When George came to visit, it was harder still. He was the one, she said to herself, bitterly, who had dumped her here, in this forsaken repository for the old and the poor and the ruined. When they had gotten married, she remembered, she had left her family and put him first, and now he was abandoning her. She wanted him to get her out of here immediately, to take her back home and to care for her there.
It was hard to admit, but she worried that he had found a girlfriend, probably a rich woman from the country club who was living in her house, using her furniture and maybe even driving her car. It made her furious. She drove herself crazy with jealousy. "Good for her!" she said to herself, angrily; George was not such a prize after all, and now his girlfriend had to put up with him.
One evening Julia happened to look at her left hand. She was startled. Her wedding ring was gone. Both of her hands had long since curled into fists, so tight and so stiff that no one could open them. Somebody must have taken the ring during her coma, while her fingers were still limber.
George, she thought.
"Dirty, rotten sewer rat!" she said to herself. She sobbed and cursed throughout the night and all of the following day.
When he came to visit the next time, she saw that his wedding ring was gone as well. The marriage was over, she thought. Maybe God knew what he was doing; if she could have gotten hold of George, she would have killed him.
She wanted to cry, but she would not give him the satisfaction.
He usually wore his golf jacket and a cap. He always said hello and started talking about golf, as if she could understand every word. As he talked, he gripped an imaginary club and practiced his swing. It was an old habit, but now, as he stood there next to her bed and swung his arms again and again, it drove her to distraction.
George did not know what else to do. Besides, he had a hunch that she could understand him. Indeed, one day he was certain. "Julia, I have got bad news for you," he said. "My brother Jay has died." Jay had driven her to the hospital when Judy was born, because George could not get home in time. And now Julia's eyes filled with tears. They rolled slowly down her cheeks. George saw them. He told her doctors.
"Yes, George, OK," they said. But he could sense that none of them believed him.
George's sister Muffie also had a hunch that Julia could understand. When Julia cried, for instance, it sometimes seemed to Muffie that she wanted to talk.
But it was Julia's sister Joan who became convinced. One day, she and their younger sister, Midge, were standing next to Julia's bed, and Midge's then-husband, Bob, told a dirty joke. All three laughed. Joan turned to look at Julia. She thought she saw a muscle move in Julia's face. "Hey, run another one by me, Bob," Joan said, slowly and quietly, daring for the first time to hope. "Take a look. Midgie! Come over here. Watch."
This time all three saw it.
"Julia!" Joan shouted. "You can understand!"
All three started talking at once. To Joan, Julia looked like she was trying to reply. "I'm trying to laugh," she seemed to be saying. "Get me out of this!"
The next day, Joan phoned the hospital. She told doctors and nurses and administrators what she had seen. "Dirty jokes," she said. That is what did it.
"Impossible," they said.
"Nothing is impossible!" Joan shot back. "Try me."
Finally she persuaded a doctor to come to Julia's room. Joan told a dirty joke.
Joan took the doctor out into the hall. "It's got to be you," she said. She asked him to go behind a curtain and stay out of sight.
Then she tried again.
"You're right," the doctor said. "It's something to go on."
But nothing came of it.
"Julie!" Joan scolded. "We've got to stand together on this. . . . You [understood] me [the first time], didn't you?"
In time, she and Joan came up with a code. One blink was yes. Two meant no. But it was frustrating. There were good times, when Julia reacted. And there were bad times, when she did not.
A good time was when Joan brought her a small ceramic figure of a nurse. The nurse was holding an enema and a sign that said: "I have something for you."
Julia laughed out loud.
A bad time was when Joan brought George. She wanted to prove to him that what the doctors were saying was wrong.
Julia just lay there.
"Julie!" Joan yelled. "Why are you doing this to me?"
Sometimes it was because she was tense and could not help it; she simply was not able to move. Other times, trying just did not seem to be worth it anymore. Doctors, she concluded, hopelessly, are "geniuses with a degree. . . . Doctors say no, and no it is."
There seemed to be no use. She was locked in. To make it less painful, she began to lock the world out. Gradually but certainly, she turned inward, into her own world and into herself. It was not pleasant, but this was far better than straining, clutching and grasping for a world that she could not reach.