WARNING: NO FOOD HERE. This isn't about food and it's long. I'll try to give a warning when it IS about food and when it's short. This is about work again and me, me, me.
I should have posted in installments, but I really can't look at it anymore and I probably would have chickened out after the first one anyway.
Most of the names are not real; the events are (except for the delusions and I can't help that).
Laughing for Cupcake at the Animal House
She’s really awful. She’s a lemon. She complains, accuses, begrudges and holds grudges. She’s my least favorite type of person, and she’s my favorite resident. I’m calling her Cupcake for this story to be more food-related (ha!), and because it tickles me.
[I wrote this story in my head first – like I always do - so I started calling her Cupcake to her face before I started the actual writing and it tickles her, too – not that she would ever admit it in a thousand stingy years. She’s Cupcake now, forever. I can thank the foodies for that.]
Anyway, she’s horrid. Remember this lady
? Then you’re getting closer.
She’s always been horrible, but now she has dementia so it’s even more … interesting, and now that she has dementia, she’s all mine. I’ve had her for two years.
Her family is estranged. My own mother and I are like chalk and cheese. Though she lives in an apartment in my house, we mix badly and rarely so I’m the last to cast stones on estrangement. Sometimes you have to save yourself. I don’t judge them, I don’t blame them, and I’ve heard they’re just as awful as she is, so who I’d really like to meet is the original breeder of this nurtured mess but I never will because the mess is huge, and generations old. No one knows who made it.
I met the granddaughter. She’s trying to break the cycle and came for closure on the mean old woman who tormented her childhood. I hope she got it. The daughter is just waiting for the money that everyone knows is there but isn’t discussing. I hope she gets it.
She has no friends. There are a couple of women from her old church that visit rarely, and always together. No one dares to come alone. One of them was kind enough to become Cupcake’s POA when the husband died before she came here, but then quickly turned management over to a guardianship company when she realized the trouble she was in. The POA lady said the husband couldn’t wait to be rid of her. That’s so sad. That’s how awful she is.
She’s very religious, but it brings her no peace. Like so many others, she wears her religion like self-righteous armor – locked up in doctrine, keeping the real faith out. The tidings of comfort and joy got lost in the din of the wailing and gnashing. She misses the heart of everything, focused on the hackles and underbelly.
I love her.
Of course, I’m paid to. I'm no martyr. I couldn’t be bothered with her in my outside life. I couldn’t afford to. I have some family members that are negative people and I just don’t deal with them unless I have to. I don’t make friends with negative people, though they are often drawn to me. I’m not talking about people that have negative days, or negative situations, or negative opinions – we all have those. I mean the ones that have negative lives, the ones that wallow and revel and roll in it. I know myself and I know I can’t afford their misery.
I ignore them if they cross my path, or shoot a little jolly acid in their faces and run. Oh, I’ve been known to give them a scold or two, but that’s only when I’m feeling weak and threatened – or feel that someone weak is being threatened. It’s best to keep walking on your path and not stop for them. They’ll suck your happy soul right out of you if you give them the chance. It’s not really their fault; it’s just what they do, what they know. Some of them can change, but there’s no point in investing yourself in that. They need to have their epiphany on their own and catch up with you later. Count them as lemons and check out. There are plenty of peaches here, and life is hard enough.
When I’m working, I’m different. I love the lemons the best.
The people I take care of are helpless; sometimes negativity is the only power they have, but they have no power over me, no soul-sucking abilities - so that’s definitely part of the reason I can love them. I can afford them. I can keep my painful buttons hidden where they can’t reach – you can’t do that on the outside. And too, caregiving is very base. All of us really need and want the same 2 basic things. We want to be safe and we want to be loved and I believe we all deserve it. When I’m working, I can give both of those things – to anyone, no matter how awful they are. The more awful they are, the more they yearn for those things and the harder it is for them to feel them, so I’m drawing deep from my well and working at the very top of my game. I’m giving love and safety like there’s no tomorrow. They challenge me to give them more, to be the most purely human I can be. So it’s also about loving myself, the harder I work to love the mean ones.
Do you see? They force my best self out, and I like her.
It’s all about me.
