Friday, May 05, 2006


Friday of my second week.

I remember when I used to work in an activity department in a nursing home. Years and years ago. I remember Katie Bolhivitzen. She was a Russian doctor who imigrated during the cold war and her credentials only allowed her to work as a nurse. My job was to make old people have fun; to create the illusion of gaiety, of propriety, life in the face of marching death. It was not an easy job, but to do it at all one had to believe in it and I did not. Could not. Had seen too much by then. Too much by far. When I finally told Katie she didn't have to do anything anymore -- didn't have to come to the party, didn't have to make the macaroni-covered bleach bottle vase -- it wasn't really my idea. She just said, in her little Russian voice, "I'm ninety six. I shouldn't have to play Bingo." And in that moment it was over for me. I could no longer, for the sake of the daughters -- because it is always the daughters and never the sons who pick up the pieces at the end of a life -- stall.

It is always like that for me: okay one day, gone the next. I don't think its because I'm not paying attention and I just look up one day and everything has gone to shit, and I don't think its because I have a low tolerance for crap. Quite the opposite. I believe I am tortured with certainty, and once I know, I can't unknow it. And the terrible thing is that it keeps changing. Which, in retrospect, makes me look like an idiot. Or it is as simple as this: I am willing to do just about anything for a buck for awhile, then, not.

The work is different this time, but is never different, not really. They are still dying and we are still hanging on. We no longer insist that old people have fun, but still we cannot endure the silence, the disengagement, the paper crackling absence that is the sound of life ending. We want music, dammit. We want cake. We want cheese and crackers and slices of spicy salami, we who have teeth. It makes us feel better. But those who cannot see and cannot chew and cannot hear and do not care... what of them?

Oh, who cares? I dig this job, and think I am probably old enough to finally appreciate the notion of stalling death, of masking the grim reaper and letting him pass them by for one more day. I won't let him in the locked doors. Not just yet. Not on my watch.

1 comment:

L. said...

glad they have you.