It’s already mid-summer when I notice the sign just inside the main entrance to the nursing home. Hanging on the wall next to a telephone, it gives instructions for what to do in case of fire or medical emergency, and then, mysteriously, a third contingency:

For an Elopement

Attention Staff

Doctor Hunt, room (indicate the room of the missing resident)

Repeat 3 times

Elopement? I imagine a frail, elderly couple escaping into a starless night, having fallen in love in the dining hall or at an afternoon social. But can romantic love be so common as to warrant a sign?

Then it comes to me. This is not a sweet narrative, but a sad one. One wing of the nursing home shelters Alzheimer’s patients, who tend to wander. A resident might follow a departing visitor out the locked doors, then make her way onto the grounds of the adjacent residential community and along a country road. “Dr. Hunt” must be code: a way to initiate a search without causing alarm.

Still, I loved my mistaken reading, and until my last visit with my father—and even after his death that winter, when my brother and I cleared out his room, and later when we returned to the nursing home for a memorial service for the residents who had died in the weeks before and after Christmas—I would pause and reread the sign, just to cheer myself up.

Then I would open the next set of doors, sign the visitors’ book at the reception desk in the foyer, and walk down a small corridor through a door that clicked and locked behind me. Stepping into the light-filled atrium, I would see if I recognized any of the residents there, doing a jigsaw puzzle with the help of an aide, or sitting at the computer, or slumped in a wheelchair, waiting to be taken somewhere. Then I’d pause outside the Great Room where most mornings a group would be seated around a large table, a few asleep, while the recreation director led a discussion of current affairs or summer holidays.

Just beyond the Great Room, I’d pass by two large birdcages. Four small gray yellow-headed birds with orange patches on their cheeks fluttered about in one cage, chirping. In the other was JJ, a white umbrella cockatoo who broadcast her bad moods with an ear-piercing shriek. If she were in a calm mood, she might cock her head and regard me quizzically. I’d linger a moment, then turn into the hall that led to Cedar Wing (all the wings were named for trees), pass the nurses’ station and arrive at my father’s room.

And during this walk through the atrium and the halls, I’d have been working on transforming myself. I was becoming someone slightly fictitious, slipping into a persona—like most personas, not totally false, but not the whole story, either. In this setting, I needed to be—wanted to be—“a good daughter.” Cheerful, attentive, solicitous, a grown woman without conflicted memories or needs of her own. Like the imaginary Dr. Hunt, I was searching for a person who had gone missing. I was looking for my father, who he had been, who he was still.

 

My father entered the nursing home in April, not quite five months after his eighty-ninth birthday. I was in England at the time. My brother called me in Bristol, where my husband and I were visiting friends. There had been some kind of crisis, my brother said, and a decision had been reached. Dad couldn’t stay in the apartment in the residential community where he and his wife had been living. His hearing and vision had grown dramatically worse, as had his already unsteady balance, and everyone feared he would fall. Dad himself believed the move was necessary. He was disoriented, but my brother said that should pass once he adjusted to his new surroundings. The next afternoon I talked with him, a confused version of the father I had known. I leaned against the black cast iron fence outside our friends’ flat, holding the phone, trying to anchor myself in the reality around me—a young man pushing a crying child in a stroller, magnolias in bloom in the park across the road, a cold spring in Britain.

“I think you should come home,” Dad said to me a few days later—by then I was in Edinburgh—telling me how difficult he was finding his new life. But the ash cloud from the Icelandic volcano that had erupted in March of that year was again disrupting air traffic, so we couldn’t leave for another week. A few days after my husband and I returned to our home in Maine, I drove to the nursing home in Connecticut. When I arrived mid-afternoon, my father was sitting alone in his room. Though it was sunny, the shade was drawn down the tall window because the light hurt his eyes. The TV was on, though by this time he couldn’t see more than shadows. He looked unbearably thin and frail. But he was neatly dressed, in a plaid collared shirt and navy blue cardigan, khaki slacks held up by a brown belt, his brown leather shoes smartly polished. His face was clean-shaven, his thin white hair combed.

I pulled a chair up by his left side, next to his better ear, and because he could see only the outline of a person, I told him who I was—his daughter—and that I had come to spend a few days with him. I’d already related these plans to him on the phone, but he was having trouble remembering things. He turned toward me, his eyes unfocused, his thin hand shaking. His ears, which had always stuck out, now looked unnaturally large, perhaps because his face was so drawn.