What I've got's full stock of thoughts and dreams that scatter
But you pull them all together / And how, I can't explain
You make my dreams come true
The last reason I love the lemons is because they are funny as hell, especially when they’re crazy. They’re like cartoon characters. You can’t hate a cartoon character because they aren’t real. You can only laugh at how evil they are and root for them a little in their terrible schemes. They’re always getting stymied anyway, so there’s no real danger. I can feel sorry Cupcake all day - and I do - but pity isn’t very useful in my work and it’s never really wanted. Humor is crucial, and mine is large and screwy. Cupcake cracks me up, and I love her for it.
She’s the first thing I do every morning because she’s always the last to get going. She takes forever to wake up and has to coil up and hiss for a while before she can strike, so I go to her room first thing and start making little warning noises before I get on with making breakfast for the others. I crack the blinds – she has a sweeping view of water and mountains – and turn on her lamp. I sing a soft,
I rattle her medicine boxes and clatter her pills around for good measure and go up to the kitchen.
(My lady is calling for her mama from downstairs. It has gotten a little better, but it stills goes on and on. Just because I’m thinking about somebody else doesn’t mean she isn’t running her tape. Just so you know and don’t feel cheated. I’m working the stairs too, cranking out the tunes.)
When Cupcake finally does wake up, she will come up slowly, grunting and wheezing, coughing and gagging. She’s precious. She sits swaying on the edge of the bed, a fractious little hunchbacked imp with stupid hair and no teeth, snarling and spitting, grunting one-word orders at me with her eyes screwed shut, her face all bunched-up and sheet-creased. I have to bite my cheek to keep from laughing at her. Every morning.
I find her purse and hand it to her. She hides her purse in her bed at night. It’s filled with useless junk that she is always accusing us of stealing: 5 cheap combs, a multitude of hairbands and clips and bobby pins, a package of 1.5 volt batteries, a wallet with no cash and long-expired credit and business cards, ancient candy, broken nail clippers, and a thousand tissues. She wraps her things in napkins and tissues to disguise them and hides them in her purse and around her room. She needs help to hide them but can never remember which one of us helped her or where we hid them and when she’s feeling paranoid she trusts no one, so she’s sure her things have been stolen. This happens every day. The most common stolen items are her grey slacks – she never had them here, her good glasses – she has only one pair that she insists are not the ones she’s talking about, birdseed (wtf?), and hairbands – any one or type, including imaginary. We buy her hairbands when we are out in the world because we are idiots trying to please her; one more for her to worry about; one more for us to steal. She’ll accuse the one that bought it of stealing it tomorrow. I swear we’re gluttons for punishment, and I’m the guiltiest. Ha.
She means she wants a new one – it will be squirreled into the purse with the others as soon as I turn my back. Not because I would keep it from her. She just doesn't want me to see where she hides it.
I sit down next to her and hold the drink so she can suck on the straw. I put my other arm around her hips to hold her up a little. She’s wearing the black and hot pink Victoria’s Secret jammies I gave her. She loves them, and she looks cute and ridiculous. Grumpy little goofus.
I rub her back. Here’s where I will start to babble to her, when her sentences get longer and less urgent. She lets me talk about nothing because she thinks she’s stalling the end of the back rub or stalling getting out of bed, but I know she’s not going anywhere for a while – no matter what I do – so I just rub her back and talk softly to her about nothing, to keep myself entertained while I wait. See how patient I am? I hate waiting for anything, so I feel like a saint and it makes me all the more charitable. I could sit here all day being lovely. Ha. I’m dying to roll, chop-chop, but she’ll never know it because I’m so good at playing her game. I want her to win. We can play all day with her winning, which means I’m beating the pants off of her. We both rule triumphant, and eventually she’ll have to go to the bathroom. Then we win again. It’s crazy how often we both win at this game. She has no idea we're on the same team.
Next she will start her litany with her eyes still closed.
I’m glad you’re here. Is the other one gone?
Jen? Yeah, she left at 7 when I got here.
Good. She gives me the creeps.
Jen does? I thought you loved her.
Huh! Not anymore. She had little kids in and out of my room all night, pulling me out
of bed by my ankles. Gave me the willies and I didn’t sleep a wink.
Oh, I’m sorry. How weird! That’s not like her.
I’ve been laying here awake for hours waiting for you to get here.
Really? I've been here since 7. I peeked in a few times and I thought you were fast asleep.
Who could sleep? I’ve been awake all night waiting.
Oh I hate that, waiting for morning. You’ll have to take it easy today.
Well, I guess she hates me now. Didn’t even to say goodbye. Didn’t say a word to me.
Jen’s crazy about you. She probably thought you were asleep like I did and didn’t want to bother you.
