The sticky grey buttons of the Belmar Nursing Home break room resistively accept my entrance code, and I place my finger on the time clock. ‘Employee not recognized’. Slightly moving finger positions, I try again. ‘Employee not recognized.’ I place my finger down for what feels like the thousandth time. ‘Employee not recognized’. I roll my eyes and jam my pointer into place: ‘Kristen Meyer clocked-in 1:57.’ Only seven and a half hours until the day is over, I think to myself.
I walk down the hall, and the double doors open to the buzzing sounds of…
Kris, get me a cup of coffee; I need my cookies; can you roll me to smoke break, please; we were out of coffee yesterday which is not okay; my tea is cold; give me extra chicken from lunch; take me to the bathroom because I can’t wait any longer; I want to smoke; make me a peanut butter and jelly; get out of my way; I want nonperishable items; that’s not fair, he gets to have soda, why can’t I?
The silver gate of the kitchen door comes within reach. Whew, I’ve almost made it!
I smile at Eleanor as she rolls by hollering, “You look nice and tall today. What do you have for a snack?”
“I have some cookies, chips, sandwiches.”
“Oh a cookie would be nice… Thank you sweet angel.”
I smile sarcastically and close the door. As long as no one else bothers me, I can do this without any stress.
2:10. Coffee, juice, and tea is made. Dining rooms are set up and dinner trays arranged and ready to head out. Meal serve out begins.
I take and serve orders; go to the freezer to grab ice cream just short of a few thousand times; remake a hundred plates and go back to the freezer. I have to explain why there is no more ranch, blue cheese, or Italian dressing. After a few hundred more trips to the freezer meal service ends. 6:15—Break time!
I sit down to eat my banana and hear a knock on the kitchen door. Rolling my eyes, I open the door to the chaotic world of dementia, old age, and PTSD.
“What do you need, Agnes?”
“A club sandwich. No turkey, tomato, bacon, or egg. Um.. ham, no mayo, mustard instead.”
I place the banana back in its basket as I make her a club sandwich (minus the club). Great. No break time for me. At 6:30, I do the dishes; put away dishes. I pour more coffee and fill a jug with hot cocoa for ex-sex offender Barney. Biting my tongue, I withstand abusive remarks from ex-convicts; enjoy the blessings and compliments from Ida and Eleanor. Breath. Sweep the floor, make more sandwiches and coffee, take out the trash, and begin to roll silverware.
Groggily, I look at the clock. 9:15—only fifteen minutes until I’m free. I can do this. I glare at the silverware I have yet to roll and head into the dimly lit dining room to find a chair free of stains or elderly smells. Fifteen minutes. The day, not unlike most, had consisted of running around with my head cut off and resisting the urge to retaliate back at the residents’ demands, complaints and what would be considered verbal abuse in most places. As I turn into the final stretch of my day, I sigh with relief. Inches away from the black swivel chair’s faded cushion, I see Agnes staring at me through the door—her eyes beady and smile crooked. “Oh boy,” I whisper under my breath.
“What can I get for you, Agnes?”
“Two dairyland ice creams, one chocolate and one vanilla.”
“Okay, is that all I can get for you?” I ask suspiciously.
“A paper napkin…and a spoon… and three ice cubes.”
“And that is all you want.”
She nods. “Yes, oh and a tall glass of Meadow Gold whole milk.”
I grab everything and a cup of coffee, because let’s face it, when has Agnes not asked for a cup of coffee to go with her ice cream? Her face lights up as I place the coffee in front of her, making sure I didn’t forget to add 2 sugars and a liquid creamer.
Silverware: the only thing between me and a binge session on Netflix.
Abruptly she asks, “Are you in college?”
“I was in college once,” she mumbled. “I didn’t like my science teacher, but I liked my English teacher. He was cute. That was back in the day when people listened to rock and roll. I liked rock and roll, but I don’t remember what it sounded like. Guitar players were nice. My professor played the guitar—that’s why I dated him. We went to Stockwood…Did you get to go to Stockwood?”
I stare at her, completely dumbfounded, and wonder what in the world she is talking about. Because the world of my imagination is her reality, I say, “No, I was never able to go. What was it like?”
Agnes loudly wheezes out a gasp. “I can’t believe you never went to Stockwood. It was in New York you know. Or, maybe it was Connecticut. I don’t know, you know? My boyfriend and I had fun because I wrote about it for my newspaper class. He liked putting stuff in his nose. He’d roll up a dollar like this, and whoop, it was in his nose.” Agnes’s raspy chuckles filled the air as her life story unfolded. “I tried it once too, it felt funny. I preferred all the champagne because between the two of us, I was more elegant. My boyfriend wore long hair and never brushed it, but I did. I liked my hair. It used to be really long you know.”
Internally I explode with laughter as an image of Ages with a presentable and somewhat kempt disposition form in my mind. Glancing at the clock, I see it is 9:30. I’m only halfway done. Rolling my eyes as Agnes follows me to the kitchen door, I grab another stack of napkins.
“You know, my boyfriend is the daddy of my babies.”
“Oh really,” I nod at her as I sit down to finish the never-ending mound of silverware. “I bet he is excited.”
“He is! They haven’t been born yet, but there are nine of them. I feel them kick inside my stomach sometimes. That’s why I have to eat ice cream and Meadow Gold whole milk—it keeps them alive. People try to give me that sweet milk, and that makes them sick, but that’s why I have a left leg. If you cut my left leg off, they will die,” She smiles.
I stare at her blankly. My mind speechless and in awe of her earnest sincerity. “Oh, okay Agnes, if you say so.” I triumphantly place the last piece of rolled silverware in the cracked box. 9:45—not bad timing considering the wealth of knowledge I just absorbed. Freedom!
As I lock up the kitchen, I mull over Agnes’ story. Her story might have been told with bits of crazy here and there, but she lived a life once too. All of the residents had, and most of them would probably give anything to be my age again. I have to remember that for my shift tomorrow. Double doors in reach, I hear from behind, “You should go to Stockwood, and eat some taquitos.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Agnes,” I smile earnestly.
“Oh, don’t you worry Kris, I’ll be here and maybe my babies too!”