Chapter One (Tuesday, March 10, 2020)
Mom and I raced to the front door of the nursing home only to find the doors locked. Traci, one of our favorite nurses, came to the door with a surgical mask covering her face. “I’m so sorry, Stephanie. You can’t come in to see your mom. I’ll let her know you were here,” Traci said, sadness filling her eyes.
“But we’re fine,” Mom explained. “We don’t have a temperature or a cough.”
Traci shook her head. “I’m sorry.”
“Please!” Mom begged, bursting into tears.
Shaking her head again, Traci repeated, “I’m so sorry.”
Now, I was crying. I went to Mom and put my arms around her. We stood there holding each other for several minutes. Traci had started crying, too, and eventually walked away.
“Come on,” I said, taking Mom by the arm and leading her toward the parking lot. “I’ll drive.”
Mom just nodded numbly and let me lead her to the car. I opened the passenger door for her before I went around the car and got in the driver’s seat. Mom handed me her keys, took tissues out of her purse, and gave me one.
I wiped my face before adjusting the seat and rearview mirror. I’m about two inches shorter than Mom, so I always have to change everything when I drive after her. I started the car and carefully backed out of our spot.
Mom wiped her face and sat back so I could look past her to make sure there wasn’t any traffic coming from the right. Once I was on the main road, Mom dropped her head and started crying again. When I stopped for a traffic light, I reached over and stroked her shoulder. I would never have thought I’d be the strong one in this situation, but who would have dreamed we would get locked out of the nursing home.
Grandma Tremmel developed signs of Alzheimer’s about six years ago. She was only sixty at the time. Mom and Dad worked hard to keep her in her own apartment for as long as they could, but we all knew she would eventually have to come live with us.
Two years ago, I made the sacrifice to give up my room for Grandma after she’d left her apartment one day and went on a walk. It took a whole day to find her. Fortunately, she’d wandered over to the house she’d shared with Grandpa Tremmel until he’d died suddenly of a heart attack eight years ago when he was just sixty-one years old. The couple who bought the house took Grandma in and called the police to let them know where she was. It wouldn’t have been that big of a deal, except the house was ten miles from town, and Grandma had kept walking until she got there because she was certain Grandpa was there waiting for her.
Putting Grandma in the nursing home had not been part of the plan until Grandma went outside during a thunderstorm last June, slipped and fell on the slick patio, and broke her hip.
She’d been sneaking off to meet Grandpa, and she came really close to getting to be with him because she hit her head pretty hard on the concrete. Grandma’s doctor insisted she go to a nursing facility until her hip healed. That was nine months ago. Even though her hip has improved, and she is slowly walking better, the bump on her head seems to have accelerated her Alzheimer’s.
Grandma doesn’t know who any of us are when we visit, which is killing my mother. Fortunately, she does get excited to see us when we visit every day at four o’clock, which we have done like clockwork ever since she had to go into the nursing home. Now, this stupid virus has put an end to our visits for at least the next two weeks.
“I can’t believe this is happening,” Mom said as she wiped at the tears flowing down her cheeks.
“I know,” I agreed.
It’s just so weird that a few weeks ago, we were talking about the Coronavirus like it was something happening to other people in other parts of the world. Now, it was here, even in Kentucky, not a lot of cases, but one is too many.
I talked Mom into stopping on the way home and picking up a family meal from Kentucky Fried Chicken. I knew she wasn’t going to feel like cooking.
Mom was talking to Dad on the phone as we carried the food and drinks in the house. Ben met us at the door and held it open for us.
“KFC! Just what I was craving,” Ben said as he sniffed at the bucket of fried chicken.
“Thank your sister,” Mom said. “It was her idea.”
“Thanks, Nerdy,” Ben grinned and took the round tub of chicken from me.
“You’re welcome, Turdy,” I replied.
Mom scowled at both of us. Ben is two years younger than me and annoying like all younger brothers are supposed to be. He is also all boy in his antics, like farting next to your face as you’re watching TV. Mom yells at him for doing it. Dad just laughs. It’s a typical male bonding thing with them. I generally try not to be in the same room with them after we’ve had chili or soup beans, both lethal gas-producing foods.
I started calling Ben “Turdy” when his farting antics almost caused an accident in his pants. He’s been calling me variations of “Nerd” ever since he learned what the word meant. “Nerdy” being his favorite endearment towards me. Neither of us gets mad about the nicknames. We both have owned them.
As we’re filling our plates with chicken, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, gravy, and biscuits, I ask Ben, “Hey dude, you want to watch the news special about the Nineteen Eighteen Flu epidemic and how it compares to the Coronavirus?”
“Sick,” Ben responds. “Will there be dead bodies?”
“Probably,” I answer. Ben looks at the clock on the wall. “I can watch until seven.”
“What’s at seven?” Mom wants to know.
“Fortnite battle,” Ben explained.
“I thought you were playing Team Fortress?”
Ben took a bite of his biscuit and, with a full mouth, said, “That’s tomorrow.”
“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” Mom snapped at Ben and then turned on me. “Can’t you find something happier to watch?”
Ben and I looked at each other. “Sure,” I answered.
Taking his plate and heading to his room, Ben said, “Later.”
Mom glared after him and then shook her head. “You guys seemed to think this is some kind of a game. This is serious! And I’m sick of reading about it and watching the news stories.”
“You want to find a romantic comedy on Netflix?” I asked, realizing I was being a little insensitive to suggest watching something about this virus that is keeping Mom from seeing Grandma.
“That would be great, Natalie,” Mom replied and headed for the living room with her plate.
I nodded and tried to think of a super happy and funny movie that would hopefully give Mom a break from reality for a few hours. I know what is happening is serious. I’ve been reading and studying about the virus ever since the first news story about the outbreak in China. No one knows what’s going to happen next, which is very scary.
Ironically, Mom chose the movie “Life as We Know It.” She has a huge crush on the actor, Josh Duhamel, which is why I think she picked the movie. He reminds me a little of my dad with his snub nose and dimples. Dad even has his hair cut in a similar style with a thick shock of dark hair on top with the sides shorter. He’s even been sporting a trim beard for the past few years, which I hate. It looks good on him, but it scratches my face when he kisses my cheek.
The movie is about how two people who hate each other have to live together and work things out after becoming guardians of a friend’s baby, a life-changing experience. That’s why I thought it was ironic that Mom chose that movie. Our life-changing experience is very different from the characters in the film, but like their lives, ours will never be the same again, either.