For almost half a century I was married to an anthropologist, and we moved around the world studying other cultures and their rites of passage. I have this week undergone my own rite of passage. I visited two Independent Living facilities in Manhattan. With my limited vision and advanced age, it seemed prudent to have a look at options.
Currently I live in a large apartment in Washington Heights, filled with the wonderful souvenirs and detritus of my life; hundreds of books, manuscripts, and exotic curios surround me. But I long ago gave up dusting and sorting things out. They are just there, part of who I am.
Today, with two of my children, I toured two ‘upscale’ adult homes on the Upper West Side. When we entered the first one, a personable woman manager took us in hand. She described the kinds of apartments available (studios, one bedrooms, and two bedrooms) and the prices (they ranged between five and seven thousand dollars a month with board). Medical services were available on the premises. She noted proudly that there were a large number of social activities including jewelry making, chair yoga, current events club, and outings to places like the botanical gardens.
She showed us sample menus and explained that there was assigned seating — they would match up likely meal partners. Indeed! Nobody has chosen my meal partner since P.S. 16. While it’s sweet to be considerate and inclusive, it would kill me. I eat with whom I choose, or alone.
We toured the premises; attractive dining rooms with various ethnic themes: Mexican, Italian, Chinese. Then we went on to look at compact, neat, bland apartments. On the 16th floor she waxed rhapsodic about the sliver view of the Hudson River. So much so that I was forced to remind her, “I am considering moving because I am nearly blind!” Needless to say, she dropped the river. To live in such compact space, I would have to divest myself of treasures: Indian pottery, my grandchildren’s art projects, souvenirs gathered from all over the world, and the bugle I played in a World War II marching band. The apartments were inoffensive and totally forgettable, and indeed I have already forgotten them. Interestingly, on every floor there was a mob of noisy, unhappy tenants grumbling about the elevators. When you consider that these residents used crutches, canes, or walkers, and others navigated unsteadily on their own, this elevator snafu was troublesome. I could envision myself trapped.
The second independent living facility was less pretentious, far less expensive and had relatively fewer options — a limited menu, but equally uninspired activities, well meant but dull. The furnishings, even in the lobby, were homier – and a bit worn. I could conceivably be comfortable there. Astonishingly, they also had assigned eating! I cannot fathom what faculty they think is missing in old people that prevents them from choosing their own eating companions. Who you dine with is as important as what you’re eating! Their recreational activities featured Tai Chi, a Yiddish club, and a variety of card games. I had seen enough.
I returned to my disorderly apartment, its windows facing out on populous Cabrini Boulevard and Fort Washington Avenue, with joy. Never shall I long for that view of the Hudson River. I have been trying to manage in the apartment alone, and I discovered that it was not difficult, because I know it so well. I truly can walk about with my eyes closed, without accident, and I find my possessions. I’m not sure my clothes match, and I can’t see how well I have brushed my hair, but currently, that would be true in any mirror. We shall see….
I cooked sausages and eggs for breakfast, and dined alone. I was pretty good company, because I was very pleased to have accomplished the breakfast. I’m glad we saw these facilities, but I am happy to postpone any decision. Though I don’t know where I stand in this life, surely, surely there is a more original and interesting venue for my declining years—for now, since it is not urgent that I make an immediate decision, I decline to end up in assigned seating.