When I walked into her room I found her holding an old leather bound photo album on her lap. She was lost in a place that I did not belong. The thing that always makes my heart stop is the glazed look in their eyes, it’s almost as though a sheet of glass has been placed over them. So that when you try to make eye contact you are met with a thick clear barrier that seems to separate you from their world. I could see her chest rising, and falling with each labored breath so I knew physically that she was still with me in my world.
“Bette Davis” is what I call her because she has those intense “Bette Davis eyes.” Which made her glazed look entirely too intense for my comfort zone. Bette just turned 80 in June, her birthday happens to be the day after mine. She is dying from C.O.P.D. She moved in with her daughter a little over a year ago, and I am her personal assistant. She is mostly confined to her bedroom (her choice) unable to lie down in a bed. So she sits upright in her chair both day, and night. Bette is a straight shooter with a sharp tongue, and an innate ability to detect bullshit in a split second after sizing you up with her her intense “Bette Davis eyes.”
I like her, but the truth is that she has the ability to make grown adults cry with her razor sharp tongue. Something that only a very few are able to tolerate. From what I can gather this is a quality she has possessed her entire lifetime, so being on death’s door has made her even more intense. In her mind she is unlovable, an “Ugly Duckling.” She was raised by a stern mother who reminded her on a daily basis that she had better be smart since she was not a very attractive girl. Her father, and mother divorced when she was quite young. Bette was a daddy’s girl, but when she chose to remain with her mother after the divorce her father walked out of her life.
I think she married a man she didn’t truly love because she believed that no one else would ever love her. He had an affair after their 6th child leaving her alone to raise them all on her own. She told me her husband left her for a more beautiful woman just like her father had left her mother for a more beautiful wife. I think Bette has spent a lifetime building impossible walls around herself trying to avoid the immense pain of ever having anyone abandon her again.
I walked over kneeling beside her chair, trying to gently bring her back to world we share. I knew she could feel me beside her, but she was reluctant to leave the world where I did not belong. Then slowly she returned. The glasslike barrier that stood between her eyes, and mine became more permeable. She had been in a dance hall with a tall German young man who she told me was the only man she ever truly loved. She said it was love at first sight. It was 1955, and they had announced that this dance was ladies’s choice. She told me she was filled with both fear, and excitement over dancing with this stranger who had somehow captivated her in a way that no one else ever had, or ever would.
I saw a light in Bette’s eyes that I had never seen before. Her demeanor was soft, inviting, she was actually happy. She walked over to him with her heart in her throat, and asked this tall good looking young man to dance. He seemed shocked by her request but he stood up placing his hand on the small of her back as he guided her onto the dancefloor. He told her he was engaged to another woman in Germany who had told him that she loved him so much that she would take her own life if he didn’t return to her. Bette said they continued to dance every dance after that first dance. They told each other the kind of intimate details that you would normally only share with someone you’d known forever.
When the dance ended she felt in her heart that she had just lived an entire lifetime in one magical evening.They said goodnight to one another never expecting to see each other again, but they did. 😉