The charms of the elderly never fail, that's why I volunteered to be a CNA for a week. I'm glad I made it out of the old folks home alive!
I love old people as much as I love strong coffee and classy boots. They're amazing and full of crude one-liners that make saints laugh and stuffy people cry. Old folks don't care if they fart in public. They figure it might be their last stinker and want to go out with a bang. They sing whenever the Hell they want. They don't always go to the bathroom alone, and wear rubber shoes that squeak when they walk.
Cade and I have performed at a ton of old folks homes. It's really fun and they pay surprisingly well. Old people throw out compliments like Hansel throws bread, plus the music pries funny memories from them. Every time we perform, we stay for all the closing conversations that start with, "I remember when I was your age," or, "I was the best looking feller in town."
I always nod and say, "I bet you were!"
So, maybe that's why I volunteered to train as a CNA. There's only one problem with that; the nurses put all the newbies in the Alzheimer's unit!
Now people in the Alzheimer's unit DO NOT qualify as your average elderly people with charm. I was still a naive idiot my first volunteer day. I tried standing strong, but toward the end, I cowered as I went down that hallway. A lady followed me. She screamed about some missing box. "Have you seen it?" she asked.
"My white stepping box. I set it here yesterday." Her eyes suddenly bulged as she looked at me, pointed and gasped. "You!"
I stepped back. "Me?"
"You! It was you! You took my white stepping box!"
"Me?" I felt horrified and turned into my own echo. "Me? I'm not a thief! I've never seen that box in my life," I told my trainer.
"Neither have I." He leaned closer and put his hand to the side of his mouth. "There's no box. She's gone . . . crazy. Just like the rest of them down newbie hall." Newbie hall? I wanted to bury myself in a hole. I had volunteered there for an entire week. But I wouldn't give in. Even if they stuck me in that hall forever, I knew I'd get the hang of it. My resolve didn't make it easier at that moment though. All those people had contracted the same disease. I didn't want to admit it, but I worried I'd start wanting a box too--if I stayed too long and got too close.
We drifted away and she ran down the other hall. "That new girl stole my box! That new girl with the ugly hair . . . she stole my box!"
"Don't worry," my trainer said. I wondered if he referred to the woman or my hair. I put my hair in a ponytail after that.
"I'll take you to Ethel's room. Just bring her to the potty and I'll be over here waiting." He said it like it'd be as easy as eating apple pie. He even used the term "potty" as if that would soften the blow. Wasn't he a treat; it was my first day and he already expected me to bring someone to the bathroom . . . by myself! I didn't think anything of it, happy the box lady ran the other way. But when I walked into Ethel's room I nearly peed myself. I'm a twig of a person--pretty skinny--not like the inmate behind door #33. Ethel, sweet Ethel who needed help walking to the bathroom, was wider than the bed!
She grinned when she saw me, being a kind sort. I liked her, but didn't think we'd make it to the bathroom alive. The bed creaked in pain as she moved. It arced like the bottom of a boat.
"God," I whispered, actually showing the first sign of grief--bargaining. "I'll do anything. I'll go to church. I'll quit wearing make-up and jewelry, just like Paul preached about in the Bible. I'll do anything, just don't let that woman fall. She'll probably collapse on me, then we'll both die. I don't wanna be a two for one special today."
I could see myself standing in line at the gate to Heaven. "So how you did you two die?" some guy would ask.
Then I'd hush Ethel, invent some story about how I tried saving some kid's kitten from a tree. I'd tell a lie at Heaven's gate, too embarrassed to admit that someone's butt killed me.
"They want you to take me?" Ethel asked.
I nodded before running from the room!
I didn't take her, and the worst still waited. I met the most cantankerous inmate of all--a war veteran who said he needed to go look at his plane. He swore he was gonna get gunned down that day. He kept putting his hands out like guns and making a popping noise. That was when the situation went awry. He looked into my face. His arms curled around me and crushed me close. "Oh sweetheart. I thought I'd lost you. I thought I'd lost you and you'd never come back."
My eyes darted from side to side as I patted the man on the back.
"I still have it," he crooned. "I look at our picture every day. You were so beautiful." He hobbled over to a wedding picture. I was so beautiful? Was! The woman in the picture seemed quite homely and looked NOTHING like me!
So it was an eventful week. Even up until the last day I was nervous to go back, because my trainer said I'd be on my own. I shook in my scrubs until I got an idea.
I knew what crouched in my future and was ready for it. I could handle the Alzheimer's hall!
I pulled on some tan knee highs, put on some squeaky rubber-soled boots since they were fashionable at the "home." Then I sang Eye of the Tiger, but only the first instrumental section.
I know it sounds stupid, but that's what I did because when you're going into war, there's nothing better than singing the instrumental sections by Survivor!
I imagined the whole things as I sang.
How I'd strut down that hall. When the box lady shrieked, "It's you," I'd winked at her and smirk.
"Yes, I'm back."
"You took it!"
"Yes, I guess I did. But I've altered it. Now it's even better!" Then I'd pull a box from under my scrubs and the lady would clutch it like candy at a parade.
I'd take Ethel to the bathroom, all by my damn self. And when I went to see the war vet he wouldn't think I was his wife. He'd think I was someone he couldn't say used to be beautiful!
So with my fancy scrubs on, my immaculate make-up, I strutted down that hall and got a rude awakening. Maybe it was because I actually started singing the lyrics to Eye of the Tiger--a fatal no-no. Or maybe since no one survives their first day alone. Whatever happened, it didn't go well.
"It's you!" the lady shrieked and I pulled a box from behind my back.
She eyed it suspiciously. I set it on the ground and that's when she stepped on it. I thought it was a great little box, until she stepped on it and the thing flattened right then and there. The lady didn't smile like I'd hoped, or grovel about my kindness. Instead she screamed, wailed! "It's you. It's you." She ran down the hall. "The new girl broke my box! She broke my box!"
Then I turned and saw the war vet. I thought my make-up would do the trick and he'd realize I wasn't his wife. "You . . . you came," he sputtered. "You came and you were always so beautiful."
That was when I ran to Ethel's room. I sobbed about that dumb box and the guy who thought I used to be beautiful.
"You wanna take me to the bathroom?" Ethel asked.
I wiped my tears and nodded. "Are you sure we can do this?"
"Bring me that walker, honey. I'll hold it, if you pull my dress down so no one can see my undies. These boys are always trying to get fresh with me and I'm not even old enough to date." She winked, the wink of youth and I loved her for it. I decided if she fell on me and I had to die, maybe it wouldn't be too bad.
But I didn't die. We made it to the bathroom!!! While I stood outside of the door Ethel yelled, "I sent you a message. Did you get it?"
I wrinkled my brows, then sniffed and grimaced. I coughed, waving my hand in front of my face. "I got it."
"I'll be just a minute more. I'll flip the light on when I'm done."
I went out into the hall. The guy that had trained me walked over and said, "I don't know why I quit dealing in Vegas--for this."
"Drugs!" I said.
"No cards!" He laughed so hard. "So, you had a horrible week, huh? All the newbies do."
I remained silent and listened to the noises the hall offered. The box lady squeaked around somewhere, screaming about the flattened box she probably held. I heard the vet asking where his wife had gone, and then I heard Ethel toot.
I smiled the biggest smile in the world. The instrumental part of Eye of the Tiger still played in my head.
"No," I said. "I'll never forget this place."
I even went and bought a white box, just so I'd never forget. Maybe I had caught the disease all the people in newbie hall had--the one that made you search for a white box.
But if I did catch the disease it isn't so bad after all.
I love the box; it's filled with memories, and memories are worth searching for.