Pfft! I was wide awake all night!
Well, you had me completely fooled.
That’s not hard. Fooling you.
Nope. I’m dumb as they come.
You said it, not me.
Ha. You got me.
She opens one eye and sneers. She’s a mean one, alright. Crazy to boot. My fave.
I sing Bad, Bad Leroy Brown in my head while I talk.
He got a 32 gun in his pocket for fun / He got a razor in his shoe
And I chuckle. She’s awful.
I sputter with laughter. As horrible as she is, Cupcake has never really lost patience with another resident before. She’ll be borderline rude to them, maybe roll her eyes behind their backs, but this is the first time I’ve heard her lose it.
Well, I’m sorry, but I told her the other day. I said, “Now, you are just going to have to stop this business. This is enough now. I’ve had enough of this mama business.”
This kills me and I’m rolling. We’ve all had enough of this mama business. If my best self can barely stand it, it has to be pure torture on a sickly mean-hearted wretch like Cupcake. I imagine how she had to hold back, how long she must have waited before giving that little speech. Firm, but not too mean. As hard as I’m laughing, it also makes me proud to know she’s been giving the best of her game, too.
Oh my God. What did she say?
Well, you know she couldn’t care less. She never listens to anyone. Oh, she’ll stop for a minute and start right back up again, you just wait. She’s stubborn, is what she is. You can’t help noticing.
I laugh until I’m weak.
Cupcake pulls a face. See? She has to grin a little, seeing me helpless.
She doesn’t know how to laugh. She scoffs, snorts and jeers, but there is no real laughter, nothing spontaneous. She has a sharp and wicked sense of humor, but it doesn’t really please her. Or it does, but she doesn’t laugh. I can’t imagine living. I laugh all day long. Even on my lowest days, I don’t think I’ve had a day when I didn’t laugh at least once. I come unhinged with laughter. That deep and uncontrollable better-than-sex laugh that bubbles up, splashes out, hurts a little and leaves me dizzy with the glow of it. In fact, I have to practice not laughing because it can tend to come out at the wrong times.
Wedding ceremonies, for instance – I’m awful for them, laughed half to death during my own. I’m in a wedding in a couple of weeks and I keep getting the giggles just thinking about trying not to laugh during the ceremony. Anyway, Cupcake and I make quite a pair. We’re on the same team. She loves to make me laugh, and she’s in luck because I’m really good at it. I make a monkey out of myself trying to get her to laugh, and she just can’t – and that makes me laugh at myself for being such an imbecile, which pleases her because we both love to make fun of me.
She does treat me like a fool, but I don’t think she believes I’m stupid. I think she would eat me alive if she really thought so. Once I sat next to her on the couch in the front room, straightening her tube and making sure her alarm was clipped to her. She put her hand on my leg and said,
They can never call us fools, you and I.
I leaned my head on her shoulder and said,
Nope, Cupcake. They can call us just about everything else, but never fools.
We both sat there a minute, smiling at the thought of being so wise and despised. On the same team. I wanted her to gather me in her arms and sing to me, but she pinched my thigh really hard instead. HA! Ow.
This is how she loves me. Her nails are sharp and it hurts, but there is love there too. She likes to hold my hand, driving a thumbnail into my knuckles. She likes to see how much I can take. Her love is pointy, a hard and nasty little ball of spikes. I laugh at it and toss back to her.
Mine is soft and I throw like a girl, but my aim is pretty true.
Once I was trying to get her to finish her juice and she said,
What do you care? You wish I was dead anyway.
It floored me and I snapped at her:
You listen to me, Cupcake! You are my reason for getting up in the morning, the first thing I think about. When you are well I’m afraid you’re going to get sick and when you are sick I’m afraid you’re going to die. You’ll likely die before me, but it’s going to be hard for me to let you go, so as long as you keep waking up in the morning I’m going to keep trying to get you through the day. I’ll be good to you. I’m going to miss you like hell when you’re gone and that’s the truth, so you need to watch what you say to me because it’s mean and I don’t deserve it!
That was my only real scold at her. Almost verbatim. I was feeling weak and threatened, and she got me good. She found a button. Angry and teary, I wanted to paste her to the wall and tell her all about herself, but my best self wouldn’t let me do it. My best self keeps her safe and loved.
She just grunted and shrugged. Oooh, she’s horrid. You have to admire it.
I guess I’ll just sit here and wait until you decide if you’re going to bring me any tea then.
