Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Escape Down Memory Lane-Part 3: Escape

The following story is true. Only names of people and places have been changed.

Part 3: Escape

9 October
8:05 PM
Memory Lane Unit
Summit Grove Nursing Center

Throughout Karen’s colorful life, she never engaged in a career of acting. But Karen did not charge through six husbands and multiple run-ins with local law enforcement without learning to pull a good performance face. Just as the aides and nurse were about to set out on their routine rounds of tucking in Memory Lane residents for the night, Karen—having already changed into her pajamas—told Tracy Wilson, the nurse of the evening shift, that she was not feeling well and planned on going to go to bed early. By her crafty thinking, this would buy valuable time away from prying eyes. At the very least, Karen intended for this to leave her absence undiscovered until Tracy came to dole out medicine at 10:15.

Once the nurse left, Karen immediately went to work. The first thing she did was switch out of her pajamas. Thinking ahead, Karen knew that an older woman in pajamas wandering the back streets by Summit Grove would capture a lot more attention than one dressed up in her finest garb, which in this case included a black, fake leather jacket with dress pants and a leopard-spotted blouse—vintage Karen for any who knew her.

Not only did she change clothes, but she also stuffed extra clothing into a plastic bag to bring with her. Karen had no master plan for permanent freedom, she simply wanted to return home, and in her thinking that meant she should bring what possessions of hers she could with her. This did not mean that she neglected foresight completely. She figured that if there was ever a day of the week to escape, it was this night—a Tuesday night. Karen knew that Summit Grove only had two people as points of contact in case of emergency: her dedicated neighbor who had seen her through some of her toughest times, and her LDS Bishop—both of whom would be at the local church on Tuesday nights until late (Karen knew their schedules intimately).

Though some of the clients in Memory Lane shared rooms, Karen’s feisty personality quickly ruled out that proposition, but she still managed to make immediate use of the other bed in the room. Within a couple weeks, the bed brimmed with a motley arrangement of cardboard boxes full of personal possessions and, more commonly, Memory Lane possessions recently confiscated by Karen’s self-described “hot fingers.” These items ranged from pictures hanging in the hallways to random materials swiped from the front desk or from fellow residents. Given a couple more months, Karen might have converted the whole wing of Memory Lane into a carpet-less replica of her claustrophobic room back at the Somersville home. Yet Karen did not intend to spend a couple more months in Memory Lane, and now the decision of what to take and leave behind faced her only moments before her departure.

Carefully, like picking flowers for a bouquet, Karen chose four boxes of possessions. She knew she could not carry them all at once, but instead of having to minimize what she took with her, she grabbed a wheelchair and loaded the four boxes onto it. (Karen, an excellent walker, found plenty of use for wheelchairs when they suited her needs—her most famous being an electric one that Somersville neighbors often witnessed zooming down the middle of streets.) Then, leaving the loaded wheelchair in her room, Karen went to secure the best kept secret of her escape: the inside man. Or in this case, the inside gal.

If Karen felt nervous walking towards the desk with the aide busy on the computer, she did not show it. Generally, the aide kept her eyes towards the door and not on the hallway behind her. This afforded Karen the opportunity to slip into her accomplice’s room undetected. The mystery woman could hardly be described as a friend; in fact, Karen had verbal tiffs with her several times since arriving in Memory Lane. The advantage to acquiring a fellow conspirator in an Alzheimer’s ward, however, is that personal grudges refuse to stick for more than a few hours, nor could any clandestine incidents be reported, even under intense interrogations, simply because the person will have no memory of the incident. Karen chose her assistant slyly—a woman close to her own room who suffered from degenerative mental difficulties but could momentarily take simple instructions without asking too many questions.

Silently, the two ladies slipped out of the accomplice’s room, and Karen retraced steps back to her room where she delicately extracted the wheelchair while her companion kept an eye on the aide. Karen’s black felt shoes betrayed no hint of her passing and soon the conspirators shuffled, wheelchair first, around the bending hallway, taking the long, empty route to the dining hall area.

Before arriving at the large window where Karen popped the screen the night before, she parked the wheelchair. While retreating from her operation the night before, Karen regarded another, smaller window tucked back in the bending hallway. It did not have the convenience of a table leading right up to the window sill, nor was it as large, but it still had ample room for her small frame. More importantly, however, it sat out of view from the center hallway leading to the front desk, in the line of sight of the aide at the computer. Before returning to her room the night before, Karen snatched the rubber pin from the smaller window, popped the screen from it as well, and then closed everything up nicely, giving herself two options for escape instead of one.

Now, the night of her proposed exodus, Karen felt glad she made the effort. With the aide at the desk, it would have made her exit out the main window difficult, if not impossible. A single glance down the hallway might betray her whole operation. Anticipating this, and also knowing that choosing the smaller window over the main one would remove the handy table as an impromptu stairway, Karen recruited her companion to help hoist her over the high window casement.

Karen tugged the window open and the fresh Autumn air spilled into the hallway, nothing but blackness beyond. Looking down at her loaded wheelchair, Karen might have momentarily questioned the wisdom of carrying so many items with her. If the thought occurred to her, it quickly vanished as hoarding instincts kicked in. She had to bring some Depends—absorbent, disposable underwear for adults—if she hoped to maintain dignity while in the world beyond. She certainly could not leave behind the small packages of Pepperidge Farm Goldfish carefully gleaned from her meals, since she intended to gift them to her adorable neighbor kids. The items in the other boxes proved just as indispensable.

With her mind resolved, Karen took the boxes, one at a time, and tossed them into the darkness beyond, landing them in a neat pile on the deck of the courtyard area.
Then the time came for the wheelchair. As she first attempted to lift it, the weight surprised her. So easy to push while on luminous tiled floors, as soon as it left its grip on the ground, the wheelchair became a behemoth. Karen’s accomplice helpfully grabbed the other end and the two of them managed to heft it onto the window ledge. There, it unceremoniously tottered out the window, and, in an unsettling crash of metal and gears, found a resting spot outside.

The clamor jolted Karen, springboarding her into the final stage of her intricate exit. She hastily repeated instructions to her counterpart to close the window once she had gone through, then she awkwardly snatched the window sill. Her foot breached the casement and she tugged unsuccessfully for a moment until her companion found a grip on Karen’s knobby posterior and shoved upwards and forwards.

The accomplice’s efforts were not in vain. Within moments, Karen broke into black night beyond.

©2012 Marty Reeder