Last week my parents-in-law got a ride to a local casino.
This is their ritual.
When they get their social security checks, they take their spending money to play poker (George) and penny slots (Carole.) And then they get picked up or, every once in a while, they take a cab home.
Don’t ask me how a man who can’t manage to go to the bathroom alone without getting lost — who asked where we were going three times during the five minute drive to the casino — can still play live poker.
He can, though. So far. Probably not very well, but that’s not the point.
My husband and I have been aware for some time that his parents’ aren’t going to be able to keep their ritual forever. And maybe, they’ve already kept it for too long.
Maybe it’s time to stop letting them go alone, we whisper to each other, hoping they won’t hear. Maybe it’s not safe anymore. Not responsible.
The worst that can happen, we decide, is that they get lost. Confused. Upset. But, probably not hurt. Casinos are swarming with both security guards and old people. When that happens, it’ll be a traumatic thing, but not life threatening. And when it does, then we’ll know it’s time.
For now, it’s worth letting them hold on to this little bit of normalcy for as long as they can.
But last week, a couple of hours after they were dropped off, we found Carole’s cell phone under the car seat. (George can play live poker, but using even speed dial on a super simple Senior Special cell phone escapes him.)
They’d planned to take a cab home. When it got to be a long time past when they’d usually come home, I started to think about whether or not they really know how to call a cab.
I thought they would just go outside the casino to the row of cabs parked waiting for fairs. But the cab company is the only number Carole knows by heart — because it’s just 333–3333. If she knows that, she must be calling them, right?
It occurred to me that neither Carole or George knows my number or my husband’s by heart. Carole just clicks on our names on her phone if she needs to call. Would they know what to say to a police officer or security guard, if they needed help? Did they know our address? Was it on their ID cards? Did they have their ID cards with them?
Would they even ask for help?
The casino is a mile and a half from our house. Six months ago Carole got upset with George and took off down the street in the snow trying to walk TO the casino. Maybe they’d just try to walk home, instead of telling someone they were confused.
It was a hundred degrees outside. One wrong turn and they’d be hopelessly lost. Maybe. Or maybe they’d be able to look up and see the tall casino and find their way. Maybe they wouldn’t die of dehydration, aimlessly wandering the residential streets of Midtown Reno.
Or maybe they would.
My daughter and I headed out to look for them. We spent half an hour searching the poker room and the penny slots. We talked to a nice lady who works in the poker room knows George well. She called security for us. I told her about George’s recent diagnosis and she took my number just in case.
The security guard took a photo of a photo on my phone of Carole and George and we spread out, searching. First thing we all realized is that half the people in the casino were elderly men with white hair. Every one of them looked like George for a few seconds.
We made a circuit of the casino. While we waited for the security guard to come to our meet up place, I formulated a plan. We’d drive around looking for them, in case they tried to walk home. Maybe security could look through their tapes and find out how long ago they left.
We’d have to call the police.
And then I got a call from home. They must have gotten in a cab just as we were walking into the casino.
They were home and didn’t understand why I was so upset. Carole thought she lost her phone somewhere in the casino, but they won a little and they were having fun, so they played longer than normal. They used their player points to get a comped lunch, and they took a cab home.
They did what they were supposed to do. Competently.
The time is coming when they won’t be able to anymore, but it’s not here yet.
I wrote down our phone numbers and address in a pretty little notebook and gave it to Carole to put in her fanny pack, just in case.
Later that night, I overhead them talking on the little patio outside their basement apartment — it’s directly over my bedroom.
Carole was upset. She said that everything she does these days is wrong. She lost her phone and now we probably weren’t going to let them go out alone anymore.
George said, “I just want you to sit out here with me and watch the rabbits. You do that right.”
It has to be so scary and frustrating, to be in your 70s and suddenly find yourself at the mercy of whether or not your child thinks it’s okay for you to go out on your own.
It’s pretty scary and frustrating to be on the other end of that, too.
Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She lives in Reno with her husband, three superstar kids, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes and is the author of Viral Nation and Rebel Nationand the upcoming novel The Astonishing Maybe. She is the original Ninja Writer.