But I could see her underneath where she’s alone, and I know she wanted to believe me. I hope I gave her a reasonable doubt. We should all leave this place knowing we will be missed by someone; that someone sees us going. She only has us. Every word I said was true.
I love you, Cupcake. You’re a tough nut to crack.
It takes one to know one.
Then I wouldn’t know. I’m totally cracked.
You said it, not me.
I said it and I'll get your tea too, Scrooge McDuck.
It's about time.
That was a couple of months ago. She was healthier then, more full of it. She’s dying now and it’s taken the some of the wind out of her sails. Literally. I was told this morning that this time is it. She can’t come back from this one. It could be 2 days or 7 days, but she won’t last into the following week. Oh.
Somehow it’s harder to let the mean ones go. The others had real lives, people that loved them, people they loved. They know how to laugh. They had joy. They’ve had the 4 food groups of life. The thrill is gone and they’re ready to roll. It’s easier to want that for them because they’re done here. It’s hard to feel like the mean ones are done. I want them to hurry up and get it before they go. / Here, I’ll show you! It’s right here! / Somehow I think they’re going to stick around until they get it, then they don’t.
A lifelong asthmatic, her poor lungs have had it. Severe scoliosis and osteoporosis are squeezing her spine over and her ribs in, crushing out what little air capacity she has left. There will be no more hospitals; she doesn’t want to go and there’s nothing to be done that we can’t do here. She’s been on oxygen since the last time she was hospitalized, and the amount she needed kept increasing until she reached the max. She’s staying above 90 percent saturation, but she doesn’t feel like she has any. Her lungs spasm and grab for more as they fail. This is an awful way to go. No one deserves it, not even the most awful of us. But remember: it’s not about what you deserve as much as it is about what you get.
We have to work with what we’ve got, so we give her morphine and Ativan to calm the panic, to help her feel the air she’s getting. We give her Albuterol treatments to try to keep here airways clear. If nothing else, it helps her think it is helping. She mostly sleeps now because the drugs knock her out. She’ll wake up gasping and need more. We try to give it often enough to prevent the panic from coming, but she’s progressing quickly and we also have to be careful not to overdose her, so sometimes we’re too late and she panics anyway. She’s lucky that the drugs work for her, and they work fast. Not everyone is so lucky.
Sometimes when she panics, my own throat closes with pity and my own lungs squeeze shut. I have to turn away from her terror, her pleading eyes - to shake myself and blink fat tears. There is no room for pity here. She needs strength, and I have it. My best self. The drugs under her tongue, a hand on her head, and the voice softly talking about nothing, singing and soothing her down, until the drugs kill the panic and she can sleep again.
Heal my heart and make it clean / Open up my eyes to the things unseen
Show me how to love like you have loved me
I’m no great singer, but I know lots of songs. I can yank lyrics right out of the stairs and keep them coming. I’ll find the song she needs, or one that works, to get her where she’s going. I will. Today, if I have to.
But right now, it’s time to get C up and I need the relief of doing it. Here’s a fun and easy trap I fall into. Anyone who has spent any time with a non-verbal person may know what I’m talking about. Sometimes I just feel like I have to fill the silence. So I babble. I tell him outside stuff. My outside life is pretty simple, so he doesn’t get a lot of dirt on me, but he gets a lot of stuff, if you can imagine. I also bust out songs on him as we work. I know I drive C crazy sometimes, so I’m careful to ask him if he wants me to shut up and leave him alone – and he’ll say yes if he means it. I’ve had other caregivers ask if he likes me and he answers yes. He wouldn’t necessarily be comfortable saying no, but he wouldn’t have a problem saying nothing and closing his eyes, which would mean no. When they ask him if I drive him crazy, he just laughs. That means yes, but that he’s okay with it. So I sally forth. One of my favorite getting-C-ready raps is the one I do today:
I wanna rock right now
I'm SB and I came to get down
I'm not internationally known
But I'm known to rock the microphone
Because I get stupid, I mean outrageous
Stay away from me if you're contagious
Cuz I'm a winner, no, not a loser
To be an MC is what I choose-a
Ladies love me, girls adore me
I mean even the ones who never saw me like
The way that I rhyme at a show
The reason why, man, I don't know
So let's go cuz
C rolls his eyes, laughs, and groans at me. I bet he wishes he could rap with me – he has to know this one by heart now, we’ve been working to it for 2 years. His brain damage totally screwed his body over, his social boundaries are wiped out, and his sense of time is gone, but he knows music and people. He knows what movies he’s seen and whether he wants to see them again. He still knows the capitols of the states, and probably everything else he ever learned in school – and he has a doctorate, so it’s far more than I know. I bet he wouldn’t miss a word of our rap if he could just say it.