I felt sadness rising up in me, but I shoved it aside and concentrated on our conversation. I told him about my children—his grandchildren—both of them now living out in California, about our dog, about the lectures my husband gave in England on the jazz pianist Teddy Wilson. I dredged up happy memories from my childhood. I worried I might be talking too much, but I kept dropping words into the silence, like someone fishing in a murky pond, hoping for a nibbling response.

Abruptly he told me that he wasn’t getting better: “I’ve worked with machines all my life, Sue. You can fix them for a while, but there comes a time when they’re beyond repair.” His tone was halting but insistent, as if he were expecting an argument.

“I know, Dad,” I said. And I did know—his was a downward slope. I rested my hand on his arm. “It must be hard.”

Certainly conversation was hard for him. His face appeared strained, as if he were struggling to catch my words before they flew off somewhere. He listened as if listening itself demanded all his strength, then seemed to rummage through the cluttered attic of his mind, searching for words he could bring back. And once he found them, I sensed him trying to accompany these words as they made their way from the pathways of his brain to his mouth and into speech, trying to hang onto each one before it skittered off and he lost track of it.

After a while we were quiet, and I was aware of his raspy breathing, and of the sounds from other rooms, insistent buzzers ringing, the residents calling for help, the aides’ voices, a nurse pushing a medication cart slowly down the hall, stopping at each room. I sensed the spring burgeoning outside, distant, like a memory. With the shade drawn and the window closed, the air felt close. Still, there wasn’t the sort of odor that can seem inevitable in nursing homes—not in Dad’s room, not in the hallways. It was, my brother had said, the Taj Mahal of nursing homes, a country club for the aging.

When my father drifted off, I surveyed his room, which was clean and impersonal, with bare walls and regulation furniture—a hospital bed, two sturdy chairs, a bureau, a bedside table. A white cord had been wrapped around the arm of Dad’s chair, with a red button to push whenever he needed an aide. His cane hung over the bureau, a wheelchair stood in the corner next to the window.

I read a book I’d brought, and then my father woke and told me he was thirsty. His fingers groped toward a cup that the nurse had placed next to a plastic pitcher of water on a rolling table in front of his chair. His hands were shaking, so I helped him hold it. He winced—the slightest movement caused pain—took a few sips and complained of the taste. The staff, he insisted, had been putting something in the water to make him drowsy. I poured myself a glass. It tasted fine to me.

“You wouldn’t think that way if you had to drink a whole pitcher,” he said gloomily. Where did this darkness of spirit come from? It hurt to see that dementia was leaving him suspicious and irritable, lost in frightening narratives as if he’d found himself trapped in bad dreams.

A cart stopped outside the door, and a nurse knocked and entered, introducing herself. She gave Dad his afternoon medications and put drops in his eyes, explaining to him what each medication was and what it was for. After she left, my father asked if anyone was in the room. “I need to talk with you privately,” he said and then confided that he was in serious trouble. He had been taken into the nursing home on probation, a test case. He was being observed to ascertain if a blind man could live at the nursing home, and he was failing the test. Any day he would be thrown out, and then what would we do? He’d been in the home less than a month, and already it had cost him $3 million. We would all be bankrupt.

As he talked, I tried to remember a conversation I’d had in Edinburgh with my friend Margaret, who’d worked with old people suffering from dementia. “You don’t want to contradict them,” she advised. “They desperately need to feel someone understands. Sympathize, but don’t enter into their delusions. Try to keep your part of the conversation grounded in reality.”

My brother had already told me about Dad’s paranoia, and I’d worried how I’d respond. I told my father I understood how scary it must be to fear being thrown out, but that he was in a really good place, and that abandoning residents wasn’t how this nursing home worked. “Once you are living here, they are committed to take care of you for as long as you need to be taken care of,” I said, not knowing if this was true but knowing from my brother, who had been helping Dad with his finances, that his financial situation was secure. “All your life you’ve been careful with money,” I reminded him. I assured him that my brother and I wouldn’t let anything bad happen to him.

“You don’t know anything about it, Sue,” he said. He shook his head, as if he couldn’t believe that after all these years I was still so appallingly naïve about the world.

