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Dolores Dorn

Eventually she got a two-bedroom apartment in Santa Monica and a live-in Australian woman named Shiela. Between contributions from friends, the state and the City of Santa Monica, she lived quite well. I felt free enough to take my long desired vacation to Europe.
Shortly after my return I took her to her doctor for a check-up. The office was in a high-rise in Santa Monica. I could see the Pacific Ocean from the expensively furnished reception room. On the way there Pamela told me he was one of the top oncologists in the city. I was happy she was getting such good care.
When she came back into the reception room she asked me to get her out of there fast.
"What's wrong?"
"Just get me out of here!"
"O.K., O.K."
I pushed the wheelchair to the elevator. As we waited she stared straight ahead, her mouth set in a tight, straight line. I kept quiet.
After wheeling her out of the elevator to the street I lifted her into the passenger seat and heaved the wheelchair into the trunk of my Fiat. Both were heavy and my arms ached from the effort. When I got into the car I saw that there were tears coming down her face. Then - small whimpers which built into huge heaving sobs. I put my hand on her shoulder not knowing what to do as she continued sobbing. Then I started to cry.
We sat there crying. Two thirty-five year old women crying like babies.
Finally she stopped, looked at me and asked why I was crying. I told her I didn't know. We sat in silence for a while.
Then she said, "The cancer's come back and the only treatment is an experimental drug. It's brand new and there are no guarantees."
Oh, God, I thought, if you are there, please help this girl, but said, "Well, then there's no need for us to cry. You're young and it'll probably work for you. Why'd you make me cry? And why are you so negative about it?" I chastised. "Everything is going to be O.K."
I had to pretend that I had hope and indeed, maybe there was hope for her. Maybe the drug would work. She'd been through other treatments. They had worked so why not this? Her life felt like my life now and I needed to believe that she would live.
She opened her purse, pulled out a Kleenex, blew her nose, opened a compact, powdered her face, put on some lipstick and said, "Let's go get a hot fudge sundae. That damned Shiela won't let me have anything but health food."

I went to visit her after she'd had a few treatments with the new drug. I asked her how she was doing and she told me that it was too painful and she'd decided to stop the drug.
Did she know what she was doing? From what I understood this treatment was her last chance.
Empty words from me, "Are you sure?"
"Yes." She said with a look on her fact that I guessed meant that she was tired of fighting. If that were true who would blame her? She'd already had the horror of a double mastectomy, which had happened in our estrangement days. Then the brain cancer and chemotherapy, which saved her life, but left her in a wheelchair and disfigured.
Selfishly I wanted her to live but I had to give her the dignity of choice. I didn't say any more about it.

Shortly after, it was necessary for her to go to a nursing home. I was told by her live-in, Shiela, that she had to be put in constraints because she didn't want to go.
I went to see her the next evening. It was Christmas Eve. When I asked for her room number at the front desk, the attendant said she'd been giving everyone a lot of trouble complaining, crying, pushing her food tray on the floor, etc.
"Well, what do you expect? She's only thirty-five and she doesn't want to be here with all these old, dying people," I said, letting them know that even though she looked old she wasn't, hoping she'd get special treatment because of her youth.
She was asleep. I sat down. She was very thin and emaciated. She had aged in the few months since she made her crucial decision. She looked as old as the senile woman who was in the bed next to hers, who lay there with her mouth open and her eyes staring at the ceiling.
Pamela opened her eyes. She was surprised to see me. "How did you know I was here?"
"Shiela called me."
"Did she tell you I was raped?"
Shiela had warned me that she'd been telling all sorts of stories about the nursing home hoping to get out.
"Who raped you?"
"He'll be here soon enough. He works the night shift."
"Pamela, I know you don't want to be here, but it's only temporary so try to make the best of it," I lied.
She looked at me with such despair in her beautiful violet eyes and said, "What would you do if you were me?"
I took her hand and I don't know where I found the words, "I'd let them take care of me."
She looked deep into my eyes. I did my best to give her a steady look. Then she let out a deep, deep breath and relaxed.
We sat there for a while holding hands until she closed her eyes.

She did adjust to the nursing home. She was moved into a room with a funny, crusty, middle-aged lady who'd broken something and was only there temporarily. The two of them had a great time ordering the attendants around. It turned into a good time for Pamela.

There was a hushed silence when I entered the room. Two attendants and Shiela were in the room. I was told that Pamela was close to death.
I pulled the curtain that was around her bed. She looked like she was sleeping. Should I talk to her? Something told me not to - to let her go - not to engage her. Dying must be hard enough. Do nothing - nothing at all... Just sit and watch all that life go away.

Dolores Dorn has been acting all her life. She has been under contract with Warner Bros. Studios and Columbia Pictures where she played leading roles opposite Cliff Robertson, Rod Steiger, and Allan Ladd. She was voted the best actress at the San Francisco International Film Festival for the role of Elena in Chekhov's 'Uncle Vanya'. A one-act play she wrote recently was produced and thusly reviewed, "'Throw Away Woman' puts a poignant and real face on homelessness in an uncaring court system." She taught for twelve years at the American Film Institute and loves animals of all species.





The Women’s College Magazine at Santa Monica College
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