We flow through our routine, and I get him in lift, and then lower him into his chair. He’s got a busy afternoon coming and I don’t want to wear him out too early, but I want him to throw up his hands a little. It keeps us in shape and makes us laugh.
So throw up your hands
Go for what you know
Bro, I got an ego
Yo, talkin' to me? No?
We’re just finishing up when there is a loud and awful groan from the other side of the house, a grating, whining, retching sound I have never heard. Rasping and heaving. Again and again.
I look at C. His eyes widen and he shrugs.
Oh my God.
I run down the hall toward Cupcake’s room.
(Oh God, I can’t do this, I can’t do this alone, this is too horrible, why am I here for this, don’t make me do this, oh that’s awful make it stop, I can’t do this, please, I can’t do this)
I can do this, but it’s not even her. She’s sleeping peacefully, doped to the nines. Her breathing is shallow and wheezy, but quiet. What is that horrible deathsound?
I realize it’s coming from outside, and I step out onto the deck just off Cupcake’s room. At the house just below ours to the south, 3 little girls are playing on a swing set. It’s May in Seattle, the weather is finally nice enough for swinging, and the chains of the swing grate and grind on the metal as they try to get over the rain and do their springtime job. The little girls pump their legs and chatter happily. A woman sits on the steps of their deck holding a mug and smiling while she watches them. I’m above them, a birds-eye view of their little scene. As I stand there watching, the sound of the swings loosens and lessens with use. The sound of death snarling up my back was really just life playing in the back yard.
The sun is out and the day is clear and clean. There are boats on the water and blossoms on the cherry and crabapple trees. I can see our peonies bounding up in the yard below, fat buds on the stems. The pink blossoms will be humongous when they finally bloom, bowing their heads to the ground and pulling their own stems over. Kind of a bad design by the heavens, but heavenly gorgeous just the same. I’ll show you when they bloom.
Happy little girls are so happy, aren’t they?
I’m still recovering from the sheer horror that Cupcake is going to die terribly in my face right this minute, so my thoughts are with her – but now they are also tangled up with these girls and their mom. Was Cupcake ever a laughing little girl? Who stole her joy? Almost all of us are born capable of it. She must have had it at some point. Where did it go? Did she wrap it in a napkin and hide it? Why? Does she have to die before she finds it? Yes, I suppose she’s - -
Blah! I yelp, jump out of my skin and turn around. The old guy next door is out on his deck hollering at me.
SLEEPING ON THE JOB AGAIN?
I laugh, make a face and do a little dance ala oh-you-scared-me-I’m-such-a-boob and head back inside. I’d rather have him think I’m a friendly goofball than a broody deep-thinker. I’m both, but don’t tell anyone. I’ve got a rep to uphold on this little stretch of road. People start expecting you to think deeply all the time and it gets really old and maudlin.
We have a petting zoo coming today at two. It’s a party for C, whose birthday was Wednesday. Truth be told, a stripper would be more appropriate; the dude’s got a libido the likes of which I have never encountered (Yes. I mean never. You’ll have to give this one to C, fat lot of good it does him). Anyway, a petting zoo it is. C also really loves animals, so it’s not like this is totally off the map. It’s just that a stripper would be so much more … whatever. I lobbied for a stripper and they all laughed at me. Even C. Sometimes I feel like no one knows how smart I am.
Cupcake is starting to come out of her stupor, and starting to cough. Coughing starts the panic, so it’s time for another breathing treatment and more drugs. I go to the fridge in the storage room pull a morphine dose out of the lockbox. I’m going to try to hold off on the Ativan for a bit. I’d like her to be pleasantly stoned for the petting zoo, but awake if I can swing it.
Ted has come to help set up tables out on the parking strip. The little zoo will be set up in the double driveway. Ted is a friend of my boss who comes over to help with parties. He’s an extremely handsome man of about 40, gay as can be, and Cupcake has the hots for him. He’s a really good guy, and nice enough to humor her crush. She says she’s known him for years, and that he used to come to her house and give her and her husband pedicures. HA! That slays me. He told me very quietly and seriously that it wasn’t true, which just about did me in.
