There's nothing like a visit to a nursing home to make you realize life is good.
Is that mean?
It's true. You are out here and not in there (for long). It's a locked facility. The keypad lets you in and keeps them from leaving.
Once inside, you note that it's the Cadillac model, not like where your mom worked. You'd walk there after school and wait for her in the TV room, where you'd sit on a scratchy plaid couch and twitch a bit when residents sat beside you and found no good reasons to touch your young skin. The selling points back then were the quarters in your pocket, the soda pop machine, and the potential for TV remote domination. You'd find Benji or Lassie and nurse your bottle of Orange Crush until your mom got off shift.
Then you'd walk down the waxed hallways and try not to stare at the grown ups gone the way of babies. They were all sitting out in the hallways in their wheelchairs, airing out, as it were. Those who couldn't sit upright laid in wheeled contraptions that reminded you of big city flower carts. There was all manner of moaning and drooling and palsied hands. When you left, the smell of overcooked vegetables and urine clung to your mother's polyester uniform--a smell it took you years to disassociate from her.
You're a grown up now, and supposedly mature--
It's a straight shot to his room, but it's also a gauntlet of sentimentality--touches meant to say this is home (now). Outside each room, there is a locked curio cabinet. A time capsule. When I teach my students how to write profiles, I teach them about dominant impression. I teach them to interview an individual and boil down all the data into a dominant impression--the one overarching characteristic of the individual. A stereotype. That's what the curio cabinet displays do. They are memorial to the person this person once WAS. What would my wall decoration look like? What will it all boil down to at the end of my days?
It boils down to a big screen TV that no one is watching, blaring. It is a single bed. It is a son-in-law remembering to trim the hair inside your ears. It is veal parmesan displayed beneath a glass dome outside the cafeteria and not remembering that's what you had for lunch. It is a dish of pumpkin pie with coconut sprinkled on top, uneaten and congealing. It is the lone man in the dining room still chewing. It is the dog you no longer own but who remembers you still. It is the woman with the barrettes in her hair, who scuttles along in a walker with tennis balls on the legs. The woman fears the dog and loves it. She says, "You love me, don't you?" to the dog, who cannot sit down and whimpers at the end of his leash.
It is a tour of the last resort, of sorts. Here is an empty movie theater that will play Top Gun at 6:30. Here is bingo. Here is the mailroom, the library, the vastly underutilized computer room. Here is arts and crafts. Here are photos of the Veteran's Day ceremony. It was beautiful. Here are the chairs gathered around a piano for singing. Here is an in-house coffee shop with a latte and popcorn machine. Here is the game room, with its ski poles and fishing nets tacked up just so. Here are the pool tables, poker tables, shuffleboard. Here is the place where only the family plays games. Grandkids play Wii casino games. Here is a self-serve ice cream shop, where the treats are for residents only, please. Here is an ice cream sandwich that someone unreels for you, and it feels awkward in your hands and sets you to worrying a napkin in your hand. Here is the place where your grandfather remembers you were once married and and not to this girl. You are the new girl he keeps trying to place. Here is where he says, "So it didn't work out, huh?"
All this, and then the long walk down that hallway with its locked door. This is where he wants to go along, and you say you'll be back tomorrow. Outside you've never seen anything as beautiful as a sky threatening snow. You are thankful for knowing November and all its idiosyncrasies, its balm and briskness, its temperamental leaves and sunshine. You give thanks for the giants on the hillside--windmills churning what isn't visible into precious energy.