One summer during college I worked as a caregiver for an elderly woman, Mrs. S., who lived by the ocean three months of every year. I drove her to restaurants; I washed her windows, I drove her home to Boston every few weeks so we could water plants and buy the fresh produce she couldn’t seem to find closer to the Cape. Mostly I listened. She was a talker, a woman of many, many opinions, and she appreciated having someone murmur occasional agreement.
I think she’s dead now, though I’ve done nothing to find out.
She loved her gardens and convinced her Boston gardener to come visit every month to tend the ones at the Cape. They weren’t decadent. No water features, no rare blooms. Most of her plants were in memory of someone she’d lost or someone who’d been born. She’d lost a lot of people by then. Her husband and her mother were the ones she missed the most and I heard enough stories that I felt sad, too, for the mother who raised three kids on her own and combed her hair every summer morning sitting on a rock on the beach, and for the man who couldn’t avoid the car crash that killed him and nearly killed Mrs. S., close enough that her body never recovered any sort of symmetry.
Mrs. S. and I went swimming nearly every day. “Go dive in those waves,” she’d order me, and I’d comply. “I envy you,” she’d tell me when I’d return to her, dripping wet and dizzy and laughing. I didn’t understand. “You can do this,” I said. “I don’t have the right kind of bathing suit,” she answered. Now I understand better. Of course it wasn’t the bathing suit. It was her body. It was her age.
Toward evening we’d sit on her terrace, surrounded by gardens that reminded her mostly of happiness. Whatever rags we’d used for cleaning would still be in her hand and she’d wrap them around her bent neck and snuggle herself. “It’s nice to feel cozy,” she’d say.
My littlest likes to feel cozy, too. The worn white T-shirts I use for pajamas are his favorite things in the world. He’ll dig one out of the drawer if he needs comfort and I haven’t gotten ready for bed yet. “I need your white T-shirt,” he’ll say, sniffling. Never does he seem more like my last baby.
This never changes – the quiet need for comfort around our necks, for a quiet moment in the garden.