He sits in her room with her for a bit while I get the other residents up from their naps and start getting them ready to go outside. Cupcake loves men. She gets all sweet and kittenish around them, the little ratfink. She even rallies a little when Ted comes into her room today, while she’s dying. Ted’s stoked about the petting zoo:
Are you excited about the animals, Cupcake?
I’ve already got one in my room, haven’t I?
She arches an eyebrow and puts her fist to her chin. Hussy! Thank God we put her teeth in earlier or she’d kill me dead. I go and gather the things we’ll need with us outside. We’ve got a lot of equipment.
I need stop back by to check on her before I start taking the others out, so I step on the Sarita lift and skate it down the hall clumsily.
Look, Cupcake! I’m a Macy’s float! Princess wave!
She looks at Ted and rolls her eyes. Ted says,
She really likes you. She just told me.
I like Jen better.
HA! She can’t even let me have the compliment she just paid me. Not to my face. And here I am breaking my neck to be a float for her!
I thought Jen gave you the willies.
No, that was the other kid. Thor.
Thor? (Who is Thor? Isn’t that a superhero?)
Yeah. Thor. I worked with her for years. She can’t say 3 words straight. Plus, she stole my grey slacks. Jen is my favorite.
You’re her second favorite then. (Ted tries to save it)
That’s cool. If I have to be second to someone, I’m glad it’s Jen and not Thor.
This is true. The residents have excellent taste. Their favorites are always my favorites and their least favorites weed themselves out quickly because they suck as caregivers. Besides, Cupcake calls me Jen half the time so there’s always a chance I’m her real favorite after all. Gotcha, squinchface!
Jen? I can’t stand that kid. She gives me the creeps.
HA! You’re killing me, Cupcake.
And your name is?
I’m Sunny, hot stuff. Your favorite. Don't forget and be sure to tell the others.
You said it, not me.
Ted and I are laughing. Cupcake flashes me a pirate smile and a wink to let me know she got me again. She’s high as a kite and enjoying herself. I’ll take it.
Who would be the fool to take you / Be more than just kind
Step into a life of maybe / Love is hard to find
In the church of the poison mind
The animals are here and the party is in full swing. The whole front of the house is full of people. My boss is one of those flighty unorganized women with a heart of pure shining gold. She’s accidentally bought and hung a ‘Happy Retirement’ sign across the garage. She doesn’t even notice it until I ask her who’s retiring – halfway through the party.
(Well, I didn’t know! She’s just the type that would have jammed someone else’s party in with this one! I have no idea who half these people even are!)
She howls with laughter and makes me take a picture of her in front of the sign. It’s a great picture. The irony of the ‘retirement’ mistake is not lost on us; C was recently put on hospice, which means his life expectancy is less than 6 months. In the meantime, he’s stuck with a lunatic nurse and a dingbat caregiver at a retirement party in a petting zoo. We laugh until we cry – and don’t mention it to anyone. They won’t notice the big purple banner at centerstage, right?
(Later tonight, as I’m falling asleep, I start giggling about this again. I try to be quiet, but it bubbles over. The excellent Mr. Byrd groans, Oh God. He really gets tired of me sometimes. HA!)
J is leading the pony around and around, saying over and over,
And he does; a deranged and wizard-y farmer with a very fat pony. The pictures I take of him today will keep me laughing for years.
J is about as weird as they come. We had to ask him specially to trim his mustache for the party. He has a thing about getting rid of his dead cells, so it always looks like he’s going for a world record. His caseworker is taking him to get his fingernails cut later, and not a moment too soon. They’re long like talons (he would love to know I said ‘talons’). He wears a dumb little fishing hat, and a plaid button-down shirt – tucked into sweats.
If you saw him, if you knew all of his weird compulsions and rituals, you might tell me to run for the hills - but he’s the gentlest person I know. We like to talk about language and religion, and more specifically about people, on the days he’s home for lunch. All three subjects fascinate us; we could go on for hours if I had the time. If he murders me while I load the dishwasher one day, you can say I-told-you-so. That’s fine by me because I’m willing to bet my life it will never happen. I’ve lived and worked beside people with mental illness long enough for it to rub off, and I can tell you that these people that make you uncomfortable are rarely dangerous. They’re almost always underestimated, but almost never in the ways you might think.
My Lady doesn’t give a rip about the animals, being a farm girl from way back -
Do you like the animals, my lady?
Yes, I will eat them.
Ha! You’re savage!
