Your Mother Your Mother does not care about what you want. You wanted to be an elementary school teacher, not a nurse. But your mother was paying for college and said that the money would not be transferred to your account to pay tuition unless she saw your declaration of major listed as “Nursing” and saw your schedule of classes that showed nursing classes. You are expected to go into the family business.
Your Uncle Your uncle wants to expand the business and open a third assisted living home in Bear Bay. To do that he needs another member of the family to be a Registered Nurse to act as supervisor of the house. He does not want to hire outside the family because he would have to pay an outsider an appropriate wage. He can pay you nothing, arguing that he is paying the rent on your apartment instead of your income. You can eat at your mother’s house until you get married and live with your husband. You should be grateful that you are given your own apartment and not made to live with your mother, since you are unmarried. Even though you now have a Nursing License.
Very Old People
Most very old people do not like being taken care of by a Filipina. They do not like to be taken care of by anyone “of color.” They do not understand that it is rare to find a white caregiver in this county.
It is not a myth or urban legend that people steal from nursing homes. The myth is that it is always the staff who steal from the residents. It is just as likely, if not far more so, that the residents are stealing from each other. Not necessarily out of deceit, rather, they often do not realize that something is not theirs. Even more likely, it is the families of the residents doing the stealing. A son or daughter will visit a resident and decide their mother or father is not using the radio or not wearing a jacket they always wanted, and they will take it. Then the son or daughter’s sibling will come visit the mother or father and find something missing and blame the nursing staff. There is only a one-in-three chance that they are blaming the right people.
Benjamin Button is Insulting
A person with an Alzheimer’s Disease infected mind reverts to childhood, infancy, then non-existence. It is not magical or whimsical. It is devastating to watch someone struggle to remember their birthday and not be able to come up with the day, month, or year.
Using the Toilet
It is much more complicated than it seems when your thoughts do not connect to what your body is doing.
He comes along with the daughter of one of the residents when she is visiting her mother. You try not to make eye contact and remember dating him in high school. You try to forget how exciting it was when he unzipped your jean skirt for the first time. You hold a towel to cover the stain on your scrubs. One of the residents threw up on you, but it doesn’t look like that.
Your mother designs the menus for all three of the assisted living homes that your family owns. The meals are supposed to reflect classic American food, the kind you hear was popular in the nineteen fifties and sixties. You serve mashed potatoes most days because it is easy to feed to the residents. Mashed potatoes don’t fall off forks when you’re guiding the forks into the residents’ mouths. The mashed potatoes came from dried potato flakes from a box that has a stereotypical African-American cook on the logo.
Your Uncle’s Car
He drives a BMW, a new one that he bought the month it was released. Residents pay anywhere from $2000 to $6500 a month for room, board, and care. That money does not trickle down.
When you’re young and you’re walking down the aisle at the supermarket that has adult diapers on the shelves, you laugh. Your friends laugh too. It’s hilarious that an adult pees or poops their pants. That’s what babies do. An adult doing it is sad and gross. Yes it is. It is sad and gross. They feel awful about it, and it isn’t funny. No one is laughing. Then there are the people who don’t realize that they’ve done it, and you have to smell them to see if they need changing, then discreetly ask if they need to use the restroom and walk them down the hall. They’ve forgotten where the bathroom is and that going to the bathroom and using the toilet is something that person sometimes needs to do.
There are some residents, and this is rare, who, when their minds go and they devolve into children, then infants, find things funny. A fart becomes as funny to them as it was when they were six years old. They laugh, not at messed diapers, but at other things. At first you don’t laugh with them, but then you decide that playing along might be the best way to make them feel normal. Though they can’t always find the words, they want to feel normal.
Fresh off the Boat
Most of the staff at your family’s assisted living homes is made up of aunties—to some level or another of actual kinship—from the homeland. They never speak much English, which the residents don’t like, and the families of the residents like even less. After a while, some residents realize that the aunties care more than their own families and come to appreciate the aunties. Occasionally, one of the aunties will know better than your Uncle who owns the assisted living homes. He won’t like that. He doesn’t like to be shown up by a woman whose only skill is to cook and clean. He believes that they are replaceable. He doesn’t understand their skill at caring, at soothing. Occasionally, your Uncle will call the homeland and send for a replacement. Your Auntie who knew better will disappear. Maybe she goes back to the homeland on her own. Maybe she finds another job at another off-the-books assisted living home. Maybe your Uncle calls the I.N.S. and gets her deported. You don’t know. No one will tell you, and you’re the only one who ever asks.
Since you started working in your family’s assisted living home you stopped styling your hair. You only put it in a ponytail so it stays out of your face and doesn’t get messy. The roots at the top of your forehead have been getting torn out because you tie the ponytail so tight.
You haven’t had a date in a while, not since you came back to Bear Bay. The only guys here are the losers you went to high school with. You wonder why they’re still here. If you had time to go out with one of them you’re not sure you’d want to.
A Real Registered Nurse You frequently go on websites that post job listings and regularly see posts about openings for registered nurses at the local hospital. You are qualified to apply. You look at the salary. You return to the website to look at the salary many times. They would pay you a real wage and give you benefits. Your family would probably disown you. You always erase your browser history.
Christopher Alexander Hayter is a PhD Candidate in Creative Writing at Georgia State University. He received an MFA from San Francisco State University. His writing has been published in Cutthroat, PANK, Pif Magazine, Talking River, Jelly Bucket, The Binnacle, and elsewhere. He is currently editing his first novel and drafting his second.