Daphne Knocking

My daughter Tafv answered the door to Daphne, who was crying hysterically, saying she thought her daughter had been murdered.

            “It’s been so long since I’ve seen her,” said the 74-year-old woman, weeping and holding out the key hanging from around her neck.

            I was out jogging, and my husband was at Trader Joe’s, so Tafv, 14, walked Daphne across the street to where she used to live with her grown daughter. She led Daphne up the many stairs, and tried the key in the front door while the woman told Tafv that she thought her daughter’s body was probably inside, and that they needed to call the police. The key did not fit so, at Daphne’s suggestion, they went to the side door; it did not open.

            “Maybe we should try the front door,” Daphne said. Tafv suggested that instead she should come to our house and have some tea, which is what we’d done when we found Daphne a month earlier, wandering down the street in the dark.

            We hadn’t seen Daphne in six months. For five years before that, we’d seen her daily, gardening, or taking her car on as many as a dozen short trips a day, so many we’d joked she was a “gramma drug dealer.” When we’d seen her again that first time after she moved, I noticed she’d become frail. I’d asked her if she was okay. She told me she’d come to see her sister and began a convoluted story about how her sister had written to her and invited her to visit.

            “No, no, that’s not right,” said Daphne, wringing her hands. “I wrote her letters. But she didn’t answer them.”

            We brought her inside our home. She did not know us, but settled comfortably with a cup of hot tea and told us how she’d been a nurse for 30 years, and about her three daughters, and how they’d fussed at each other as teenagers. She was lucid and delighted to chat about the past, but about the present she was uncertain, and she knew it.

            “I never thought my mind would be affected,” she said, and again asked about her sister, who does not and never did live across the street.

            That time, I’d gotten an ancient phone book from her purse, and phoned people with her last name. I eventually reached her ex-husband, who said Daphne was suffering from dementia, and gave me the address of the group home where she’d been staying, a few miles south. I drove Daphne there; she thanked me and told the attendant what a nice girl I was. When her daughter came home from work that night, she told us Daphne had been going downhill rapidly; that they’d had an electronic monitoring bracelet on her, but that she’d ripped it off.

            When I came back from running, Daphne was still crying, standing by her old gate with Tafv and my husband, saying we needed to wait for the police. Somehow my presence convinced her it was okay to come inside our place for tea. We chatted, though less this time; she seemed more frightened. Tafv and I then drove her back to the group home, where in the lobby, she told the nurse, “They are such good neighbors.”

            On the drive home, Tafv said Daphne had said to her, “This is no way for a person to have to live.” We talked about Alzheimer’s, how it can happen to anyone, and I told Tafv I was very proud of the kindness and responsibility she’d shown.

            I know Daphne will show up again; that she somehow remembers the name of this street and gets the cab drivers to bring her. But we are moving at the end of January, and while I suspect some flare of self-preservation will tell Daphne to knock on our door, there will be nobody here that she knows.

reprinted from the LA Weekly