Elissa Bertolino is 72 years old and suffers from shingles and high blood pressure. She can barely get out of a well-worn chair in the living room of her small Northeast Miami-Dade condo.
She lost her identical twin sister in June, and now her sister’s husband is undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. Bertolino lives on the $1,127 a month she gets from Social Security and the $5,000 that remains in her bank.
She fears her condo association is going to enforce an assessment and charge her for impact-resistant windows on the two tiny front windows on her Ixora Court home that could cost more than $1,000.
“I have no idea what they cost. But I was here for Andrew. I was in my sister’s apartment and we all were leaning against a mattress that was holding out the wind from a broken window,” she said.
Bertolino was born in New Jersey, married and divorced there, then moved to Miami in 1989. Her plight began about a decade ago when she lost her mother, who owned the condominium where she now lives. She had to retire early from a job as a secretary at Nova Southeastern’s medical school to care for mom before she died.
Still, Bertolino and her sister Maria Sosa — who lived in a condo down the hall — found a way to get to the Mardi Gras Casino in Broward, where they loved to play the slots. She can’t do that anymore, she said; she doesn’t have enough money.
Then earlier this year her sister became mysteriously ill. First she developed an eye infection. Then an intestinal infection. Then one day in June, she went to sleep and didn’t wake up, Bertolino says, her voice cracking.
“Can you see this birth mark,” she says pointing to the underside of her right arm. “My arm was wrapped around her head at birth. That’s how close we were.”
Restricted mostly to her chair now, her condo could use an upkeep. The carpet is shabby and needs cleaning. The furniture is fraying. Small tables surrounding her chair are filled with papers and ointments. A cane rests on her. An old televsion in a corner is turned on, its sound turned down. An air conditioning unit on the wall buzzes loudly.
A daughter in Texas with three children rarely visits.
Bertolino gets help from Maria, a woman who comes by when Bertolino can afford to pay her the $15 an hour she charges. She keeps the place somewhat tidy, does laundry, and occasionally takes Bertolino out to dinner.
“I have no other family here. I have nobody to help put my wreath up,” Bertolino says, reaching for the one her dining room table. “Yesterday I felt good. I walked to the car. We went to dinner. To a bakery in a mall around the corner. Maria, she makes me breakfast. She’s been a doll. God sent her to me.”
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