanted it, this place is a sad punctuation to the end of my full life. I'm so sad, so lonely, and so hurt. If it wasn't for my view," she said suddenly preoccupied in looking out her window while talking and with her words drifting away with her attention, "I'd hate being here."
As far away as she could get from the rest of the old people, a constant reminder that at 83-years-old, she was old, too, Ruth preferred the solitude and the privacy her room with a view gave her. Had her room not had a window with the special view she had, it would just be another room and she didn't think she could tolerate being here. Without this view, her room would feel much like a prison cell. Yet, her view was not appreciated by all. Many who looked out her window saw nothing but overgrown bushes, tall grass, and trees with a lake in the distance. Ruth saw so much more than that. Ruth saw memories.
"Before this facility was converted to a nursing home, it was a private hospital for the mentally ill," she enjoyed telling Dorothy over and again. "Tucked far back on a high hill in the forest in a serene setting, it once had landscaped lawns, dozens of beds of colorful flowers, a grove of fruit bearing trees, and a manmade lake. The grounds were so beautiful."
"The way that it looks now," said Dorothy, "overgrown instead of lush, it's difficult for me to imagine how it once looked."
Becoming animated with the thoughts of visiting her mother during the time her Mom resided here, Ruth smiled at her friend.
"When escorted by an orderly, there were numerous pathways that those non-violent, well behaved, and nearly cured residents could take to walk down to the water to feed the ducks or just enjoy being out in the sunshine. It was so Heavenly peaceful that you'd never know it was a hospital for the mentally ill. Looking out over the valley below, it was a scenic oasis. It was my Garden of Eden," she'd say clutching her hands to her chest.
Perhaps embarrassed by her relaxed modesty back then, Ruth left out the good part of the story. Before there was a National Nude Day and before she was even born and before she matured to become a beautiful young woman and after she had, these grounds were a depository for the forbidden. Through the gay nineties, the progressive nineteen hundreds, the roaring twenties, the depressed thirties, the warring forties, the space age fifties, the changing sixties, and the modern seventies, these were the grounds where people gathered to lose their inhibitions and remove their clothes.
It was on these wooded and secluded paths that she'd take her lover, Robert, before he was drafted in the Army to serve his tour of duty in World War II. They came here again when he was on leave before shipping out to France. Unable to keep their hands and lips off one another, they were so in love.
The hospital grounds were such an idyllic place that it added a magical ambience to their romantic interlude. It was here that they stripped off their clothes and explored one another's bodies for the first time and several times thereafter. She'd take him in her hand before taking him between her legs and later in her mouth. He touched her where no man has ever touched her before or since. Reserved in her thoughts and private in her feelings, always guarded for fear of anyone learning her secrets, she never shared any of that with anyone, not even with her friend, Dorothy.
Still a virgin when she met Robert, she wasn't ready to make love, yet, even with him. She was saving herself for that special someone who she hoped was him, the one who she'd marry. Finally, after nearly three years, she submitted to his lust and to her love. It was here that they celebrated his return from war by finally going all the way. It was here that they vowed their love and faithfulness before making the same vow in the church at their wedding before family and friends.
After writing all those love letters and saving every one of his love letters in a shoebox beneath her bed, he had become that special someone and she was glad that she had saved her virginity for him. He had proposed to her when he was in France and she was forever promised to him. So glad that he returned safely home to her, after going so long without touching and kissing him, there was nothing that she'd now and forever deny him.
"Robert, Rob, Bob, Bobby," softly saying every incarnation of his name over and again soothed her soul. She'd silently say his name, as if reciting her nighttime prayer or chanting a relaxing mantra while knitting. "Robert, Rob, Bob, Bobby."
She loved his name and the sound of it in the way it just flowed from her mouth and fell from her lips before kissing and kissing him. She said it so softly and so quickly that it was impossible for anyone who heard her endlessly recite his names to discern what it was she was saying. She remembered as if it was yesterday, every morning, she'd awaken him with a kiss and a hug.
"Robert, you're breakfast is ready. It's time to get up for work." And then after he left, she'd sleep in his spot for a bit before getting up again to start her day.
Much like the passing of time with the flow of it following the long lifeline she possessed in her palm, the meandering river has since taken over the manmade lake with a multitude of tributaries that stock it with fish and feed it with nutrients. To Ruth, her view of the landscape was still beautiful, albeit lushly overgrown. With the encroachment of the forest floor and the hundreds of rotted and fallen trees, nature had reclaimed much of the cleared land and manicured lawn as forest. Times have changed not only the landscape but also her. Now, in the winter of her life, she was cold with aloneness and loneliness and bitter for the loss of her deceased partner in life, her lover, her friend, her husband.
Although the nursing home owned the grounds, the owner of the nursing home didn't feel the need to beautify the forest with manicured lawns, a multitude of flower beds, and fruit bearing trees, as did the mental hospital before. The undertaking to clear the overgrown land and then to maintain it was too costly of a proposition to even consider. Besides, most of his residents were more interested in what was happening within the four walls of the nursing home rather than what happened outside, especially in the back of the nursing home. Most of the other residents didn't appreciate or even acknowledge the imagined view in the way that Ruth did.
