"Don't touch me!"
Charlotte Miller cringed in the corner of her room, her hands balled into fists, ready to attack the first person that approached. We all stood looking at her, wondering what had set her off. Even the nurses didn't know. Nurse Stenton just glared at her, pissed off beyond words and trying to find a way to remain professional. And there wasn't one.
"Mrs. Miller, it's time for your bath!"
"I don't care. You're not touching me."
I stepped forward, drawing a stern look from Stenton but I knew Charlotte and she didn't just fly off the handle for no reason at all. She was my dearest friend here at the retirement home and I wasn't going to let her down.
"Charlotte ... "
"No! Just keep away, Anna!"
"Oh, come on, Charlotte. It's just me. You know me and you trust me. Just keep your eye on Nurse Stenton and let me talk to you."
Charlotte seemed to mull my words over for a few minutes, then nodded. I took that as my cue to approach her and I did so, sitting on the bed near the corner, my back to the fuming nurse.
"Now, tell me what's wrong."
"She wants to wash me, Anna."
"Well, what's wrong with that? You don't want to go around here stinking, do you?" I laughed. "It's hard enough to get a date ... "
"Don't I know it!" I took a deep breath and smiled. Here was the Charlotte that I knew, ballsy and full of shit.
It had only been a year since I'd arrived at Sunnyvale. My son, who didn't give a shit about me, had arranged for my interment and had me brought here while he cleaned out the house and put it up for sale. I didn't give much of a fight. Frankly, I didn't have to; my lawyer took care of the battle for me. My son inherited nothing and was furious. After he calmed down, he tried to get me to move in with him, thinking to get back on my good side but I refused. I was coming to appreciate the freedoms Sunnyvale offered and besides, I didn't need him anyway.
The first person I met was Charlotte. She came into the admissions office and plucked me away from Nurse O'Reilly, laughing the entire time. "Thank me later." She linked her arm in mine and we started walking down the hall. "You would have fallen asleep on your feet with O'Reilly giving the tour."
After that, we were pretty much inseparable. The nurses would find the brassy redhead and her pale blonde partner in crime holding court at the center table in the cafeteria and having a ball. Charlotte made me forget about my dead husband and my greedy son and gave me something to live for: her friendship. When I had my hip replacement surgery, once again, it was Charlotte who made me forget the pain and made me laugh through the pain-filled hours of therapy that I had to suffer through.
"These fucking nurses are getting on my nerves." Charlotte's statement brought me out of my reverie and I looked up at her. Stenton had backed off but stayed within hearing distance, her face wrinkling in disdain when she heard Charlotte's words. "They won't leave me alone, Anna."
"I know, honey, but they're just here to help us."
"She doesn't want to help me!" She spat, narrowing her eyes and glaring at Stenton. "If she did, she would understand."
"Then why don't you tell me what's going on and I'll make her understand."
"Are you going to beat her up?" Charlotte's lovely blue eyes crinkled and she gave a loud whoop, throwing her head back. "Go to it, girl. I haven't seen a good fight since Louis and Schmeling."
"No, no!" I held my stomach, laughing heartily. "You forget. I'm a lover, not a fighter." Charlotte laughed, but I saw the merriment die in her eyes as her smile dropped. "So tell me. What's wrong?"
Every one of us was in the home for a reason. My main reason was degenerative arthritis and an ungrateful son. 'Uncle Arthur', as it was called around here, was ravaging my joints like a house on fire and Charlotte had known that keeping me active would keep it at bay. So far, it had worked. But as I sat on the bed, looking at my friend, I realized that I didn't know why she was here, what her ailment was. Whenever I'd asked, she'd just said that she was at Sunnyvale because life couldn't handle her any more.
"She wants to wash my hands."
I started to say something because that was such a strange thing to be afraid of but when she held out her hands, I understood everything. My mind traveled back to the last couple of months when we were at breakfast. Every morning, we had Raisin Bran and shared a blueberry muffin. If I got to the cafeteria first, I would order; if she arrived first, she would order. That way, no one had to stand in the long line again. One morning, I had gotten there late and found Charlotte at our table, without any food. Laughingly, I had asked her where the food was and she'd said, "Oh, I forgot!"
Charlotte Miller didn't forget anything. And now, the other episodes of her forgetting things all added up to a horrible sum: Charlotte had Alzheimer's.
I couldn't stop the tears from filling my eyes and rolling down my cheeks as I held her delicate hands. Written over the liver spots and spider veins were names, names that I recognized. Jamie, son, 39. Linda, wife, 37. James, 14. Jenna, 12. Tonya, daughter, 36. Alyssa, partner, 33. The names and ages of her son and his family were first, then mine and some of the other Sunnyvale members.
"These are my crib notes." She whispered. "I don't want to forget."
I shook my head, my heart breaking for her. Charlotte knew she was sick and didn't want to give in. None of us wanted to. "I know, Charlotte." I gave her a hug. "But you can't avoid a bath!" We chuckled through our tears. "Tell you what, you let Nurse Stenton give you your bath and I will write the information back on your hand when you're done."
"Promise. I'm your friend, Charlotte. We'll get through this together. Okay?"
Charlotte put her hands back in mine, a symbolic gesture that she was putting her life and her sanity in my hands. I looked down at her crib notes and enclosed them with my hands.