November 2012

The car rolled to a stop in the parking lot outside of Christwood Retirement Home. Debra killed the ignition and glanced out the review mirror as her husband drove the pick-up truck further down the row of parked cars.

            “This is going to be a good change, Mom,” Debra said. “I know it’s hard, but—”

            “Yes, Debra, you don’t have to tell me again,” said Joan.

            This move was just another event in the six long months that had begun with Charles’s heart attack. After her husband died, Joan had continued living alone in her two-story home until a house down the street was burglarized, and her children decided it was too dangerous for her to live alone. Debra had offered her space in her house, but Joan refused to sacrifice her independence.

            Debra opened the passenger door and held out a hand. Joan grabbed the handle next to the windshield and eased out of the car.

            “I’m just trying to help you, Mom.”

            “You can help me carry the boxes.”

            Joan looked at the two-story apartment housing and its groomed lawn. This retirement home had been the only option she would consider because it allowed independent living. She knew it was the logical thing to do, despite her reluctance to sell the house. And she always did what was practical.

            Charles had been the practical choice, fifty-two years ago. A promising CPA who got in on the ground floor of a new company. Her father had loved him as much as he’d loved the business degree she’d chosen over the art degree she would have preferred. She married right after of college, and her diploma became a dust catcher in the new house she acquired. Four children had followed.

            “Be careful with that,” Joan said as Debra pulled a heavy box from the trunk and nearly dropped it on the ground. “Those are my paints.”

            Painting was the one activity where she allowed herself to not worry about results. She had started a few years ago, after her husband’s retirement. At least that’s what she told people because that’s when she began taking lessons, but she had been making sketches for the last ten years. She had shared them with Charles, but he had only nodded and smiled.

            “That’s very good, dear,” he’d said.

            She had kept them to herself after that, believing no one would take her seriously.

            But once Charles chose to retire, she had needed something to get her out of the house besides the occasional lunch with friends. So she found an art class and joined. Charles allowed the indulgence.

Since then she had done landscapes, still lifes, and portraits of her children and grandchildren. She had decorated the house with them. Even Charles had begun to notice, bragging with exaggerated surprise at her talent. She had always left the room when he did that.

            Now Joan walked behind her daughter and pulled out a painting of her two youngest grandchildren exchanging Legos. It was both her latest and most successful piece. The more resentful side of her was pleased that Charles had not lived to see it. She cradled it in her arms to keep it balanced.

            “Can you carry that?” Debra asked.

            Joan nodded and walked ahead of her daughter towards the apartment building. As she neared the glass doors, a man waiting for the elevator saw her coming and opened the door for her. Joan thanked him.

            “Are you visiting someone?” the man asked.

            “Just moving in, actually.”

            The man turned to her with more interest. “Welcome! I’m Robert. I live in 206.”

            Joan introduced herself, awkwardly extending a hand while still balancing the portrait.

            “Did you paint this yourself?” Robert asked.

            “They’re my grandchildren.”

            The elevator doors opened, and they walked inside.

            “I’m impressed,” said Robert. “I have a new granddaughter. Could you paint her? I’d pay you.”

            Joan blinked. No one had ever offered her money. “I’d need a photo.”

            “I’ll call my son,” Robert said.

            For a moment Joan was distracted by Debra fumbling with the glass door, but then the elevator closed and began to rise.