Love Transcends Rules

Featured<strong>Love Transcends Rules</strong>

Point Pleasant Nursing Home was a popular employer for minimum wage teenage workers.

The Jersey Shore’s borough of Point Pleasant straddles an expanded spit of land on the Atlantic Ocean between the Manasquan and Metedeconk Rivers. The 25,000 year-round residents reluctantly provide an oceanfront haven for summer visitors. Evelyn Adams, two-time winner of the New Jersey Lottery, is Point Pleasant’s most famous citizen.

An old colonial institution, Point Pleasant Nursing Home sat on the highway a mile away from the mainstreet town of shops and restaurants. Shoppers at the Brave New World Surf Shop across the road supplied a low level hum of traffic.

At my interview for the job, a clear dress code was laid out: wear a uniform, no flip flops, no make-up and no jewelry. My waitress uniforms from two previous jobs at the Asbury Park boardwalk and the Olde Mill Inn were acceptable. 

New employees trained on the night shift. On my first night I clocked in at 11:00 pm. A seasoned attendant showed me the ropes. Direct patient care, other than help feeding those who needed it, was the responsibility of the nurses. We were helpers. 

Some residents were roaming the halls though it was way past lights out. We left them alone so they wouldn’t get too agitated and scream at us, which would have cascaded into waking others. Eventually they would go to their rooms, but we had to keep an eye on them lest they fall asleep in the hallway and keel over. There’s a certain knack, instinct maybe, to knowing just the right point to steer people into bed. It might be droopy eyelids, slower walking, leaning against the walls; every patient’s body gave off a different signal. My trainer told me not to worry, that I’d pick it up fast.

When all were safely tucked into bed, we began straightening up the day room while listening for disturbances from the sleeping patients. My job was to put games like Monopoly, bingo and chess in their respective boxes and wiggle them into overstuffed cabinets. I wrote down pieces of each game that were missing so the next shift could look for them in patients’ hiding spots—pockets, drawers, purses.

A completed jigsaw puzzle of an Impressionist painting lay on its box cover under a window. I put the pieces back in the box and stuffed it into the cabinet along with art supplies, books and magazines. The maintenance crew cleaned and swept.

I was instructed to offer a simple greeting to each awakening patient before my shift ended at 7:00. One woman wandered toward the day room. I followed her. She stopped at the space where the completed jigsaw had been and looked at me panic-stricken. In a flash she grabbed my hair, shrieked I stole her art, and smacked me in the face. By the time the nurse reached us we were both screaming.

And that was the end of that job.

Twenty-five years later my mother was moved to Point Pleasant Nursing Home after assisted living facilities could no longer care for her. By that time all the people with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias lived in dormitory settings on the first floor. My mother spent her time taking clothes and jewelry from others and hiding them in her closet. The nurses kept a watchful eye but said nothing. They were as relaxed with her as they were years prior when people roamed the halls until they tired out. 

Until the last, my mother did what she always loved: broke the rules.

Shallow, I’m Into The Sha-la-la-low Now

When the attendant told me I was at the wrong gate, I froze. I’d been at Midway Airport for two hours waiting to fly to Salt Lake City for my granddaughter’s 2018 graduate school graduation. My vision blurred, my legs shook and I gaped at him without speaking. I actually couldn’t hear him. Someone grabbed my arm and raced me over to the correct gate just before the jetway closed. Inside the plane, I was escorted to Row A
where they keep an eye on people. th-4

I traveled twice more that summer. Once I was in the wrong TSA line, so confused that a stranger brought me to where I needed to go, again. I’ve since developed a phobia, thanks to nightmarish remembrances of Tom Hanks in the movie Terminal—about a man who lives in the airport after he is denied entry into the US.

A friend who works for O’Hare tells me airport workers regularly experience confused old people wandering around lost and panicked. I’ve traveled a lot in my life but familiarity with airport commotion holds no weight now.

When I first retired, I was unsympathetic to people with cognitive disorders. I joined the morning exercise classes at church but not to make friends. I told myself I wasn’t like those old people. Well, those old people have subsequently shown me how to be old, have compassion for those who talk slower than I do, who will never remember my name nor I theirs, nor the title of the book we just read or the movie we all saw. Our get-th-7togethers are often hilarious games of 20 Questions where we all guess what someone is trying to remember.

There’s just not enough room for all the bits lodged in my aging brain. A mysterious natural phenomena controls the shedding and changing of my grey matter, like menstruation and menopause in my body. Trouble is, the shedding seems to be more active these days. Oh sure, curiosity fills my brain with new information but its cells refuse to let those memories form and what I learned yesterday is soon forgotten.

One technique I use to block braincell destroyers is to ignore anxiety-producing articles that say cognitive decline slows if I eliminate sugar or learn chess. Perhaps the content is correct, but I’m possessed of my own version of old age, not a researcher’s cookie-cutter version. Similarly, I cast off brain-shrinking agitations delivered by younger friends who tsk me for walking too slow or for asking them to speak up. 

However, I love music so I responded to an article about choir singing strengthening the memory and joined the Good Memories Choir. Singing won’t get me back in airports, but learning music keeps me attached to the real world. In Bradley Cooper’s remake of A Star Is Born, Lady Gaga sings about the love of the two main characters as “far from the shallow now,” as if the brain has no choice but to deepen the couple’s experience. In my case, like the reversed flow of the Chicago River, I have no choice but to spill out of the deep and into the shallow now.

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For those who don’t understand my title, I give you, with love, Shallow