Connie is 87 years old.
She holds her babydoll over her shoulder and murmurs there there while patting its back.
Its painted-on eyes, perpetually open, stare blankly into space. Connie gives it an audible kiss atop its plastic head. The acceptability of the world as she knows it is limited to the area between her wheelchair arms and hinges greatly on whether or not she is nurturing her babydoll. Her baby. With nothing to nurture, she is lost.
We take a stroll to the fish aquarium down the hall where we’ll park so I can give her one of her twice-weekly massages. I sing to her whatever song is readily available as I push her wheelchair with one hand and squeeze the top of her shoulder with the other. Today, the song happens to be “Happiness is a Warm Gun” by the Beatles, which I picked up from the radio on the car ride over. We set the breaks in front of the fish and I pull up a chair.
Her slightly questioning whimpers die down when she can see my face. She’s opening relieved it’s me who’s been behind the wheel and puckers up for an air-kiss to tell me so, but is quickly distracted by the curiosity of my shiny watch. She’s wearing a purple sweatsuit with Bugs Bunny on the front and extends both legs forward to click her heels together, Dorothy-style, again and again and again.
When I arrive home that evening, my daughter Opal and I go for a walk. I wedge her into a nest of blankets in her stroller, both to keep her from slumping and to keep her warm. I place her Beloved Bunny—B—next to her which suddenly transforms her mobile-location into a cozy home. She wraps her arm around B, smiles a perfect pile of lips, gums and teeth, and away we go.
Opal was given her Bunny as a gift when she was five months old. She immediately reached for it when it was held in in front of her, cooing and slightly emotional as if reuniting with an old friend. Since that time, B has been a much-loved fixture in our household, as much a requirement for Opal to sleep as the noise machine and curtains. And when she began daycare a few months ago, she decidedly wanted B at her side all the time, not just for sleeping. It was then that the Bunny acquired it’s name; Opal referred to it as her baby, which quickly got shortened to B.
“B, B, B, B, ” is Opal’s way of calling out for her little stuffed companion as well as for comfort. When she is tired, hungry, uncertain of her surroundings “B, B, B, B,” is her nervous mantra, progressively increasing in volume and intensity until she receives the attention she is vying for. B communicates her needs and fears as much as it delivers comfort.
As we walk, I point out the trees, the blue sky, the birds chirping, a green house. We round the corner, navigating uneven sidewalk and a low-hanging branch. Then, exquisite silence for a block or so, but for the crunching of leaves and the squeaky left-front wheel. And before I am aware of myself, I have filled the silence with a slow pour of off-key notes: Happiness is a Warm Gun.