My heart’s / right there
The book I’m reading sends me back in time. One moment, I’m in its pages; the next, I’m seventeen years old and racing down Eugene’s 18th Street on my boyfriend’s bicycle, headed for another Certified Nursing Assistant shift at a
nursing home long term care facility.
I loved working there. I loved the moments in between tending to people’s physical needs where I got to hear who they were. I listened to what they could tell of their stories and imagined a million other stories between each of those.
My favorite lady, E, could not speak. She’d ask me questions by pointing at letters printed on a laminated piece of paper and listen raptly as I told her about my family, boyfriend, and dreams. She was sad for me whenever I seemed down, and told me with concern etched on her face to please take care of myself.
Another lady once expressed sadness about how seldom people visited her. I threw my arms around her to show my sympathy, only to realize I hadn’t applied deodorant that morning. “Oh, my!” she said, laughing as she pulled away. “I may be sad, but my nose still works just fine!”
(“I’ll wear it next time, I promise,” I mumbled.)
A woman in her late 30s or early 40s had far progressed Multiple Sclerosis. We talked about anything and everything as I pushed her between the cafeteria and her room. I was impressed by how upbeat she remained despite how greatly everything in her life had changed since she taught P.E. not so many years before. I was less impressed by some of my coworkers’ reactions when she grew angry and frustrated one solitary day. Grumbled one of my coworkers, “I don’t see why she has to take out her bad mood on me!”
I looked at her with perplexity I couldn’t articulate. The resident’s fury that day was perfectly understandable to me; what I didn’t understand was how her genuine, rare expression of frustration so comprehensible could be taken as an affront to those moving freely around her. I walked away wordless toward my tasks, returning on my break to tell the resident how sorry I was.
She gazed out the window without acknowledging me. I left, not offended.
It wasn’t about me.
I was incensed when the administration chastised me for spending too much time talking to residents. It didn’t matter that those conversations usually happened on my breaks. My job was to clean, to tend physically, and to move on to the next resident. I was to spend my breaks in the break room.
I was still so impetuous then that, after a short time reflecting, I turned in my notice. The administration quickly told me they would create a position just for me, one in which my sole role would be to spend time with residents around mealtimes. My biggest physical responsibility would be transporting residents between their rooms and the cafeteria.
I was still so aggravated by them that I politely declined. I wondered if it was the right choice. Wasn’t my big eff-you more detrimental to the residents than to the company?
It didn’t matter enough. I wouldn’t take it back. But even after all these years,
part of me is still that seventeen-year-old
biking furiously toward work in hopes
of arriving on time,
watching, listening, hearing, loving,
and forever (mis?)remembering
the words to a song
one resident taught me,
and then asked me
to sing to her
how she loved it when i sang
that song, no matter how
off-key i sang it! how
she laughed, and
said thank you,
when i was
bid her adieu
with, “until next time!”
tipperary was with me then,
and it’s with me two
decades later, so that
i can read a book about
a teenager living now but without
much time left to live,
and find myself smiling
and humming that
It’s a long way to Tipperary.
It’s a long way to go.
It’s a long way to Tipperary,
to the sweetest guy I know.
Farewell, Lester Square!
It’s a long way to Tipperary,
but my heart’s