I press the green button and wait for the soft buzz. I push open the security door, and enter the floor. The door clicks purposefully. Soft music spills out of the stereo in the far corner:a bluesy type of music from the 40's. The room has an air of order to it.
The main room is full of bodies:
Two are sitting side by side on the loveseat-she has slumped over, with her head resting on the edge of his shoulder. Her hands are shoved under her armpits, arms crossed. His head is cocked at a painful-looking angle, hands folded evenly in his lap. A smile plays on his full lips, across his unshaven face. He is not her husband. Her husband will come visit, from another floor, later this afternoon.
There are easily a dozen wheelchairs sprinkled throughout one area, each containing 80+ years of life. The silence strangles the room.
Most are sleeping.
Many are snoring or moaning.
A few are wide-eyed and intent, although I'm unsure what has their attention.
A couple of bodies are barely contained in their wheelchairs-they are baby-stepping themselves through the dining area, singing, crying, or smiling.
One is currently trying to pull herself up to a standing position by grasping the table with one hand, and another person's leg with the other.
There are those that can still walk as well:
A woman who spends all of her waking hours walking the entire floor-down hallways, into other people's rooms. She can no longer communicate, but she's got holes on the soles of her slippers.
A man who is sneaky-he climbs over the gate at the nurse's station, and shows up in my office. He is a bit nosey, it seems, but he has no idea what he is nosing into. He speaks, but it's all jumbled and jagged. You never know where you will find him next.
A woman who is much younger than the rest, and a firecracker. She is sassy, mouthy, and oh-so-sweet. Her eyes are full of life. And frustration.
It's pretty quiet, overall, although there are a few people who still have electrical connections strong enough to talk, sing, joke, or yell. The firecracker introduces herself to me as I walk deep into the dining room; I've now met her at least 30 times this week. But each time, she thinks she knows me, and asks about my mother. She squeezes my hand, crushing my knuckles together.
At times I just sit in the dining room, striking up silly conversations with any or all of them. It's usually pretty comical, although I find great joy in seeing their smiles. Other times, like now, when lunch has filled their bellies, and most (if not all) of them are snoring softly, I find an empty chair, and I sit among them. I watch their faces, searching for some sign of dreams behind those eyelids. I watch them sleep, like I do my girl. Most of the time, my throat tightens, and my eyes fill.
The stories inside these bodies, these minds. The memories, the experiences, the joys. I wonder if they are dreaming of their past, when their brains worked well, their words came out how they wanted, their limbs did as they were told, and they were respected. I wonder if their lives are playing on the insides of their eyelids, like an old black-and-white movie. I briefly question whether there isn't more we could be doing for them, to keep them comfortable, feeling secure. If I sit long enough, my mind wanders to the possibility of one or both of my parents being like this one day. Or worse, my own soul being trapped within a body that has a dying brain controlling it.
It isn't long before the new resident pulls her wheelchair up to me and with a set jaw, says, "I don't think I can help you."
And she scowls.
And I apologize, grasping her warm hand, all skin and bones.
In the same sentence, she replies with a cuss word or two, and a compliment about my "beauty".
Before I can respond, she pats my knee, and turns away from me, seemingly lost in thought.
If I sit too long, I will be overcome by grief not my own.
For now, I am pulled out of it. I stand and walk to my office space, side-stepping several wheelchairs on the way. I see the wandering man holding a notebook, flipping carefully through the pages. He looks up at me when I say his name, and says, "It's all right here, for everyone to read. Don't you see it?"