Being put “in a home” was the worst thing I could imagine. I’d seen it happen to a few of my friends. Here they were, trying to enjoy their retirement as much as possible- knitting and baking and Bingo and senior’s day at Value Village- and then they suddenly had no freedom.
Even the ones that were optimistic about it were disappointed. They started out with “Well my daughter says that they have a bridge club right in the home!” and “I can still bake. I just have to do it in a supervised area.” That quickly turned into “I don’t get to see my grandchildren as often” and “I’d rather if you wouldn’t come by. It hurts me to see you with your freedom.”
Needless to say my tour of Ever After felt like a death sentence. I walked along through the halls behind daughter, barely bothering to stick my head into the different rooms that were being pointed out to me.
“Here is the dining area and over there we have the theatre room. That’s a very popular spot for Friday night dates,” our glorified tour guide said happily. I didn’t bother faking a smile.
“Hear that, Mom?” Heather asked. “Dates! Wouldn’t that be fun?”
I grimaced. I had been widowed a very long time already. My husband had died in an accident more than twenty years ago. Heather had been trying to convince me to date ever since.
Maybe if I had, I thought angrily, I’d have someone to help me convince Heather to let me stay in my own home.
I put my head down and trailed after the tour guide and my daughter who were talking happily. She introduced me to everyone we passed- the cook, the assistants, any of the other prisoners who would pretend to give a damn.
“Gloria?” came a rough voice following such an introduction. I looked up into a face I recognized but couldn’t quite place.
“Gloria Felman?” he asked, using my maiden name.
Someone I knew before I was married, I thought, my eyes searching his face for a clue. Maybe I do deserve to be in a home, I chided myself, frustrated with my lack of memory.
He didn’t leave me staring awkwardly at him for too long. “Danny,” he told me. “Danny Keller.”
I was suddenly lost in memories from high school- memories that I thought were long gone. Of course I remembered Danny. How could I possibly have forgotten?
Danny and I had met at the roller rink one Saturday night. I was there with a couple of girlfriends and he was there with a group of guys. It wasn’t anything spectacular- no eyes meeting across the rink or bumping into each other and spilling a drink all over me or anything like that. One of his friends was hitting on a friend of mine and we just sort of wound up talking.
“You wanna meet me back here next Saturday?” Danny asked me before getting into the backseat of his friend’s car. He had this mischievous twinkle in his clear blue eyes.
“Sure,” I told him.
When I showed up the next week I was wearing my best skirt and my friend had done my hair up in this pretty French braid. “Why can’t I come?” she’d moaned.
“It’s just me and Danny tonight,” I told her.
I had a great time with Danny. He bought us strawberry shakes and we skated and we had lots to laugh about. About half way through the night I excused myself to go to the bathroom.
“Hey,” a girl said, emerging from a stall. “You’re here with Danny Keller?”
I blushed. “Yeah.”
“You know he’s got a woman, right?” the girl said. It was more of a statement than a question.
“No, I didn’t-”
“Well he does. Her name is Lucy and she goes to Rivermont High. So I’d end this night pretty quickly if I was you.”
I should probably have walked out of the bathroom and given Keller a hard slap across the face. I didn’t. I waited for the other girl to get out of the damn bathroom, powdered my nose and continued my date with Danny.
“Can I walk you home?” he asked when we were finally ready to end our date. The stars had already started to appear in the sky.
“I’d like that,” I told him.
When we finally got to my place I was ready to ask him. “Do you have a girlfriend?”
He looked at me, his face blank. He was obviously trying to figure out how much I knew already.
“Lucy?” I prompted.
“Lucy... yeah, I mean me and Lucy...”
Danny leaned in to kiss me and I didn’t stop him. We kissed long and hard under the street light. “I’ll call you,” he told me.
He did call and he asked to see me again. I agreed but the thought of Lucy made me a little hesitant. I suggested a spot that wasn’t quite so public. I wasn’t up to any more bathroom encounters.
Our next date went wonderfully and no one approached me. When he suggested we see a movie the next weekend I didn’t even hesitate.
A couple days later, I was walking home from school. I had two friends with me. We clutched our books to our chests and talked about boys and makeup. Suddenly I heard someone hollering from behind.
“Gloria? Hey! Are you Gloria Felman?”
I turned around slowly. “I am.”
“What the hell have you been doing with my boyfriend?” the girl shrieked.
I thought she was going to hit me but she didn’t. She got right up close and spit on my blouse.
“I’m going to make your life hell,” she warned. “Don’t you ever come around Danny again.”
I never heard from Danny again. I went out for cheerleading the next year and was turned away. “We don’t accept cheaters,” the captain told me in her perky cheerleader voice. I was told the same thing after the tryouts for the school play and when I put my name on the list to help tutor freshmen.
For a while I’d mourned Danny. But eventually that had given way to frustration.
Lucy had succeeded in making my high school life hell but there wasn’t anything she could do beyond. I went away to university, joined a sorority and met my husband. All thoughts of Danny and Lucy had vanished.
“When are you moving in?” Danny asked me and I thought I saw that same twinkle in his blue eyes, though now they were behind glasses.
“Saturday,” I heard myself answered. My voice sounded almost happy.
“Oh that’s wonderful,” Danny said sweetly. “I’ll have to bring you to play bridge and show the walkways out back. And of course there’s the theatre-”
I felt my heart skip a beat- quite dangerous at my age. I suddenly wished I worn something a little nicer than my old orange cardigan with all the loose strings. Who wore orange anyway?
“I’ll meet you for that movie on Saturday,” he said and I trailed off after my daughter. I had a lot of packing to do.
I ended up bringing very few belongings with me. I took a couple of books- my daughter said she could switch them out for me when she visited- and all of my best cardigans and dress pants. My granddaughter bought me a new set of very nice pyjamas which I was very grateful for as I was suddenly self conscious about wearing my ratty old flannel pairs in front of Danny.
I didn’t even have my few belongings stashed away before Danny showed up at the door. “Private room,” he said with a smile. “Snazzy. I have to share mine. You about ready for that movie date?”
“Sure,” I replied. I was as excited as I’d been in high school. I took his outstretched hand.
“Great,” he said. “I just have to stop by and see my wife-”
“Your wife?” I interrupted, unable to keep the astonishment out of my voice.
“Sure. She has a room in the medical wing on the second floor.”
I’m not sure if his eyes twinkled or if his glasses just reflected the fluorescent lights.