 

This visit, with its mix of disturbing conversations and attempts at consolation, set the pattern for the rest of the summer and fall. Every two weeks, I’d drive from Maine to Connecticut, arriving at the nursing home in the late afternoon to spend the next two days with my father. In the car, I distracted myself from apprehension—how would I find him this time?—by listening to The Iliad on CD. As the battles raged and the narrator recited the long lists of those killed and their lineage, as the gods quarreled and changed sides, as Priam begged for his son’s body, as Achilles sulked in his tent, I understood that what was happening to my father—indeed to everyone in the nursing home, to the dying everywhere—was part of the cycle of life and death.

My father, though he’d once been a passionate reader, could no longer summon an interest in The Iliad, or in any other book. He dismissed a biography of George Washington that my brother had brought him on CD as “too depressing.” He couldn’t manage the CD player on his own anyway. But he still enjoyed listening to music, so each visit, after we’d talked a bit, I’d put on Brahms or Mozart or jazz from my husband’s collection, and we’d listen together in the dimness of his room.

My father particularly loved the big bands of the 1930s and 1940s: Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Jimmie Lunceford, Chick Webb, Louis Armstrong, Glen Gray and the Casa Loma orchestra. Growing up in Newport News, Virginia, he’d heard many of these musicians perform at the Newport News Armory and at Virginia Beach, then later at dances and fraternity parties at Cornell University, where he had studied mechanical engineering. Now, though much else failed him, he could remember the names of many of the band members. “See if you can find that piano solo by Jess Stacy,” he said one afternoon as we were listening to a live recording of Benny Goodman’s 1938 concert at Carnegie Hall. “I think it’s on ‘Sing, Sing, Sing.’”

He leaned forward, listening expectantly. The piano stayed in the background for the first twenty minutes, barely audible against the driving energy of the other instruments, and I wondered if my father had confused “Sing, Sing, Sing” with another piece. But toward the end the other instrumentalists dropped off (except for Gene Krupa, who maintained a light touch on the drums with his brushes) and Jess Stacy took over, introspectively interweaving quiet lyrical phrases with jagged percussive ones, exploring what the piano could do.

So, jazz. Late Wednesday and Saturday afternoons a small combo came to the nursing home and played for an hour or so in the Great Room. If I were visiting then, I’d push my father down the hall in his wheelchair, and we’d sit at the back of the room or out in the atrium. The band consisted of keyboard, bass, saxophone, and drums, joined occasionally by a singer. They played old standards, like “Ain’t She Sweet,” and “Take the ‘A’ Train,” and “A Foggy Day (in London Town),” and always at the end of each concert, “God Bless America.” After a song or two, a couple of the women residents would get up and dance and one or two of the aides would join them. The other residents sat on folding chairs, or in their wheelchairs, singing along, clapping, falling asleep—as my father often did.

On my first visit, the band had been playing about twenty minutes when two tall black male aides wheeled a white-haired man on a stretcher into the room. They brought him up alongside the band, where he was greeted enthusiastically, as if, now that he was here, the concert could really take off. The musicians addressed him as “Mr. K” and one of the aides, who’d been holding an electric guitar, rested the guitar in Mr. K’s hands just for a moment, and he smiled broadly, if vaguely, and gestured with his right arm as if he were leading the band. After a couple of songs, the musicians played “Bye Bye Blackbird.” The singer brought her microphone close to Mr. K’s mouth, and in a scratchy, weak voice, he sang “blackbird, bye, bye.” Later I learned that he’d founded the band and it still carried his name. He’d been a successful businessman, working, like my father, in the aviation industry, and it was because Mr. K was now a resident that the nursing home had an endowment for these biweekly concerts.

Dinner always followed the jazz concerts. When the band started putting away their instruments, I would push my father into the dining room where each table had been set with a cloth tablecloth, cloth napkins, and a small vase of fresh flowers. Sometimes we’d sit, just the two of us, at our own table, and I’d help my father eat, lifting a glass or a fork or a spoon to his mouth, holding it there, waiting for him to take a sip or a bite. An aide would already have fastened a large terry-cloth bib around his neck—these were on many of the residents—but he remained anxious that food would stain his clothes. Once as I was bringing a spoonful of tomato soup to his mouth, two drops spilled on to his hand, and he glared at me. “You didn’t have to do that, Sue,” he said. “You’re supposed to be my daughter, but sometimes you sure don’t act like one!”