For Ruth, it didn't matter; as if her view never changed, she could still see her memories come alive through the forest. She could clearly see the maze of paths that led to the lake and when she looked out her window and she imagined all of it the way that it once was and the way that she once was, so young, so beautiful, so happy, and so in love. When she looked out her window, she saw people. Not so much naked people, but happy people relaxing and enjoying their day amid the beauty of nature.
As Charles Dickens wrote his Great Expectations about Mrs. Nora Dinsmoor, subsequently becoming Mrs. Doris Dinsmore in one of the movies, with Anne Bancroft playing the role, and about her decaying mansion and her sorrowful life, this view was her fantasy of how her life once was and Robert was her handsome Pip. Allowing her to forgot her present reality, that she was old, allowing her to forget that she was left to die in a nursing home, looking out this window was like watching a rerun of how her life used to be.
"With the good there is always bad and it was here on this very site that, as a little girl, I visited my Uncle Joe who lost his mind with the stock market crash of '29 in 1932," she'd tell Dorothy who had the patience of a saint and who never tired of listening to Ruth's same, sad stories, as if hearing them for the first time.
"My parents lived through that, too. They lost everything," said Dorothy to her friend, as if saying it for the first time, too.
"It was here that I visited my cousin Frank in '43, who had returned home from WWII with a steel plate in his head and a never cured screaming madness created by the horror that he lived through on the battlefield of war. An ice pick lobotomy up the nostril silenced his screaming but he died shortly thereafter, bleeding to death from complications of the surgery. And it was here that my mother, Rose, in '51, was committed for depression when my Dad died unexpectedly of a heart attack that left her penniless."
The psychiatrist at the hospital said her mother needed peace, quiet, and rest. Days later, the doctor lied when he said that her mother's condition was improving. Only, the days she was locked away in her rubber room turned to weeks and then months before they diagnosed her as terminally depressed and dying of a broken heart.
Unable to fend for herself, married to an older man who had made every household decision, financial and otherwise, and who had earned every dollar, she was lost without him to tell her what now to do. Instead of being the widowed wife and losing her beloved husband, it was as if she was an abandoned little girl who was lost after her father died.
Unbeknownst to Dorothy, every time Ruth looked out this window she saw Robert, her boyfriend, her friend, her lover, and her husband, resplendent in his army uniform. She was so happy then and that happiness, that was once giddiness, was still there. A forever memory never forgotten of feelings that stuck like glue to the forest floor, only she held the secrets that unlocked and opened the visions for her to see and feel the remembrances when looking out her window at the view.
Every time she looked out her window, she saw Robert and smiled. Every time she looked out her window, she saw him waving his hello before kissing her his good-bye. For fear that he'd not return, unable to leave him for a second, if she left her window, she'd be leaving the love of her life not knowing if he'd return.
The view made her want to write a love letter, like so many of the love letters she wrote before when he was away. Only, no longer having his address, but for the memory of him, he was gone for good now and would never safely return home to her, as he had promised to do and did when away at war. Seeing him there seemingly so alive before her cold splash of realization of not having him in her life and that he was no longer alive stopped her from writing her letter, but it never stopped her from looking out her window and wanting to write him.
"Robert, Rob, Bob, Bobby, he was so handsome," she said to herself for no one to here. "He was the love of my life. Robert, Rob, Bob, Bobby, I love you."
"Did you say something, Ruth, Honey," asked Dorothy engrossed in her book?
Before this window ever held a view, Ruth's mother committed suicide a year after being held here against her will. Even though it took the lunacy and the lives of all of them to give this window this view, Ruth comforted herself with the knowledge that had her mother had a window with a view, perhaps she would have been okay with being locked away here, as she is now with her terminal incarceration. Uncle Joe, Cousin Frank, and her Mom are all buried there in the mass graveyard to the left of the lake that she can clearly see from her room. That this one place should hold such a significantly historic connection to her family, Ruth found it not only tragically disturbing but also ironically humorous and now somewhat comforting that she was placed here by her children for her to enjoy such a view.
Little did her daughter and son know and had they known the history of this place, in their good intentions, they surely wouldn't have placed her here and would have placed her elsewhere to die. Now that she was here, she was glad she never shared that information with them. Private, personal, and secretly cherished, she was glad she saved and kept her memories to herself. She may have told them about her uncle, her cousin, and her mother being committed in an insane asylum, she was sure she did; one time or another. She was glad she never told them that she used to come here with her lover before he became her husband and their dad.
The time they spent lying naked by the lake was her special memory and one that would die with the death of her. It was shockingly immoral behavior back then to be naked in public and something that one didn't do unless married and never in public, even if married. With his arm around her and her arm around him, he fondled her breast while she fondled his penis. She cherished him then, just as she cherished this view and the imagined sight of him now.
"Robert, Rob, Bob, Bobby... Robert, Rob, Bob, Bobby..."
Yet, her children were so involved, too involved, in their own little lives that they wouldn't remember or care enough or have enough time and energy to include her in their lives, which would explain why she was here in the first place. When she was lucid, when she refused to take the medication they tried to give her that kept her quiet and made her sleep, she always wondered why she was here and best she could figure was that her children didn't love her enough to keep her with them. Still somewhat depressed, more some days than others, she was long over that sadness now and it was her view that helped her to get over her feelings of rejection and abandonment. Believing that there is a reason for everything, this view was her reason for being here and she was grateful for the memories that this view saved only for her to see.