11 January

Happy News: The Return Of The Prodigal Joan

by Jon Katz
The Prodigal Joan

I have a curious and self-made role at the Mansion, I am not on the staff, and am not entitled to know where people go when they suddenly disappear.

The staff, many of whom are friends and close to me, clam up if I ask where people have gone, and I rarely do. I can buy clothes for people and with them and my dog, but I may not know if they are alive or dead, or ever coming back when they disappear.

And it is not my business.

That is really what they mean when they talk about outliers, my life long position in the world.

Joan is one of my favorite people at the Mansion, she has a sweet soul and the heart of the poet.  I love to photograph her and she loves to be photographed. And she has beautiful stories to tell.

Joan has some memory issues, and conversations with her are different and inventive, a series of shrugs, feelings, smiles and hand waves for emphasis or agree  on things that are never clear.

I cannot bring clothes or books other things to Joan because she packs them all up in suitcases to await transport to her next home. It isn’t that she doesn’t like the Mansion, she is just always on the way to someplace else, even though she never leaves.

Two weeks ago, she left, I knocked on her door with Red, who she loves, and there was no answer. I pushed the door open, as I sometimes do, because people can’t always hear me, and saw right away that Joan was gone. I did not ask where she was, or if she would be back, and no one told me.

At the Mansion, these sudden disappearances are common and fraught. No one talks much about the people who disappear, federal Hippa laws do not encourage community or intimacy, they often turn the elderly into mystic ghosts who lives must remain hidden and unknown.

When people leave, they sometimes go to the hospital, sometimes to nursing homes, sometimes to visit members of their family. Quite often, they don’t return they vanish into the vast netherworld of hospitals, nursing homes, rehab facilities. Many are just never seen or heard from again.

So I wasn’t sure what to expect from Joan.

Yesterday, I was at the Mansion and a staffer who knew Joan and I are pals pulled me aside and whispered “Joan is coming back tonight.” This morning,I  went over to the Mansion first thing with Red and there she was sitting in a hallway chair, looking out the window.

It was a wonderful sight.

I asked Jane how she was, and she said “fine, they didn’t really do anything to me,” and that was about I learned, Joan and I drifted into on of our existential talks, where we both speak  and say nothing recognizable, yet communicate perfectly..

“Oh, well,” she said, so he is a beautiful dog, isn’t he?”


“It was nothing but raining, really…”

“It was cold..”

“Well yes, and wouldn’t it be?”

“It would…”

“Yes, yes, I wouldn’t want to live there either..I told them that..”

I saw the bandage on her leg.

“Did you hurt your leg, Joan?”

“No, no, she said…I hope it’s time for lunch soon.”

And she added, “thank you.”

It was wonderful seeing Joan back at the Mansion, greeting Red, whose name she has never known (or mine.)

I asked her if there was anything she needed, and she laughed and threw her head back and smiled..

“Need, oh no, nothing..I don’t expect rain.”

I was very glad to see Joan, Red too. You can write to Joan c/o The Mansion, 11 S.Union Avenue, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816. She may not respond, but someone will read your letters to her, and she will listen to them.


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