Anna goes to the kitchen to find scotch tape. She heads straight for a drawer and grabs a roll -- her Early Stage Alzheimer's hasn't yet robbed her of that discovery.
"How about here?" I ask. I am standing in the hallway of her home, at the foot of the staircase, holding up a lined page ripped from a notebook.
We selected this spot because anyone entering -- particularly her adult children and caregiver -- can't miss it. Anna hands me the tape and I affix the sign so it drops from a shelf to the right of the stairs. Dictated by my friend, it reads: IF I FORGET TO FEED MY CATS OR CHANGE THEIR LITTER, PLEASE DO SO.
"Thank you," she says to me, and we return to the couch where she spends her days adjacent to a small television. A table at arms length holds a large monthly calendar, the notebook, packages of gum, telephone numbers of her children, and various homeopathic medicines someone believes will help Anna snap out of her condition.
As evidenced by our sign, I am not in the alternative treatment camp. I've read up on Alzheimer's, and have the experience of caring for my husband, Tommy, whose dementia didn't lead to memory loss, but was equally unfixable. Instead of urging Anna to curb repetition, or pull herself out of depression, or halt her worries, I instead stick with wherever her slowly erasing mind lands.
Months ago, when Anna stopped remembering what she had done earlier the same day; I began to visit her weekly. As typical of those with the illness, she has no problem recalling episodes from long ago, and is delighted when I regularly recount our first meeting.
She perches on her couch, adjusts her two hearing aids -- which she says aren't working as they are supposed to -- and leans in for my story. "It was my first day in the exercise class," I say, using a slow cadence, as if it were a fairy tale. "You were in the first row near the mirror and I was in the back. You were dancing so gracefully, different than all of the others. I couldn't take my eyes off of you."
After class, I spotted Anna in the health club's lobby and stopped her to express my admiration. "I was a ballet dancer in my youth," she explained. "The movements are natural."
That meeting led to a deep friendship. I learned she was 10 years older than me, which brought me hope realizing I could possibly be in as great shape when I reached her milestone. She became an immediate fan of my memoir, "The Division Street Princess" and bought at least a dozen copies to give to friends. We were each other's cheerleaders.
On the couch, after the sign posting and our how-we-met story, Anna tells me, "I know how your husband Tommy must have felt. Like a prisoner." Although she declares this with each visit, I nod my head. "Que sera, sera," she says. "Whatever will be, will be. Remember that song? Doris Day, right?" She is proud she has made the right combination.
"Yes, it's from a movie," I say. "A classic Alfred Hitchcock." I pull out my iPhone and find a clip of the scene in "The Man Who Knew Too Much" where Day is at the piano singing loudly so her son, who is trapped upstairs, can hear her. Jimmy Stewart is slinking out of the ballroom where the mini concert is being held.
Anna's eyes are giving her as much trouble as her ears, so she pulls my phone close to her face to discern the action and music. When the few minutes of play are completed, we sing together the lyrics. Her caregiver, Sonia, who is seated nearby, joins in.
Then, Anna rises from the couch, walks to the piano -- standing because I am seated on the chair that is usually at the instrument -- plays the tune, perfectly; by ear. I clap loudly, as if mirroring the movie star's volume.
In an hour, as I stand up to leave, Anna asks, "When are you coming back?" Her pencil is poised at the oversized calendar.
"Sometime next week," I say, and step in for our usual hug and kiss. "I'll call you as soon as I get my schedule."
In he hallway I pass the taped sign and wonder if it will still be up when I return. "Que sera, sera," I think to myself, closing the door behind me. "Whatever will be, will be."
Note: My new memoir, "Green Nails And Other Acts of Rebellion: Life After Loss," will be published September 2014. To join the book's crowd-funding campaign, please click on Elaine Soloway's Kickstarter Campaign. Thanks!