We walk onto the sterile floor, that unique smell already filling our senses. A man grunts at us from his wheel chair, making a gesture by tapping two fingers, slightly separated, to his lips repeatedly. We shake our heads no, we don’t have any cigarettes.
The building is a white tiled, tan walled maze that we’re familiar with. Residents lull about while nurses stroll around them in their stark white scrubs. We dodge everyone, fixed on our destination.
I can’t help it. I glance in almost every room we past, seeing each person that doesn’t have the stamina or will power to be out of bed and wandering with the rest of them. Instead, they’re sunk deep into their rumpled mattresses, staring up at a little TV in their dark room.
I’d go crazy if that was me. But most of them don’t have a choice.
We check in the big dinning room first. A half circle of residents have been lined up in their chairs, a few of them pepper the dinning tables in the back, each holding a quarter chunk of a bright green pool noodle and looking lost. A nurse in the front seems to be giving instruction to raise and lower the noodle. Some residents awkwardly oblige, while the majority stay dormant, holding their noodles, and watching.
Amongst them is my Abuelita, resting her noodle across her shoulder and chest like it’s a royal sash. My little brother and I stay back as my mom hurries across the room, trying not to be a distraction, deposits my Abuelita’s noodle back in the box of extras, and wheels her out, where we meet her at the other door and exchange kisses.
We take her around the maze to the other side of the building, where I’m usually relieved to go to the mini courtyard outside, but instead she wants to stay in the smaller dinning room. So we pull some chairs together.
My job is to make conversation in my broken Spanish and do her nails, while my mom hurries about and collects her laundry, gets updates from nurses, and drops off diapers. I’m pretty good at the nail part. All my life my grandma has had long metallicy silver nails. Silver and wine red are her favorite colors. But mostly, because of the wheel chair, we go for the not-chipped look. She hasn’t been rolling herself lately, though.
She likes to talk about who came to visit her and what they said. My theory is she thrives on gossip right now. And I don’t know how therapeutic or moral it is, but sometimes I like to think of something really good to share. On a good day, she’s very talkative. When she’s maybe not so talkative or easy to understand, I can still see her keen brown eyes drift across residents and nurses alike as if she knows more than she’s letting on.
Residents can be funny. I watch them and try to imagine what their lives were like when they were younger.
Like the woman with the bare forehead and thin white hair that goes down to her shoulders. She’s constantly smoothing her hair behind her ears and muttering to herself, “keep me in my room all day, they’re not going to keep me in my room all day.” She notices her sweater buttons are off. “Button my sweater, I’m going to button my sweater.” She goes back to fidgeting with her hair, smoothing it and flipping it over her shoulders constantly. My grandma says she must’ve had long beautiful hair when she was younger.
The interactions between residents are something to note.
There’s always a yeller. For the longest time it was a woman I’ve never seen who would be in her room all day shouting, “bigamy!” That one got me thinking.
Then, the last time, it was a man randomly yelling “help!” followed by smack-smack-smacking sounds. As the residents were being wheeled in the small dining room to get ready for lunch, this man was wheeled in. And his name was Armando. The only reason I knew it was Armando was because the smack-smack-smacking sounds were him smacking his own face. Then a man in a reclining chair with chipmunk cheeks would stop chewing his white mustache to yell, “knock it off, Armando!”
Throughout this exchange was a little old woman’s constant rapping, “up-side down dig it. Dig it down, dig it. Dig it down, down, dig it,” as she popped forward and back to her beat.
Sitting in the room sounded something like this.
“Help!” Smack, smack, smack.
“Knock it off, Armando.”
“Dig it, down, down, dig it. Upside down, dig it.”
Smack, smack. “Tengo hambre. Feed me or kill me!”
“Dig it, down, down!”
“Knock it off, Armando!”
It felt wrong to smile, but I couldn’t help it. This was craziness.
Lunch being served is our cue to leave. When my Abuelita is okay that we’re saying our goodbyes, we know we’ve had a good visit and she’s tuckered out and okay with the rest of the day not being so exciting. Hugs and kisses commence. I take a “generations” selfie with my mom, grandma, and me – photo bombed by a random nurse.
And we leave my Abuelita with a fresh manicure and news from our world of my little brother’s yard work business and me coming home at ten o’clock at night from a crazy day at the shop.
We collect our things and head out. And a man by the gate grunts at us from his chair, tapping two fingers to his lips repeatedly, and we shake our heads no, we don’t have any cigarettes.