Sunday, October 7, 2007

Jerry's Story

This a vignette I wrote about a woman I used to visit in hospices off and on for a couple years, many years ago. The vignette was published in The SUN: A Magazine of Ideas, September 1997. The woman I wrote it for died of complications from AIDS not long after. I didn't use her real name then, but I'm using it here:

Jerry grew up in Las Vegas after one of her parents shot the other somewhere east coast. I don't remember which shot which, but she was taken away and then ran away. She spent most of her life in casino hotels.
She was the only woman resident (which she liked) at Maitri Hospice in the Castro when I met her two years ago. But she got kicked out, so now she's with the old people in one long open windowed hall at Laguna Honda Hospital by Twin Peaks. She says she likes it here too. She was getting tired of AIDS all the time.
I haven't been to see her in months and have to ask the nurse if she's still around. The nurse says, Oh yeah, but she's lonely. And asks if I would please come for her birthday next month, leading me through the ward.

Jerry's husband-pimp, Turtle, used to be good at visiting. There was some kind of exchange going on,--her stashed pain medication for company and sometimes chocolate. One time I remember she slept with a sack of Hershey's Chocolate Kisses he'd brought her, she missed him so much. They melted all over her in the night, and the morning nurse thought she'd had a terrible accident.
But Turtle could be mean, chided her for gaining weight during the six months she could only eat Ben & Jerry's. So she was relieved when he went back to prison. Says he likes it better in there anyway. She takes her coffee with whipped cream.

Jerry is diagnosed with among many things, PML (progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy),--her left side is completely paralyzed. She told everybody that progressive multifocal leukoencphalopathy was bullshit,--she'd had an ordinary stroke, which we all took for wishful thinking. But the paralysis never did seem to progress, she's still around, and there's no way to tell without a brain biopsy, which isn't going to happen.

She'd remember "progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy" and she'd remember what my last T-cell counts were. But she couldn't remember certain names. She had a nurse, Leticia, who she called "Leukemia." And there was a very affected volunteer attendant who called himself Geoffra. She called him "Ragu. She calls me, and most people, Honey.

At Maitri Hospice she had her own big room and could have candles, and painted the intricate molding around her fireplace bright with nailpolish.

Most of these old residents are sleeping, or at least not moving, in their small, allotted, well-kept impersonal spaces.

But in a room at the end of the hall, Jerry is up in wheels with the smokers critiquing the Olympics on a black and white TV, limp left hand nails painted pink. She can't paint the right ones which are stained tobacco yellow. She looks the same.

She says, "Oh hello, Honey." And introduces me to everyone in the vicinity whether they can see or hear or think to talk, and interviews me. Asks if I know about the new protease inhibitors, and tells me to get on them ASAP. Her T-cells got so high on
them she had to quit. She didn't want to have to maybe move again.

I ask if there is anything I can do for her. She says no. If there is anything she needs from outside. No. Anything she'd like.

"Yes." Her priest, Cecil, brings her department store perfume samples, little vials each week. But what she'd really like from me on her forty-fourth birthday, next month, would be a big bottle of White Linen. ~
Maitri Hospice

1 comment:

Sarah said...

Love. And love to Jerry, as and where she is now.