I Care a Lot
Last weekend, my husband and I watched a movie that turned my stomach. For most people, it was probably just two hours of entertainment. Maybe it's a testament to the acting caliber in that movie. Rosamund Pike did an incredibly convincing job of being unlikable. Even her steady stream of vape smoke irritated me. Game of Thrones fans likely enjoyed seeing Peter Dinklage as a mob boss with a soft spot for Mom.
The premise of the movie, "I Care a Lot", was conning dementia patients out of their estates, a situation I don't view lightly given my work with the elderly population. Even with a plot twist at the end which seemingly tipped the scales, the whole movie left a bad taste in my mouth.
The reason the movie was so unsettling to me is because I know that art imitates life. I prefer to live behind rose-colored glasses most of the time. As hard as I try to spread good, however, a veil of impenetrable darkness will always remain. One movie scene even alluded to human trafficking, a horrific crime that often gets swept under the rug. Like financial cons, it is society's dirty secret and someone else's problem.
It pains me to think about my Meals on Wheels clients ending up in similar situations to the elderly "marks" in the movie. An unfortunate reality, I have seen it in action. My family had to change Granny Campbell's phone number because of the harassment she received from callers trying to exploit her age. "We'll be there in ten minutes to collect the check," they would insist. She lived in fear that someone would show up at her door demanding payment for some made-up charge or benefit.
Most of my clients are too poor to swindle, but the possibility exists. My newest client, Mr. B, talks of trips he's taken to far-off places and implies he was quite successful in life. With his failing mind, an uninvolved family and a penchant for attractive women, he would be the right mark for the wrong person.
Mr. B was having a particularly bad day when I arrived to his apartment on Friday. He blinked as if better focus would help him recognize my face. He paused as I handed him the food. "Do you work here?" he whispered. No, I patiently explained again, as if for the first time, I am a volunteer for Meals on Wheels.
Whenever I mention the organization, he protests, "I don't know what I did to deserve this." He then shrugs his shoulders, playfully sticking his tongue out and winking, sealing this secret between us. I've stopped trying to explain that his son donates the money to cover it.
I also try to solidify in his mind that I will return each and every Friday, but it never sticks. We will likely go through the same routine, me explaining I'm there to deliver his lunch and telling him I'll see him next Friday. He'll compliment my outfit in a flirtatious manner, stopping himself before saying something more inappropriate. Friday, I played along, telling him that I'm sorry the delivery drivers Monday through Thursday aren't as cute.
His neighbor told me one time that his daughter-in-law doesn't care for him and that the family "locked him away" in this place before moving several hours south. It is only one side of the story. Like a toddler, he seems defy a need for clothing and has answered the door in his underwear more than once. Given the comments I laugh off most weeks, maybe he crossed a line. The dementia certainly puts him in a position to need full time care, regardless of any family dynamics at play.
Then there is the client who has nothing. Friends and family collected money at Christmas to present her with gift cards to help with bills. Friday, she slipped me a note asking for $20 to go see the doctor for a check-up. I worried that might happen, that I would become a perpetual swindling victim myself.
Someday I may have to set a boundary, but I didn't on Friday. I happened to have cash in my wallet. What is $20 to me, I thought to myself. A fraction of a paycheck. If it means this woman can get her medication, that twenty dollar bill is worth its weight in gold.
“By the time you’re eighty years old you’ve learned everything. You only have to remember it.” ~George Burns