I finally located Nana this afternoon after repeatedly missing her in her room today. I eventually called the main Crowley number, and they put me through to the duty nurse’s desk in Nana’s wing. Nana wasn’t terribly impressed by the news she had a call – apparently I’d interrupted her soup.
“What sort of soup?” I wanted to know.
“All different sorts,” she said, and that really set the tone for the rest of the conversation.
“What have you been up to today?”
“Oh, I’ve got things,” she said. “I’ve got some… some nice things in my room, actually. I have a nice thing on my bed.”
“Yes. It looks very good.”
“I’m sure it does,” I said.
“You’ll have to wait to see it when you come.”
“I’m afraid I will.”
“I’m stepping out to come and see you shortly,” she said briskly. “I was planning to come in a little while. I was just on my way out.”
As Nana said this, I realised there was another, largely subconscious reason I’ve been putting off calling: it feels terrible telling her that actually, no, that’s not possible. It’s the same thing every time and it makes you feel like a mongrel.
“Oh,” I said, “that would be so lovely, Nana, but I don’t think that’s possible. I’m a bit far away.”
“Well, it’s a plane ride.”
“Is it?” Always the same genuine surprise. It’s gutting having this conversation over and over again. “I didn’t think it was so far.”
“I’m all the way down in Manly.”
“Oh,” she said. “But you’re not always there, are you? You don’t live there all the time, do you?”
I paused, trying to figure out what she was talking about before answering. I had nothing.
“You’re not thinking of Kate’s, are you?” I ventured at last.
“No, I know where Kate’s is,” she said tartly. “I was thinking… some place…”
“I wonder what it is you’re thinking of,” I said (sincerely). “We only live here. We’ve lived here for four and a half years now.”
“I was thinking about the other place,” Nana said, her voice drifting. “I was thinking of where you live, actually.”
I decided to try to change topic.
“So how’s the social scene?”
“They’re not very bright,” she said.
“Not sharp enough for you, Nana?”
“No,” she said, “but it’ll get better. They’ll improve. There’s… things, there’s… equipment here, but I don’t really use it. A toaster. This thing says line 2 and conference and office.”
“The phone? You’re used to your own phone, aren’t you, and it doesn’t have any of that confusing stuff on it.”
“No, it doesn’t.”
“Have you seen Kate?”
“Last week, yes, this week, no.”
She sounded so definite that for a moment there, I almost believed she knew the difference. But I’ve since spoken to Kate, and she did visit this week. It’s Nana’s default response to tell me Kate hasn’t visited; the heartbreaking thing is I honestly think it’s an instinctive strategy to get me to visit as well. Maybe I’ll come instead, goes the logic (I think), if she says Kate hasn’t been in. Nana just has no idea how far away I am. None. Anyway, I told her about work, and IVF (“What’s that?” she said sharply ), and Llew trying to get a laptop from work so he can at least avoid the office of a weekend (“Yes,” she said. “I agree he should…do the thing he … wants to do.”), and a rush of bits and pieces of news.
“Well,” she said, “I really want to see you.”
“I know, Nana. I’d love to see you, too. I’m just so far away. We’ll have to do better. We’ll have to put our heads together and come up with a plan.”
“I suppose I should be going,” she said vaguely. “I have things to do, too.”
“Yes,” I said. “Like finish your soup. Sorry I interrupted.”
“People are laughing and talking,” she said. “And it says line 2. Conference.”
“Um, well, maybe I’ll catch you in your room next time so you can use your regular phone.”
“I’d best be off,” she said.
“Okay, Nana. I hope your soup’s not gone cold.”
“Oh,” she said. “I finished that while I was doing the other thing.”
“You finished it? That’s my girl.”
“Love to Llewie.”
“I will give Llewie a big kiss from you.”
“And love to you, pet.”
“Lots of love to you, Nana.”
“Okay,” she said. “Bye for now.”
And she rang off.
Boy, she was having a lot of problems with thought and sentence completion today. And the vocabulary has definitely diminished; everything is now designated “thing.” It was a bit scary – her condition seems to have worsened since we last spoke. She was perfectly upbeat, just not making a whole lot of sense. The most crushing, crushing, crushing thing of all is that when I spoke to Kate, she said she got there the other day and a nurse said, “Oh, good, you are here to take her to lunch,” and Kate had to say, no, sorry, she could only come for a visit. Apparently Nana had said over and over – and says over and over – that her granddaughter was or is coming to take her to lunch, and talking to my sister, we deduced she’s probably talking about me, because that’s what we always did together. Lunch. When I was still working at UNSW during my doctorate, which was close to Nana’s, we went to lunch every week. And this seems to be part of The Day that Nana has left. That’s the way I think of Nana’s reality now: it’s like she has one day she relives over and over, a day that is a composite of all sorts of days she’s had in the past. Some husbands don’t make the cut; they don’t appear in her day. But the lunches, my taking her to lunch, that’s in there, and so daily – daily – she expects me to arrive. That’s The Day she has planned. And writing this is making my gut twist and my mouth pinch and my eyes smart, because I can’t BEAR that on that basis, I will disappoint her just about every day of the rest of her life. Okay. I’ve just remembered why it was getting so hard to call. I’m blubbering again.