She held a bald-headed baby doll. It might have been a boy because it had on a navy blue sailor outfit. But it was swaddled in a pink, flowered blanket that she held tenderly in her arms, so I hesitated to call it a her or a him. I bent down to her level and commented about how cute her baby was. Marie smiled a toothless grim and held the baby doll up for me to take. I sat on a nearby bed and began to rock back and forth as Marie sang a song with words only she could understand. But then almost everything Marie said made no sense.
I met Marie while visiting my mother as she recuperated in a healthcare and rehab facility in North Carolina. I had picked Marie to be my mother’s roomie. Prior to my mother arriving at the facility, I had an opportunity to look through the two-person rooms. The nurse escorting me around ushed me to the room my mother was originally scheduled to occupy. Immediately I noticed her would-be room mate. She had the television turned up so loud I could hear it as I walked down the hall. She sat about a foot away from the screen, engrossed in whatever was on at the time. The nurse mentioned that patient watched t.v. almost continuously. I knew that was not a good match for my introverted mother who was not into televsion at all.
Walking past the room next door, I observed the room was quiet, orderly and serene. I said, “How about this room?” The nurse said, “Well, there is a patient in one bed, but she is hardly ever in her room and doesn’t communicate much with others.” Perfect! Just the kind of environment my mother would like. My mother settled in to her bed, and then Marie’s wheelchair appeared in the door. The eyes of a cherub-cheeked, slightly plump, middle-aged woman, holding a baby doll on her lap met my eyes. Without a word, she wheeled over to me, flashed me a smile, and began to “talk” to me as if we were long-lost friends.
I liked Marie right away. I visited my mother frequently in the facility and learned that Marie had been a well-known cook in a local resort before her stroke. Marie and I had many conversations. Our greetings would always start out about the same way. I would say something like, “Hi, Marie. How you doing today?” Most of the time she would respond with a language I could only interprete by watching her facial expressions and body language. There were those few but precious moments when she would say something like, “I’m feeling good today” And if I listened really hard, I could pick a word or two out of the usual gibberish to understand the gist of her meaning…or at least I acted to Marie as if I was totally into the story she wanted me to hear.
A strange thing happened, my mother’s silent partner started staying in their room more. My mother, although not as conversant with Marie as I was, would sit in her wheelchair as Marie held her baby doll in her wheelchair and “talked” to my mother. My mother said, “Everytime Marie thinks you’re coming to see me, she won’t leave the room.” Then she’s whisper, “She’ll be here all day.” I didn’t care because I knew Marie wanted someone to listen to her. Don’t we all want that? Regardless if we don’t quite speak the same language or understand exactly what another is trying to say, just the fact that someone is giving their undivided attention and unconditional acceptance is rarely encountered in our intellectural, information saturated relationships.
One day I walked in their room and knew that Marie and my mother had truly become friends. My mother was all alone there in her wheelchair, holding a bald-headed baby doll in a pink, flowered blanket. Mom looked up at me, laughed and said, “I’m baby-sitting for Marie.”