Sunday, December 18, 2011

It Happened a Few Years Ago

By Sharon Chiasson

I can tell this story now because they have gone. I have driven out to the cottage, and it is empty and has been unused for a long time. I never see Ena walking anymore. I feel safe again, but sometimes I have to do something, or look at something, to make sure it was not a dream. Or should I say, a nightmare.

It was Friday, late afternoon, with Christmas four days away, and I was driving toward Acton to clean up the very last details of my shopping. I saw Ena walking. I’m a nurse, and I recognized her as a local care giver. I had given her a ride before. I knew that she was walking to the train station at this time of day. She worked in the group home on Acton Street. It was cold. The day was getting dusky.

I slow to a crawl as I drive by her. Rolling down my window, I ask her if she would like a ride.

Ena is Asian and her English is limited. I am not clever with languages, so we speak in simple phrases. “Working?” I say, once she has seated herself. But I see her face now. Her eyes are full of tears and she looks ill and frightened. She nods her head indicating yes. “You sick?” I ask, again using a questioning tone. She starts to sob, and reaches into her purse. I loose my breath when she takes out a small gun and points it at me.

I ask her why, over and over. She does not answer, but motions for me to keep driving. We pass the train station and continue on Route 111. She tells me to turn onto a winding narrow road that takes us to what looks like a summer cottage, overlooking a pond.

She tells me to get out and I hesitate. I foolishly thought I was just driving her home. She waves the gun back and forth, yelling words I don’t understand and motioning for me to get out. She points to the cottage door, and I walk toward it. She is close behind me, sniffing, and softly whispering what sounds like, “sorry, sorry.”

In the kitchen, I meet an elderly man and another man, probably in his forties. Ena begins to talk with them They are all very upset, and the men seem to be surprised by my presence. The younger man angrily grabs Ena’s purse and takes out the gun. He opens it, and shows me there are no bullets in the gun. He is angry with Ena. I finally understand; the gun was not loaded.

Ena offers to take my coat, and I don’t want to take it off. She takes my two hands and holds them tightly, like she is praying, and says,“Help.”

“You want me to help you! How can I help you?” I ask, searchingly. Ena takes my hand and leads me into the bedroom.

The room is dark, and heavy with odor. I can barely see the figure in the bed. I can hear very heavy breathing. Ena lights a tiny bedside light, and gradually I can see it is an elderly woman in the bed, who is clearly in distress. She is thin, and looks poorly hydrated.

“She needs a doctor,” I say.

“No! No! No!” Ina says in a frightened pitch. “No doctor!”

“I’ll take her to the emergency room,” I volunteer,. motioning that I will drive. Again, I hear loudly “ no, no, no.”

The younger man comes into the bedroom, in response to the yelling. He listens to Ena briefly, then stands close to my face and says very clearly, “NO PAPERS!”

“They would help her at the hospital, even if she has no papers,” I offer.

He nods and says, in broken English, ”Then would be reported,” while firmly shaking his head, indicating again “no.”

I am slowly catching on. I’m realizing they are afraid of deportation. They do not have proper immigration papers and they are terrified of authorities finding out they are in this country. What a position to be in! To be in this incredible country, with so much available, and still, they are afraid to ask for help.

I turn toward Ena. She says, simply,” Help her.”

For the next three hours, Ena and I work to clean, to change, to position, to attempt to feed, and to hydrate the elderly woman. She exhibits decreased response, and needs a great deal of coaxing and positioning to be able to swallow, which surprisingly does improve. She refuses to be spoon fed, and pushes away and turns away from attempts to give her even very small amounts of scrambled egg or apple sauce. She will take coffee, but refuses milk. She does not speak, and I don’t know if she is aware of who is in her room, or where she is.

Ena and the younger man talk, and she then gives me a note pad and pencil, saying, “Store.”

I think, “Yes, I will go shopping for what they need, and give some advice, and then I will be going home.” I make a list of items for the pharmacy, and a food list for the market. I show the lists to the younger man. Without attempting to explain, he goes to my coat and takes my keys, puts them in his pocket, and leaves.

Ena brings me coffee and some bread. She moves a large chair near the bed, and brings in a pillow and blanket. “I can’t go home?” I ask.

She smiles and says, “Ok?” pointing to the chair.

I consider this situation. Can someone disappear and not be missed? Can one live so solitary a life that no one questions when absence occurs? My children live far away, my Christmas items have been mailed. Who is there to know I ‘m missing?

I am supposed to work on Christmas Day and the day after, so I have scheduled off Monday and Tuesday. So, for Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, I wash, change, feed, position and cajole my elderly patient, and to everyone’s relief, she responds. The first indication that she was regaining her strength, was when she reached up and patted my cheek as I administered her morning care. We smiled at one another, and I knew she was present and aware.

She began to take the protein drink and some water, and then accepted soups and puddings. Once, after I had fallen asleep, she rolled over on her own, and was watching me when I awoke.

The older man was so relieved, he held my hands and bowed his head again and again.

We had a heavy snow storm that Monday. By Monday at noon, she was glad to sit in a chair, and was holding her own coffee cup. I felt safe with these people. I was comfortable, and well fed, and warm.

The elderly woman began to talk with her family, and it was clear that they were very pleased.. On Tuesday afternoon, the young man gave me my keys and my coat. There was no anger, only relief and thankfulness. I remember looking into their eyes as we held hands to say goodbye. They knew I would not report them.

I drove home to find my driveway cleared, my house freshly cleaned, my cat well taken care of, and fresh supplies in the refrigerator. So that’s why he kept my keys!

I spoke with my family members on Christmas Eve, and listened to details of their busy lives. We wished one another a Merry Christmas. They were unaware that I had been out of the house for four days, and I did not tell them..

On Christmas Day, I went to work and listened to everyone complain about having to work, about being hung over, about having to return things that were the wrong color or the wrong size or the wrong make, or how some relative they disliked came to the gathering and they did not speak to one another.

I knew Ena and her family were out there, frightened, but caring for one another with so much less than what we take for granted.

I could not complain about anything.

Sharon Chiasson 12/2011


  1. Sharon - Your story was riveting. You had my undivided attention each second. I could feel your body tense with fear and horror and watch you soften as you began to take in the whole situation. You opened my eyes to a situation which is doubtless repeating itself a thousandfold all over the country - people in desperate need, with help a few miles away - unable to access it. Ena did the only thing she thought she could do. And choosing you was deliberate. You she could trust, you would give freely with an open heart. This is a Christmas story I will never forget. The twists and turns - the amazing ending as you returned home. Thank you for your courage in telling it, and living it as graciously as you did.

  2. Sharon,
    What a gift! And thanks so much for sharing it so vibrantly and respectfully. I too will never forget this story. Merry Christmas dear Sharon.

  3. Sharon this is a truly wonderful story, heart-rending yet vibrant and rich with the meaning of Christmas. Don't ever stop writing. I'll look for more of your stories. Merry Christmas and write, write, write in the new year!

  4. Remarkable writing and story, Sharon. Compelling. I zipped through the first read with a bit of tension. Now I'll reread more slowly with pleasure in your creativity and style.

  5. Merry Christmas, Sharon. Thanks for the gift of your story. It gave me goosebumps. - Cathy L

  6. You had a life changing experience, Sharon, and sharing your story has now become life changing for all of us. Thank you, Ira

  7. Sharon How come I never heard about this amazing story ? love Helen

  8. I think everyone else has already used the words I'd use -- amazing, riveting, gift. Thanks, Sharon.