Sunday, December 19, 2010

What day is it?

You visit some of these nursing homes and you get to thinking that the best thing about life is that it ends. Despite the best efforts of modern medicine, human beings finally die, thank god. You think it's fun lying around, the television on, waiting for someone to visit? And when they finally show, they have nothing to say. You live in a picture show. I used to fall in love with all those boys who mauled the young cuties.

Some days the ageless Filipino caregiver comes in and opens the window a crack. Without turning to face you, she asks, "How are we today?" She's not really looking for an answer. A fresh breeze blows in to remind you that there's another world outside. Tantalized by the sound of traffic, the bright streaming sunlight, your eyes go to the window but you can't get out of your chair. You press the buzzer but no one comes. It's getting cold in here. Reruns. Plastic cups filled with pills. An overly sweet pasty muffin. Your children see you and get scared -- they're beginning to resemble you in middle age. Now you're shrinking and they're getting fat. Meanwhile, they're having a tough go of it financially and could use the money you're burning up by staying alive. They won't say it but they'd be happy to see you dead.

In the lobby, a corpulent man sits grooming his Border collie, Stitches. He comes twice a week on therapeutic visits. He says, "Stitches was hit by a car and needed two operations, one on her hip, one on her leg. I didn't think she'd be able to walk again. But she made it. I think her suffering has helped her to be sensitive to the needs of the residents here." He minces his words in a theatrical sing-song way. He also carries a Bible. "They pet Stitches and I read to them. I think it's a comfort. We've been doing this for three years."

An attendant comes along and announces that it's time for your physical therapy session. You look at his black face, his black arms, his bright pink palms. What does it mean, this word "rehabilitation," here, in this context? You will never be restored to a healthy life. The big black man picks you up and places you in a wheelchair. Your armpits hurt. Everything aches. But you keep your mouth shut. You don't want to bore your children with your endless complaining. Life is aches and pains. They have to go shopping. No one gives a shite if you can't taste any more. "It's Christmas mom, we've gotta go shopping."

"Could you shut the window before you leave?" You've got a terrible itch around your waist. The doctors get paid, don't they? They ride your flabby arse all the way to the bank. MRIs, blood tests, x-rays. Somebody's paying for all this. Tomorrow the middle-school kids will come by and sing carols in the cafeteria. So sweet -- there's no shortage of good works, is there? The idea is to get to the cafeteria early so you'll have a choice of desserts. And there is no shortage of the need for good works. Your roommate rolls over and throws off her covers and stares at you in a wild panic. She pleads, "Tell me -- what day is it?" You're about to tell her that it's Sunday, but then you realize you're not really sure.

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