I spot a sign that says "INFORMATION" and follow it through a breezeway ending at double doors. Inside, I realize I'm on the highest level of a two story lobby which resembles an older style hotel complete with tropical plants and river rock beds. A simple desk sits just to the left of the entrance. I watch an older man steady himself into a standing position. His eyes smiled at me before his mouth did. He said, "Hi, may I help you?" and shuffled from behind the desk.
I look over my shoulder and my two children and husband are coming through the door a little noisier than appropriate at a retirement community. My new friend seems unaffected by their entrance. I turned back to him and extend my hand. "My name is Finchy. This is my husband and our two birds. My mother has just recently signed the agreement to get an apartment here. She won't be arriving until the first of June, but my family and I are from out of state and wanted to look around."
"Oh! That's wonderful. My name is Bill and I've lived here for 11 years. I love it. What type of place will your mom be getting?"
"She said it is a "garden" apartment and that her view overlooks trees, not parking spaces. Does that make sense?"
Bill nodded and smiled. He appeared younger than he did a few minutes ago. His blue and pink plaid short sleeve shirt and navy dress pants made him look rather snappy.
"Mom also said that the only way to get to her place is by elevator or stairs."
"Ahh, well this makes things easier." Bill rested his hip on the edge of his desk and pointed across the breezeway. "That is the only elevator in this entire complex." His arms made a sweeping motion and I followed them as if anticipating a magic trick. "Or you may take the stairs, there."
Bill continued, "All of the garden apartments are in this building but only the ones below on the first floor - you came in on the second - overlook the mountains."
"This IS luck! Thank you Bill! We're going to walk around and maybe go outside on the patio."
'Take your time! Enjoy. There's a nice stream out back that your kids might like to see."
We walked down the stairs and into the first floor lobby. It was carpeted, had various types of seating and natural light. I noticed a piano in the corner and wondered if this was the social gathering area. There were long hallways on either side of this indoor courtyard and enormous double doors leading to a patio outside. Part of the patio was covered and shaded and the other part had several outdoor chairs, benches and a covered porch swing. Right now the terrace was warm with morning sunshine.
One of these apartments - on either side of this outdoor space - just might be mom's new home. In all of the buildings we could have driven to, in this gigantic complex, we found our way to the only building with garden apartments. This retirement community is sprawling over many acres and yet that one small *information* sign led us here. We didn't drive to the main office which Bill said was on the other side of the property. It seemed unreal and yet quite effortless at the same time.
Part of me is relieved because this community is lovely. I knew my parents had researched several places and they have chosen well. So many of mom's friends were already here - excited that she's going to be nearby and already planning pairs for cards. Knowing all of that has comfort, but nestled deep in me is sadness. Hidden away in the part of my soul is the truth that I am weepy about moving mom here. I'm a brat. She's my mom. I want her to live out her days in her dream home that she and dad built. Where it sits on top of a majestic North Carolina mountain and overlooks 13 breathtaking acres. I don't want her to look at this field, trees and a trickling brook. It's a lovely place, but my mom's home is miles from here. Inside I'm five again. I've stomped my foot, crossed my arms and furrowed my brow.
My children are playing on the patio. The boy gives up the game and plops in the swing. I look at my husband who seems to be reading my mind. His comforting voice speaks softly, "Your mom is going to make her place great. You and your sisters will help her. And it is so peaceful here. So quiet." He raises his arm and points, "Look, she can see the mountains she loves so much."
"Yeah. I see." I chew on my lip and meet his eyes. "It's nice, right? You think it's a nice place, right?"
"Yesssss, babe." He reassured. "There are so many people who would love for their parents to be in a place is nice as this one. Besides it's an apartment - your mom is completely independent. Okay? They're just nearby if she needs them - that's all."
I nodded and believed the truth in his words, but the incorrigible five year old in me was kicking the grass. I said, "Let's walk over there to see the outside of these garden apartments." The boy and the girl, sensing the change, ran over to meet us. I took a few steps off of the concrete onto the lawn. I wanted to see the private gardens without getting too close and invading the residents' privacy. We are halted by the most beautiful yellow butterfly. The wings seemed iridescent, almost like they were illuminated paper lanterns, glowing from the inside out. The butterfly appeared from nowhere. An apparition that entranced is by circling us twice. We were transfixed by the beauty of it. It seemed weightless, bouncing on imaginary pillows and fluttering it's wings to music none of us could hear.
We watched it spiral then fly in the direction of one of the units. We instinctively followed the butterfly and I was covered in goosebumps. My soul spoke aloud before my mind got in the way. "Thanks, Daddy." I could feel my husband's eyes on my face and I heard my children squeal. We all know the significance of a butterfly ever since one fluttered past as we were placing my father's ashes in the columbarium in the church's courtyard. Butterflies always seemed to appear whenever we needed reassurance.
We walked underneath the patio to the unit where the butterfly appeared to puppet on invisible strings. My son pressed his face against the glass and said. "It's empty!" My husband slid the screen door to the side so all of us could see through the glass. The carpet looked worn and the walls were scuffed, but it was nice. It was perfect actually.
My son nudged the handle of the sliding glass door and it moved. Our eyes widened at the thought of this unit being unlocked. My husband slid open the door and we walked inside. We saw the two bedrooms, the master bath, the kitchen and the den that overlooked the view I questioned before. It was lovely and perfect.
I said, "Mom tells me that she gets to pick out new carpet, paint and appliances. Isn't that great? It'll be a whole new place!" Everyone nodded in agreement as we soaked it all in. I knew we were trespassing - but it seemed like it was meant to be. This moment. This time here in this place. My husband opened the door to the inside hallway and I hissed - "What are you doing?!?! We're not supposed to be here!!" He gave me an over-exaggerated nod and said, "I know!! I just want to see the room number, so we can ask your mom if we ARE in the right place."
We were in that apartment for less than five minutes, but we'll be in it a lot more in the near future. My mom was delighted with this story when we told her and she confirmed the unit number to us.
My dad is the best tour guide.