These thoughts trail me, pressing on my skin from just below the surface, as I visit my friends in the nursing home. On the second floor, the air is hot and pools in my throat, and I'm careful not to breathe too deep, for fear my sensitive stomach of late would lose its cool. I find my friend in the dark of her room, a curtain separating her from her roommate, the news on as usual. She lies in here all day, every day, in too much pain, she says, to be moved to a chair and wheeled to activities. We chat of the latest news - the Pope, a plane crash, what Match.com is, a drug that's been recalled, the return of Dancing with the Stars. Her eyes light up a little, as they haven't in several weeks, and I gently coax out stories as she's willing to tell them in the bits and pieces of memory tucked away.
Next to us, her neighbor steps on every one of her last nerves, calling out for room service and coffee and her daughter who visited earlier but left for home. In the space between my friend's words, I catch the mumblings of her roommate: "I would like to die and just get it over with." A bony hand smooths the wrinkle in her blanket, her face concealed behind the curtain, and lays to rest.
In another room, I walk in to my two friends resting with eyes closed in their hospital beds. I call their names, and only one turns her head to look at me, "Oh, hello. Come in." The other stares ahead, though I call her name again. "Has she been like this all day?" I turn to her roommate. "All week, actually," she replies. "She won't even eat." I walk over to her bed, lean close and touch her shoulder and she looks, ever so briefly. In her red watery eyes I see a woman enclosed behind glass, pounding with fists, her mouth open in soundless cries. Where have you gone, I ask with my eyes and the sound of my voice, but I'm fishing today and she's not biting.
I usually paint her nails, but today, she won't uncurl her fingers, so finally, I let them drop gently to the bed. And I pull up a seat next to my other friend, the one with whom conversation flows easily and freely and I could do word puzzles with her for hours, and she shares quotes from the daily "paper" circulated by the activity director in the home. We discuss an article on a slum in Kenya from the Seattle Times, lying on her bed, and swap stories of cats we once owned. Somehow, we land on the topic of birds and I gush of my admiration of blue herons and my search for a snowy owl in Ballard, and as the words spill out, I feel a twinge of guilt. This woman never sees outdoors and, though living here in Mercer Island for several years, has no picture in her mind of her surroundings. I speak of a world she now beholds in books and papers and tv programs. This place is her world, and she can't be any older than my mom.
When did I reach the age where I see my parents in the stories around me? My Papa, long gone now, a ghost in the faces of homeless men; my Mom, a glimmer in the eyes of women living in their beds. These stories, they belong to people who have been sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, perhaps even husbands and wives, mothers and fathers. Their voices cry out to me, silent, and I bear witness: I am more than this.
Linking up with Heather and Emily.