We all know we’re going to lose Bertilda soon. Some of us are trying to feel somber or even sad about that. Most of us are not succeeding.
The wheels of bureaucracy turn slowly, but she’s in the machinery now. A week ago the Superior Court appointed her conservator. She didn’t show up for the court date. Some of us tried to remind her:
“Remember that white paper you showed me?”
“It was a summons to appear in court.”
“That’s bullshit. What paper? What for?”
“Uh. Um, they want to help you pay your bills…”
“Fuck that! I don’t need any help paying my bills. I pay the bills for this whole property! What bullshit!”
“They’re sending a driver to escort you.”
“Well I’m not going!”
We have no reason to believe she remembered that exchange, and the next day when the Paratransit driver arrived, Bertilda didn’t answer. She didn’t even shout her customary verbal-abuse-through-closed-door. She hunkered down in her musty crowded apartment and pretended she wasn’t home. The fact is, she’s always home. Unless she’s taking one of her unlicenced drives in her unregistered uninsured car.
She didn’t go to court but court proceeded anyway. Her caseworker was assigned to be her conservator. Then the conservator communicated a bit to those of us she’d already interviewed. She said the first order of business would be to have Bertilda’s car towed. But three days have now passed, and Bertilda has driven the car twice that we know of. The conservator added that the process of assessing Bertilda’s assets and liabilities and capabilities could take up to three months (!), and that the preferred objective is to arrange matters so she can remain in her apartment (not).
We called Adult Protective Services six months ago. We had to do something about Bertilda’s memory loss and aggressiveness, and we learned that agency is our only resource (unless/until she really hurts someone, and then it’s the police). So the file has been active half a year. There have been two caseworkers and a doctor involved. We have no idea what will be learned in the next three months that hasn’t been acquired in the last six.
What’s next? The car we guess, but then? Will Bertilda be “evaluated” in her place? How will the evaluators get in there? How can they imagine she’ll be able to continue to live there? Here?
The woman is 84. She has never worked well with others. Or lived well with them. In the last five years or so, as her memory has diminished, she has stopped paying bills, laundering, bathing, cooking, using a computer or television or phone. As far as we can tell she sustains her slight body on fruits; her latest power outage went for over a week and there were not any refrigerator consequences. Apparently she doesn’t use her fridge. We know she doesn’t turn her stove on, because we’ve been in her place, now and then, and we’ve seen how the appliance is covered in condiment bottles; she can’t get to the stove burners and there’s no reason to believe she fires the oven, either.
The light situation is bizarre. Every other month PG&E shuts off her power for nonpayment. Until the most recent outage, her neighbor Jerry would bravely enter her apartment, skirt his way past the decades of junk mail/catalogs that are stacked a yard high on her coffee table, call the utility company, and simultaneously use his credit card to bring her account current while protecting the PG&E employee from the torrent of verbal abuse that explodes out of Bertilda’s mouth. Then Jerry has to collect from Bertilda, in the currency she keeps around her place because she no longer trusts her bank.
Well, Bertilda’s Adult Protective Services caseworker, the same individual who is now her conservator, told Jerry to stop paying Bertilda’s bills. It was hard for him to ignore her recent visits to all of us, her confused “Do you have lights?” asked as she faced into our homes where lamps blazed and TVs blared. But he did it. He told her he had lights and he suggested she call PG&E. (It was hard for him because he’s kind but also because he harbors some fantasy that Bertilda will bequeath her place to him, even though she regularly forgets who he is. Then again, Jerry is showing some symptoms of cognitive slippage himself.)
Jerry called the caseworker the next day. He reported that Bertilda has no power. APS sent a young man out to help get the lights back on. None of us intruded but I overheard him asking her if she had lights and offering help when she said she didn’t.
Later on we saw that she still had no power. We learned that she’d refused the help and that her refusal immediately escalated into shrieks and loud accusations that he (they) were going to rob her and take over her apartment.
It continues dark in Bertilda’s home. It seems like she forgets about the lack of electricity during the day and then tries to switch on her lights at sunset, gets no response, and makes her circuit of visits to us all, asking each of us if we have light, not comprehending when we advise her to call PG&E, and explaining, yelling or muttering her belief that one of her enemies is regularly turning off the power to her place. Then she walks away, back to her dark apartment, and goes to bed.
I ask myself, what’s it like to be Bertilda? I can almost understand the periods of confusion and disorientation. What I have trouble imagining is her consistent hostility, her readiness to believe the worst about everyone, her tendency to curse and slap. And those traits are not new. She has no relationships for a reason. Her brother and sister, still alive in Belgium and Germany, must have been relieved to see the last of her when she decided to become a US citizen. No immigration policy protected us from Bertilda.
I know this: she’s a house-proud individual. She’s been in her condo apartment since before it was a condo. She started as a tenant and invested in the TIC arrangement the property had before it was permitted to condo-convert. She’s like a hermit in that apartment, inside twenty-three and a half hours a day, custodian of all the bottles on her stove, all the cleaning supplies under her sink, all the catalogs on her table, the forest of orchids in her front windows, water-damaging the shelves on which they stand.
Soon she will be removed from her home, and as far as she’s concerned the removal will come with no warning and no reprieve. If it weren’t for the fact that the removal will relieve and enhance our whole neighborhood, if it weren’t for the fact that she is a hateful individual who, as far as we can tell, has wasted her existence, I think I’d be feeling for her.
(I looked up Delightful recently. The word origin has nothing to do with light. The dictionary traced it through Middle English to Latin but stopped at de-lacere (to allure). I pulled my old Latin book off the shelf and went deeper. De + lacto = to draw away (from regular business). Ahh)