She is enchanted with all of the kids. She humors us by holding a puppy for a while, but when I ask her if she wants to hold a bunny, she says,
And I don’t blame her. The boy she has zeroed in on is primo, a beauty of 6 or 7 who struts around in little jeans and an orange t-shirt, looking right into the eyes of each animal one by one. Not picking them up or petting them, just checking out their souls. I get a great shot of him and the pony gazing at one another.
S isn’t very interested in the animals, but this is the most action he’s seen in months so he’s feeling pretty slick. Plus, his granddaughter is here – a bright and devoted young lady of 19 (she’s already starting to get interested in boys! he told me) – and he’s just beaming as he watches her fall in love with a baby goat. He is one of the most unfortunate dementia patients, torn between reality and delusion. He often tries to fake it because he knows the things he’s thinking and seeing just aren’t right and he questions his own sanity, but doesn’t want anyone else to. I have to wonder if he thinks he’s hallucinating this shindig, but I’m not so sure that I’m not, so eff it. Let’s party.
Cupcake is holding a mini Chihuahua puppy, a little black and white guy about the size of a Coke. He’s licking her face like mad. If she wasn’t dying I might be worried about germs, but she’s loving it and germs can’t hurt her now. Her eyes are glazed with morphine. She has tenderness with animals that she isn’t able to summon with people. I take about 10 pictures of her loving the puppy so softly. What would her life have been like if she could give that to someone?
J’s case manager is here with her 3-month-old baby boy. We haven’t seen her since she went on maternity leave. J’s a little nervous of the baby, but I’m a total sucker so I take him out of her arms and scoot away with him. He’s a dinky little guy, smaller than mine were I think. I gather him up to my neck and he grooves right in and relaxes. Babies dig me because I keep moving and don’t bother them too much as long as they let me hold them. I take him around to show the residents. They all love babies (except Cupcake; babies get too much attention for her taste – they get spoiled, you know, and then there’s nothing you can do about it) and we don’t see nearly enough of them around these parts. I lean down to show him off to C and mutter a little bonus rap at him while I move the baby to the beat:
I'm pumpin' em, I'm pumpin' em,
I'm pump-pump-pump-pump-pumpin' em
From Pakistan to Poland / Straight into your town
Scoopin' up kiddies like a circus clown
The baby and I keep cruising before C can roll his eyes at me. I crack myself up!
S surprises me with how delighted he is, though. I wouldn’t have pegged him for such a sucker, but he’s gone plain moony over this baby. I hold the baby down low to his wheelchair and let him stroke his head and cheeks, marvel over his tiny pajamas until the baby gets mad and I have to get him moving again. As we walk, I croon in his ear,
We want the funk / Give up the funk (ow) / We need the funk
Gotta have that funk
I had a feeling that was his favorite song and I was right.
With the Funkmaster tucked under one arm and my camera in the other hand, I step over the oxygen tube, climb over the animal fences, sidestep wheelchairs, and stand on the curb to get an epic shot of the patients, their caregivers, their caseworkers, their families, their neighbors and their animals in front of the ‘Happy Retirement’ banner.
This is a serious freakshow, and I’ve almost got the poster for the movie when up the street walk two little boys, both dressed as Batman, with their dog and their parents following behind. Their costumes are identical, complete with ‘muscles.’ Being superheroes, they quickly assess the situation and leap into the pen with the goats, lambs and bunnies, while the dog goes nuts, circling the pens and sniffing madly at the baby pig and Chihuahuas (Careful, dude! That pig bites!)
All I was missing was 2 Batmen and a frenzied dog. I can see that now.
I have the shot and I take it.
I think to myself,
What the deuce? This is my job?! This is too awesome!
We get a new lady tomorrow. I hope she’s a corker.
I’ve got the giggles again and look across the chaos for Cupcake.
She looks up and sees me, sees me laughing. She smirks, and slowly raises one hand.
I get my last picture. It will probably make me cry. Later.
I never made promises lightly / And there have been some that I’ve broken
But I swear in the days still left / We’ll walk in fields of gold
You Make My Dreams by Hall & Oates
Bad, Bad Leroy Brown by Jim Croce
Hosanna by Hillsong United (sung by SunnyB)
It Takes Two by Rob Base (SunnyB on the mic)
The Church of the Poison Mind by Culture Club
Push by Prince (SunnyB on the mic)
We Want the Funk by George Clinton (sung by SunnyB)
Fields of Gold by Sting