Thursday, October 26, 2006


I'll be mostly out of the blogs this weekend. I'm taking the opportunity to post a true story about Joe. This is the first part of 3, so if it looks too long already to read, don't give it a thought and don't bother.


I was willing to do mostly anything but I did not want to see Bessie dead. I had already dealt with three deaths that year and that was plenty. That was 2 more than I had ever dealt with before in a twelve month period. I started thinking I was becoming an expert on how and when to die, which was a specialty that enriched me as a person, but not one that either held my interest or beckoned me from afar.

The night that Bessie died, Joey had reached his limit about four hours earlier. For the preceding six weeks he had moaned and paced through each laborious minute of each laborious day, muttering to himself and making one frantic phone call after another—sometimes more than a hundred a day. He had never been alone until Bessie found one morning that she was unable to walk the two blocks to the Star Market to buy her daily half gallon of milk. I never cared to learn the details, but she somehow ended up in front of a doctor who told her she had lung cancer and got her a hospital room that every day.

Until then, Joey would precisely leave for work at 5:00 each morning, precisely phone his mother at every break, and arrive home at just the precise moment when Bessie would open the door for him just as he reached the stoop and then hover over him with her rapid often intelligible speech until he went to bed at 7:30. Joey still slept in a twin bed, I was to later learn, and his room on the second floor of their dusty house displayed all the remnants of his childhood—a model plane, a grungy teddy bear, even a desk blotter with a calendar dated 1953.

Bessie and Joey, and Frank before he died, had lived on the little dead end lane next to my parents for probably 40 years. Maybe more. I never saw Joey when we were kids because he ventured out only with his parents, and even then, it was obvious he was always timid and tired. Long after I moved away from that little lane, several lifetimes later by my personal standards, my mother asked me to get involved because after a lifetime of precise hovering Bessie had stopped all communication with Joey the day she entered the hospital. The few times I saw her there, and later in the rehabilitation center across the street that was really a nursing home she would be lying in bed with her eyes closed and her mouth wide open, holding the phone receiver to her chest, off the hook so Joey could not call her 25 times in 35 minutes, which he did because he was too panicked to tolerate even a moment alone. He managed to work, and he drove his jeep back and forth to the hospital where he worked as a cleaner in the maternity ward, but he could not stay in that house alone.

My involvement really kicked in when my mother called me to say Joey was pacing up and down the lane in his pajamas, agitated because his cousin Marilyn who had come to visit from Florida had borrowed his car but would not stay with him overnight. Someone had called the police and when I arrived, Joey was sitting at his dusty dining room table, waxing poetic to the three policeman in the room. He was telling them about the events of a certain Tuesday at 1:00 pm on August 12, 1961 and about the date and time, with minute accuracy, when his parents were married, when he was born, when the city of Waltham was incorporated, when the great fire took place and exactly what his father had for dinner that night. The cops patiently listened with the intent, I supposed, of calming him down. They did not know or care that Joey could not tolerate being alone. When they left, he picked up the phone and dialed and dialed, moaning and hoping that he would not fall off the sidewalk and end up under the bridge, as he liked to say.

Joey was admitted to the psychiatric ward of the hospital where he worked approximately 15 minutes after Bessie died. His aunt Theresa, who is 75 and blind, and his cousin Mary Jayne, who is 63 and a businesswoman, left the emergency room to cross the street to the nursing home, while I stayed with Joey until he was admitted. He was wild. He paced and rocked and kept asking how this could have happened to him. I did my best to tell the weekend crew that Joey could not be left alone for more than a few minutes; but it was Labor Day weekend and nobody seemed to care too much.

I was glad to stay with Joey for awhile because as I said, I did not want to see Bessie dead. You can imagine my dismay when I arrived at her room almost an hour later and there she was frozen shut in her bed, her mouth open, her wild black hair jetting in every direction, her hook Italian nose looking just like the Wicked Witch of the West (or was it the east?) Aunt Theresa, Mary Jayne, cousin Danielle and a half full box of Dunkin Donuts surrounded her and her bed. It is my personal misfortune that I carry that vivid image of Bessie and the box of Dunin Donuts with me to this day.


  1. oh, kj, I'm thrilled you're posting this. I love this story. Just amazing.

    "Aunt Theresa, Mary Jayne, cousin Danielle and a half full box of Dunkin Donuts surrounded her and her bed. It is my personal misfortune that I carry that vivid image of Bessie and the box of Dunin Donuts with me to this day."

    Just perfect.

  2. kris, how great for you to be the first comment on this story. no coincidences.

    we will shortly be in that livingroom for a magical weekend. wow.

  3. I read this story not once but twice and I cannot make up my mind which part I want to consider my favorite. It's an incredibly captivating storytelling!