In the Time of COVID. Day 30
April 17, 2020
This is a carry-over from yesterday’s episode “All the Lonely People”
Elizabeth was a resident who lived on the 3rd floor of the “Home”. She had her own little spartan room with a view down to the bay. She was silent and timid. Each day she spent time in the linen closet on her floor. She stowed the clean laundry in it’s proper place and she gathered the bags of soiled linen and placed them near the closet so the laundry staff could pick them up. Besides her faded and washed-out dress, she wore an apron that covered her front . It had two big pockets. It was the sort of apron grandmothers wear in rural Mexican villages.
If Elizabeth was walking in the hall, she wore slippers and shuffled along, her head cast down, her hands inside her apron pockets. She made no eye contact. She often appeared to be silently talking to herself. Lips moving, no audible sound. Her hair was mousy gray, and brushed straight. She was in her mid fifties.
I was 24 in 1972 when I worked at the home and people like Elizabeth seemed old to me, but, until she was 23, Elizabeth had lived an entirely different life.
Every Wednesday morning there was a note on my project board that read “Middle stall, women’s bathroom, 3rd Floor, clogged”. I hate plumbing. I got the snake and plumber’s helper, and arrived at the errant toilet. It usually took at least 20 minutes to unclog the bugger. It was never gross, it was little flecks of white paper floating up but it stopped up every week at the same time. Sometimes I attacked it from the roof down the stand pipe but usually I was down on my knees hovering over the pot, working the snake or plunger. I probably cursed under my breath. Did I say I hate plumbing?
Elizabeth’s room was just across the hall. Sometimes she’d linger by the door looking toward me as I worked. Usually I took no notice. But one morning, I looked over my shoulder to her and said “Elizabeth, what’s down there?” Her eyes got real intense and she shrieked “ The heads of Japs!”. She scurried into her room and slammed the door. The hair stood up on the back of my neck.
A couple of days later I happened to be in the director’s office and I mentioned the event to him. He said “Sit down. I guess no one told you about Elizabeth. She and her Husband went out to the Philippines in 1940. They were Methodist missionaries. He was a doctor and she had some training in nursing. She was quite young but certainly had enough knowledge to be of assistance in a remote mission hospital.
About 6 weeks after Pearl Harbor, The Japanese Army commandeered their hospital, they ordered all the patients and staff out of the building and lined up the men and women facing each other. Elizabeth’s husband complained and was brutally slain with a sword in front of Elizabeth’s eyes.
The young women were sorted from the others and loaded in a truck. They were taken to a barracks on the army base. For four years Elizabeth was forced to be a ‘Comfort Maiden”. She was rescued after the Allies liberated the Philippines but the trauma had been total. She was returned to the US but no amount of therapy could bring her back. She has been here since we opened in the mid 1950’s.”
I hadn’t realized that people could be destroyed and still live. I started to observe Elizabeth more closely. I discovered that every time she went by a box of Kleenex, she took a sheet. All week long she collected tissue and waded it in a ball in each of her pockets. The balls grew bigger and bigger, she squeezed harder and harder and then, sometime in the middle of the night once a week, like clock work, she flushed those heads too hell.