I felt stung. We’d had our struggles over the years, and his anger evoked past hurts and an old feeling that he’d never really understood me, that I’d been just as invisible even when he had his sight, although this wasn’t strictly true. He’d been, at times, sympathetic to my desire to escape the confining rules of my mother’s New England family, even encouraged me, an accomplice. But now I felt myself withdrawing into the dangerous, stony place where old grievances still fester. Then I pulled myself together. He’d not often been cranky, had always apologized for his anger, and we’d resolved most of our quarrels. “It was an accident,” I said, and then asked him if he wanted more soup.

I preferred those meals where the dining staff seated us at his usual table with two women residents: frail Mrs. McGuiness, a widow in her nineties who had no remaining family, and Pam, who might have been in her seventies and whose last name and history I never learned. Their company allowed me to see myself as a good daughter. Somewhat disconcertingly, I could also feel like the hostess of a dinner party as I attempted to engage my father in old memories while explaining to the two women about our family. Because of his deafness, I had to speak loudly, and if the other residents were unusually quiet, I feared I was broadcasting our family history to the entire dining room.

Mrs. McGuiness could actually carry on a conversation. Pam was appealing in a different way. The first time we shared a table, she walked into the dining room on her own, smiling graciously, and I assumed she must be a visitor. Her sentences were properly inflected and her affect so convincing that it took me a moment to realize that her words made no sense. “Do they have packages?” she asked me, and then, “How many fit together?” An answer was clearly expected, so, leaping into the unknown, I decided she might be asking about my children. Trying still to engage my father, I talked about my son and daughter and my father’s five other grandchildren. Pam nodded warmly, as if this was indeed what she’d wanted to know. But as I was wondering if perhaps she’d had a stroke that affected only language, I looked across the table and saw that she was trying to eat her soup with a fork.

Toward the end of the meal Pam told me—she would repeat this every time we ate together—that my father was a nice man. “He’s a nice man,” she said, and I thought that my father hadn’t, actually, been very nice at all. He only spoke to me at dinner, and then only when prodded. But I thanked her and smiled as if I agreed, because, who knew? Maybe he’d been kind to her another time. I wanted to believe that Pam, despite her confused language, had glimpsed something of the father I was still hoping to find.

 

“I’ve had a good life,” my father told me. “Too bad it had to end this way.” That was how I felt, as well, but I didn’t want to remain in such despondency. In The Iliad, which I was still listening to, Homer found meaning in the heroism of the Greeks and Trojans, while in my life I was struggling to find meaning in surroundings where great deeds and sacrifices were no longer possible—or indeed any form of action at all. Yet I didn’t want to feel fatalistic as my father did. “Shoot me if I get like this,” my brother-in-law remarked one afternoon when we were talking outside the nursing home. We all felt that way. This was not how or where we wanted to finish our lives. Still, I needed to find something redeeming in my father’s last chapter, if not for him, then for myself.

I began studying the other residents, wondering what significance their lives might have now. I observed them as the aides pushed them around in their wheelchairs, or as they wandered the halls or the pathways of one of the two enclosed patios where I would sometimes take my father on warm summer days to sit in a shaded corner. I’d fit Dad up in a baseball cap and dark glasses—his eyes were especially sensitive to light outdoors—and I’d bring a book to read when he nodded off. The patios were like small walled gardens, and sometimes I’d just sit on a bench and stare at the trees and flowers, thinking. Searching for meaning helped me distance myself from the pain of what was happening to my father and to the other residents.

Until that summer, despite all the deaths in our family already, I’d been spared intimate knowledge of how difficult the end of life can be for the very old, demanding all their strength, like a climb up a dauntingly steep mountain. “Like Mount Katahdin,” I said to my husband one night after I got home from seeing my father. “You hike for months along the Appalachian Trail, and then, when you’ve almost reached the end and are tired and aching, you still have that brutal mountain to climb.”

I tried to locate my father in the narratives of his dementia, to find a link from the father I’d known to the elderly man whose conversation was filled with disturbing images. In one particularly heartbreaking conversation we had on the telephone, when I was trying to persuade him to stay in his chair until my brother arrived, he told me he had to find the nursing home “committee” that wanted to cast him out. Otherwise, there would be a world catastrophe—all the lights in the world were going to go out, all the babies in the world would die.

