What if you were determined to escape from somewhere but you constantly thwarted your own efforts? While you knew you desperately wanted to leave, you would always be foiled by your own inability to anticipate obstacles and work around them. By your perpetual state of disorientation and fear. By your own mind.
While this may seem unimaginable to most people, two of the residents at the assisted living center where I volunteer experience this on a daily basis. Again, I shall change their names for the sake of privacy. Let’s call them Catherine and Norbert.
Catherine is a beautiful elderly woman with glossy white curls. She wears tasteful clothing, maintains her sense of hygiene, walks independently, and can sustain sensible conversation. So what’s off about her? Well, it’s her dementia.
Catherine is obsessed with going home with her husband Walter. Now, don’t worry, Walter is alive and well. He even comes by a few times a week to visit Catherine and take her out. But whenever Walter isn’t around, Catherine wanders the Village like a lost and distraught puppy.
“Where’s Walter?” she often asks me, her deep blue eyes boring into mine.
“Er, he just came by the other day. Remember?”
“No, I can’t seem to remember at all. And I don’t know why I’m here when I need to go home.” She starts to rub her eyes with a tissue.
At this, the caregivers and I try to calm her down, appease her, ensure her that Walter will come by soon, but it just isn’t enough.
“How do I get home? I can’t walk all the way. Someone will have to drive me,”
This is when the tired gears in her head start turning. She starts by going around to everyone in the Village and asking them about her predicament.
“I need to go home, but I don’t know how. Do you know where Walter is?”
The other residents, often having lost their capacity for empathy and tact, usually reply, “How the hell should we know?”
But one of the residents, Norbert, is a sweet, doddering old man who actually listens to Catherine, in spite of the fact that he can only understand half of the things she says.
Like when Catherine asks, “Is there a way I can get to my house?” Norbert responds, “Well sure. I have my car, don’t I?”
When in reality, Norbert hasn’t driven in several years.
This is why Norbert is her most faithful partner in crime. Even though he’s never expressed a desire to leave, Norbert sees Catherine as a sort of damsel in distress. Which is why he’s always an active agent in Catherine’s elaborate schemes of absconding from the facility.
One morning, I see them walking together in the courtyard and catch incriminating snippets of their conversation.
Catherine lowers her voice as she says, “And as soon as we get your car keys, we’ll be out of here! My house ought to be just a few blocks away!”
Norbert considers her words and slowly nods his assent.
What the two attempt to do next shouldn’t be too hard to figure out. To be continued…