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Four years ago, I had no idea my living conditions would change drastically. I was only in my seventh year of living single and not really experiencing the magic as someone in their late 30s. But my dad’s desperate plea of, “Please move back home and help me help your mother,” tugged at me with strings of guilt. A good daughter, I had to be there.
I reasoned that moving back home would be temporary -- until mom’s 4am, near-comatose diabetic sugar drops stopped. She had just endured the loss of her parents within 11 months of each other. It was tough to accept that my grandparents fell victim to bad friends who conned them out of money and who duped them with “medications” they didn’t need. Mom’s grieving process was filled with anger, disbelief, and powerlessness.
My parents had just moved into a high-rise condo somewhat close to the apartment I rented in Kearny, 30 minutes from my native NYC. My mom, an insulin-dependent diabetic who suffers from an emotional illness, was having frequent sugar drops in the middle of the night.
My dad, a recovering alcoholic going on 27 years sobriety and who is on meds for bipolar disorder, did the best he could, but I worried when he called me after the fact. Luckily, he knew enough to call 911 before dialing me.
I debated about going back home. I kept hearing “Once you leave, you just can’t go back.” But the thought of not being there kept me up at night as I tossed between moving and letting go.
I couldn’t endure another loss, so within weeks, I packed my life away and called on my Jersey girlfriends to help me move, two carloads at a time.
As I settled in, I was reminded of the building demographics: golden girls and boys. Some strolled the hallways with their walkers, others kept up pace, and others depended on the help of a home aide. “Okay, so it’s not an assisted living facility or a nursing home,” I convinced myself every time I waited patiently behind someone who was being wheeled around or who turtle walked through the front doors.
I befriended the doormen and building staff, connecting with them as the “youngins.” I reasoned: “This building is ideal for your parents. It is known for the retiring kind.” Yet what echoed in the back of my mind was: “but not for me”
I soon found that some of the golden girls and boys were funny, most were nice, a few were surprisingly irreverent, and many were hard of hearing -- but regardless of their age or mobility, they all acknowledged me with a smile and a “hi.” For being the outsider, I felt welcomed. A neighbor immediately invited me to get involved in the building. A lifelong volunteer, it was the next natural thing to do.
When I came home one night from work, mom was in the kitchen, hand-on-skillet, ready to make dinner. She was happy to have me back home. I knew my dad was relieved. He kept thanking me, saying, “At least I sleep better at night knowing you’re here.” I was glad to be there especially as mom’s sugar dropped several times and I was able to take immediate action, even dialing 911 twice. I didn’t have any regrets. I was in a good place with both of them.
And it didn’t hurt that I loved the condo space. It was far better than my apartment. Everything was new, everything worked, and I could see the city skyline from my bedroom and balcony. Our bedrooms were on opposite ends and my walk-in closet almost begged for some shopping.
At dinner, my parents mentioned that a flyer arrived, calling for new members to join the building’s Political Action Committee. I nudged my mom to go with me so I wouldn’t seem out of place.
At the meeting, I couldn’t stop giggling as the few members made sharp quips. “They’re funny, these golden folks,” I thought. One woman reminded me of my recently departed grandmother -- her facial expressions and features were strikingly similar; the difference, she was Jewish and my grandmother Argentine-Italian. She offered a certain connection that made mom and I feel at home.
I quickly offered to become the new chair at that meeting -- edging out one of the male members who I thought might want to assume that role. I went to bed thinking, “Is this where I am supposed to be? God, you sure have a funny sense of humor.”
That commitment ultimately led to a full year of good community work. I even got my mother to join. We were a small group of 7, with a healthy mix of Democrats and Republicans, with 5 women and 2 men. The committee elders didn’t disappoint -- they entertained with snippets of their lives. The repeated, “What did you say? I can’t hear you” improved my voice projection skills. I was relieved when they couldn’t hear each other. Meeting after meeting, mom and I healed our loss.
Soon after, I was encouraged to run for the board. I was elected. I was one among 5 golden boys, 1 golden king, and 1 golden lady who exuded the right amount of California and New York, with a dash of Jersey.
Mom’s sugar stabilized, but her emotional distress and grieving process ensued, as did dad’s depression, COPD, and his yo-yoing on his bipolar meds.
As a board member, I was assigned as a liaison to three committees. One of them, the Welcoming/Handbook Committee, was a ladies-only group. Their big task was to produce a resident directory. They asked if I could type it for them. With a few hundred residents, I grunted, but I couldn’t say no to the golden girls.
In the end, I formed a fun friendship with the committee chair, Roz. A sophisticated woman, she captivated me with her charm, eloquence, love of art, and those striking hazel green eyes. A widower, she coiffed her hair regularly and dressed smartly.
It was a Kodak moment when I showed Roz the USB I bought for the committee. She was impressed when I showed her that the directory would always be on this stick so that anyone could go back and make changes without having to retype the whole darn thing. She was thrilled with the new technology, beaming, “Yes, I’ve heard of these little devices -- isn’t this marvelous?!”
To show their appreciation for my hard work, they pitched in and gave me a $100 Amex gift card and a lovely card. I was verklempt.
This year, no longer on the board, I was still approached by Roz to help with directory updates. It felt good to work with her again, reminding me of the fun we had, despite our age difference.
To my surprise, the committee gave me a $200 Amex gift card and another lovely thank you card. I decided to invest the money in something that would always remind me of the golden girls. I bought my first Dooney & Burke bag, symbolic of a classic but with a modern style -- reminiscent of the lovely ladies and me. When I sport it, I have a story to tell.
I realize today that as much as my golden boys and girls are grateful to me for helping them with a daunting physical task, or for holding the elevator for them when they are far away, or when I pick something up that fell for them, I am the one who is grateful to them because they help me heal the emotional charge of having lost my only grandparents.
I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I sure hope that when it’s my turn to be a golden girl, I can be as cute and as well put together as the ladies who live in my building. And I hope to channel my grandma’s sharp eye and grandpa’s sweet mellow nature, to celebrate and continue their legacy.
I guess that’s why destiny took me back home.