Because he’d lost his sight, the image of vanishing lights made sense. I wondered, too, if listening to reports on CNN might be intensifying his sense of pending doom. The Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico was still dominating the news, and mornings when I arrived, I would often find him staring at the flickering shadows on the television screen as reporters recounted the ongoing failure to cap the well. Oil was still gushing from the sea floor, threatening the fishing industry, wildlife, beaches, entire communities.

I understood that many of my father’s delusions were common in the elderly—his certainty that the aides were poisoning and persecuting him, his fears about money, his suspicion that family members had formed an alliance with the staff to hurt him. But others puzzled me. “I’m failing a test that I designed myself,” Dad said repeatedly, explaining why he was about to be thrown out of the nursing home and left to die in the woods alone. “A test to see if a blind man can live in the nursing home.” My brother and I were confused by our father’s claiming authorship of the “test” until my brother remembered that Dad’s first job had been as a test engineer during World War II, designing tests for propellers.

This autobiographical detail, which I hadn’t known before, consoled me. It suggested not only that my father’s ravings contained shards of his history, but also that our relationship was still open: there were still things about him to discover, despite the fact that, in a generational reversal, I was now the one constantly recalling the past. “Remember our trips to Virginia each spring?” I’d ask. “Remember the house on Parish Avenue where you grew up, with the swing on the front porch, and I slept in Aunt Jean’s room in the attic? Remember when we’d spend summer vacations at Hawk’s Nest, and you’d take us out in the orange rowboat to look for conch shells? Remember when you’d fly up to see me in Berkeley after one of your business trips to LA? Remember when you and Mom would visit us in Maine? Remember how you bought me my first camera? Remember my difficult boyfriends? Remember Mom?”

 

Throughout the summer, my father’s new doctor at the nursing home, whom we all liked, kept trying different medications to lessen his paranoia and anxiety as well as control his pain. “You have to remember that he’s in a safe place and well cared for,” she assured my brother, who, like me, worried intensely about our father’s unhappiness and our failure to make his days easier.

Eventually CT scans revealed that Dad had had a series of small strokes, or TIAs, over several years. The doctor began to suspect, because of the stiffness of his body and his difficulty controlling his movements, that he might also have Parkinson’s, and she put him on medication that, to our relief, helped him. After a few weeks on the medication, his paranoia lessened. Though he continued to develop new scenarios of disaster—in September, that the aides and my brother were willfully, inexplicably, cutting up his sweaters and good shoes to torture him—it was easier to distract him from these scenes and from his narratives of imminent catastrophe. He no longer referred to going back to his room as being taken to “lock-up.” His mood improved, he joked a little, he expressed his appreciation to the staff and his visitors.

 

In mid-October, my brother and I met at the nursing home with the social worker, the dietician, and the head of nursing to discuss Dad’s care. Everyone agreed he was doing better than anticipated—his weight was stable, he willingly participated in those recreational activities he could manage without his sight. Walking back through the halls to Dad’s room, my brother and I realized how familiar the nursing home had become to us, how normal everything now appeared.

Later in the afternoon, after my brother left to go back to New York City, I took Dad to the jazz band concert. The walls of the Great Room and the atrium had been decorated with cutouts of orange pumpkins and red and yellow leaves, with garlands of yellow leaves hanging over the doorways. While the musicians played their familiar songs, a golden retriever roamed about gently nudging anyone who seemed inclined to pet him. Three residents danced with an aide. Other residents sang along and clapped. In May the band had struck me as second or even third rate, the sort of band you’d encounter playing in a local dive, but now I saw in them only kind and generous musicians. My father drifted off, and I rested a hand on his arm. I felt moved, privileged even, to be a witness in this small community. The magazines in the rack by the doorway were old, months out of date, but what did that matter? The nursing home existed outside time. The dancing residents no longer seemed pitiable. How amazing, I thought, that, with all that they’ve lost, they still want to dance! I was aware—I was always aware—that these were the lucky elderly, my father among them. Their bodies were failing, but they had the resources to be well cared for and treated with respect by a well-trained staff. Everyone should have this if they need it, I thought, as I had always thought. I remembered how, early in the summer, my husband had described the nursing home as “a place where people were waiting to die.” But I hadn’t wanted to see it that way then, and now, even in my deepest feelings, I could no longer find that bleakness.

