I don't usually post stuff along the lines of this journal, as I'm really conscious of how quickly they can be misconstrued. But something happened to me a little while ago that I felt might be worth sharing. Some of it might be useful, I figure, and those of you who follow me on Facebook may have already seen me posting briefly about it there. For everyone else, here's the full story:
In my day job, I've had one particular elderly customer for the last four years. She's always been very generous, a little bit too friendly, and very chatty. Because I work around people's homes, I always try to put a friendly face on (even when I don't necessarily want to) and so, every time I've gone to do any work for her, the atmosphere has usually been pretty cordial. I get a cup of tea, she whinges about the government, and I earn money. It's always seemed equitable.
About a month back, I went to do a job for her, and she asked me if I'd be inclined to do a little restoration work on her fencing. It basically would have entailed fixing a few loose wooden fence panels into place and staining them - quite a big job - with her choice of preservative treatment.
This is honestly outside the remit of the work I do, but it's something I'd done before. Lettering work has dropped off a little recently, so I figured, what the heck. I could use the cash. So I fixed the loose fence panels there and then, and we made a rough arrangement to cover the rest of the work. Because I'm pretty busy, and because she had a few things going on, we arranged it so that I'd go back to do the work at the end of July - this month, at time of writing - and that would give her a chance to decide exactly what she wanted to do. All was tickety-boo. She handed me a check for the work I'd carried out, and off I went.
And it's from this point that everything goes downhill.
A few days later, while doing my bank-run, I took my customer's check to the bank, where Michelle (my favourite cashier) apologetically handed it back to me and said she couldn't process it. My customer had forgotten to sign it.
Now, this was no problem. I get a lot of payments by check in my day job, and maybe two or three a year have to be returned to the customer to be signed because they forgot to put their paw print on it. I think nothing of it. Michelle and I even make jokes about it. It's just a funny thing that happens.
In this case, though, it did give me a little pause for thought. This elderly customer of mine, you see, has become noticeably forgetful in recent months. She tends to forget details like the amount of money I charge her, the names of local business owners, celebrities or whoever she chats to me about as I work on her home. I had spotted a trend lately where this forgetfullness was getting worse, though. She couldn't remember my name on a recent visit. Nothing terribly unusual there - a LOT of my customers can't be bothered to get my name right, after all. Ask half of my village, and my name is Steve.
So, this unsigned check was pretty much par for the course, given her recent scattyness. I put it to one side and figured I'd just hand it back to her next time I worked on her house. But I never got the opportunity.
That's because, last weekend, things got truly nuts with this old lady.
Last Saturday, I was at home, glued to my Cintiq and flatting some comic pages. About 5:00 PM, my mobile rang, and I saw it was a call from a number I didn't recognise. I answered, and it was my elderly customer. She wanted to ask me when I could do the fence job for her.
We'd already arranged this, so I felt a little irritated. I HATE having to repeat myself or re-state information to people when I've already given it. But, this was a little old lady whose memory appeared to be failing her. So a fairly huge degree of tolerance could be exercised. I told her again what we'd arranged, and she noted it in her diary as we were talking on the 'phone. Her manner was friendly and chirpy as usual. She was just being her scatty self.
I mentioned to her that she'd forgotten to sign her last check, and she was overcome with embarrassment. This part, I thought, was a little odd. She made a HUGE deal of it, apologising profusely and telling me 'I'm so sorry, there's no excuse... please forgive me'.
It's a check. It wasn't even for an awful lot of money. And it happens quite a bit. She was going way over the top in her reaction to this. I was honestly more worried about the fact that she had my mobile number. So I simply reassured her, told her not to worry, and that we could sort it out when I saw her next in the course of my day job.
So. Everything set. Problem solved, right?
About two hours later, the intercom in my flat buzzed, as if somebody downstairs was LEANING on the damned thing. I went downstairs to see who it was. Sometimes, I occasionally get kids messing about down there, jabbing the buttons and running off. I halfway expected this was what it might have been. When I got to the door, though, I found my scatty, elderly customer.
What happened next left me dumbstruck. She introduced herself by name - as if we'd never met before, pushed a HUGE bundle of £20 notes into my hand and said to me - with breathtaking aggression in her tone of voice "This is for all the work I owe you for, or whatever you THINK I owe you." Then she jabbed a finger in my face and scowled at me. "And don't you EVER come back to my house again!"
She stomped off then, leaving me completely stunned on my doorstep. As I looked at the bundle of notes she'd pushed into my hand, I was actually struggling to put all the pieces together. When people treat me like this, you see, I just have no natural aptitude to deal with it. I'm neither aggressive nor confrontational by nature, so I don't naturally have the werewithal to make the kinds of responses a situation like that demands. It' not who I am. It must have taken me a few seconds to actually form the thought in my mind 'but I haven't DONE anything to you.'
So, once I'd got my wits back, I jogged after the old lady, with the money, and said to her "I'm sorry - I don't understand what this is about. Could you tell me what the problem is?"
She ignored me, and kept walking. So I repeated myself. And this time, she turned around and SCREAMED at me: "DON'T SPEAK TO ME! I DON'T WANT TO TALK TO YOU! I DON'T WANT ANYTHING TO DO WITH YOU!"
So I let her go.
That evening, I put the money in an envelope, with a short note, and posted it - VERY warily - through her letterbox. In the note I explained that I honestly had no idea what could have upset her and that, contrary to her assumption, she didn't owe me anything. I also included her unsigned check.
I walked home, still in a daze, thinking to myself that I really had NO idea what could have provoked that reaction in her. And really, how could I? Whatever problem existed in her mind, I'd never be able to sort it out unless she told me what it was. Common sense, yes? Although, that said, I've certainly met enough shitheads who couldn't work that one out... but that's another book of stories.
After a few moments of clear thought on the matter, though, all the pieces fell into place.
Her behaviour was consistent with dementia.
This isn't something I say lightly. I've had a lot of experience of old folks in my day job who are slowly but surely losing their minds. Usually, it's very plain to see. I spent some time working around a warden-controlled complex where a lot of the old folks there were in advanced stages of dementia or Alzheimer's.
Some of the stuff I saw would be funny if it wasn't so unmitigatedly tragic. One 80 year old man was convinced the warden as his son... a curious delusion, which persisted in spite of the warden being rotated out and replaced with another, and eventually a woman. There was an elderly lady who stopped me one day in great distress, unable to fathom why her door keys weren't working. At length, myself and the warden discovered tht this was a two-fold problem. Not only was she trying to gain entry to the wrong flat, but the keys in question were CAR keys, picked up from a table while she was out for a group dinner in town.
These predicaments, when you stop for a moment to think on them, are soul-destroyingly sad.
There's no message to this journal beyond that. I had a horrible experience last weekend, sure. I've had to explain to a couple of locals what was going on after they observed me being screamed at in the street. That's uncomfortable. But it pales in significance compared to what this elderly woman is evidently facing. And I have no idea what I should do, or how far my obligation might extend given my suspicions.
It would have been so easy to simply feel hurt or angry at the way this old lady acted. It says something that my overwhelming reaction to it all was simply CONFUSION. As I've indicated above, there have been times in my life where people have just outright ragged on me over a problem that they seemed convinced is my fault, but couldn't be bothered to explain - as if they didn't WANT it to be solved. I could easily have chalked all this up as another instance of that if the circumstances hadn't made me stop and think about it. And now that I have, all I can feel is pity for that woman.
Life really is crushingly sad sometimes.
(I promise the next journal will be about bunnies or something.)