 

In December my father turned ninety. My brother and I arranged a small celebration in the nursing home. His brother drove up from Virginia with his wife, my husband and I came from Maine, my brother and his family from New York, and one of my cousins, as well as Dad’s lawyer, his stepdaughter and her husband, from nearby. A few years earlier my father had given me his baby journal that, contrary to tradition, his father, not his mother, had kept, and several old albums with photographs of his childhood, his years at Cornell, his marriage to our mother, and our own childhoods. Dad, of course, couldn’t see them, but I arranged them on a table for guests to leaf through. This was who he’d been. This was what his life had meant. Dad sat in his wheelchair, eating a little ice cream and cake, still knowing everyone, remembering details of their lives, making a joke or two, exhausted by the attention. His was a stripped-down, diminished self, but at his core still him. My brother credited the medication, but I felt a more mysterious element was also at work, perhaps a resiliency in the human soul. Our father couldn’t, of course, repair his broken body, but it seemed to me that he’d somehow found a way to repair his spirit and gracefully accept what his life had become. The next day, as I left to go back to Maine, he told me he’d miss me. He died just a month later.

 

A week after his death, my brother and I returned to the nursing home to clean out his room. We packed up some of his clothes, and then those things we’d brought from our own homes to make the room more personal. We took from the walls two landscapes painted by our great-grandmother that had once hung in our childhood home, and a large photograph that our father had taken of us as children sitting by Mirror Lake in Yosemite National Park. We put in boxes several woodcarvings Dad had collected on trips to Germany, the radio, a wood carving of the clock tower at Cornell, the biography of George Washington on CD that he didn’t like, and many family photographs.

Then we stopped at his apartment to visit our stepmother and collect Dad’s mail. She was herself quite ill with heart disease, and though she’d visited Dad occasionally over the summer and fall, she found the nursing home, and our father’s dementia, too overwhelming to stay for long. We’d tried to get her more involved, but she was happy to leave all decisions about his care to us.

While we talked, I thought of how, the previous summer, I used to arrive at the nursing home to find my father sitting alone in his room, staring ahead. Now he was dead. “They ought to be able to give you a pill,” he said of his doctors, “and let you go. But they can’t do that.” I’d thought, then, of the Eskimos I’d read about who, when their elders were dying and too weak to travel, would place them on an ice floe and send them out to sea, into a quiet, peaceful death. I thought of Marge Piercy’s poem, “End of Days,” about how we take our cats when they are dying to the vet, where they receive an injection and die in our arms, while we die alone in hospitals. Why, the poet asks, are we so much kinder to our pets than to our parents and ourselves?

Would I have wanted a sudden exit for my father the previous spring, if it were legal?

I couldn’t say. But I understood that being so intimately involved with Dad’s care during his eight months in the nursing home, trying to find ways for him to feel loved and valued, had given my brother and me a place in his life that we hadn’t known since our childhood. The past year, difficult as it was, had been a gift. For that I was grateful.

 

In February my brother and I returned to the nursing home a final time to attend a memorial service for all the residents who had died during the past two months. It was held in the Great Room, now decorated with large cutouts of red hearts and cupids for Valentine’s Day. The chaplain associated with the nursing home led the service. We sat in folding chairs and sang a couple of hymns, and the chaplain talked about the dead as being with God, which meant that they were still with us, their spirits around and in us, as God was around and in us. It had been a hard winter. Since just before Christmas, twelve residents had died. The chaplain named each of the dead, asking after each name if someone would share a brief memory. “Who remembers Jack?” he asked, and my brother nudged me, and I stood up and spoke of my father’s lifelong passion for jazz, how jazz had been like a sanctuary for him, and how, though he was blind and confined to his wheelchair, he could still listen to the music. I said that we were grateful that he’d been here, so well cared for, in a place where a jazz band played every Wednesday and Sunday. Afterward there was a reception, with punch and sandwiches and cookies. We talked in small groups as Pam, the woman who had sat at Dad’s table for dinner, wandered about, still with her lovely smile, precariously carrying a plate of cucumber sandwiches that threatened to spill each time she offered them.

Then it was time to leave. We thanked the staff and made our way through the atrium, the windows darkening in the early dusk of winter. One of the aides let us out through the atrium’s locked doors. As my brother went ahead to get the car, I paused in the entrance for a final glance at the sign evoking Dr. Hunt, then stepped out into the cold February air. Snow lay deep on the grounds—it would be harder now to elope.

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