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NINE LIVES OF XEN: Chapter 19—A brief interlude: Jodie and Janice

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What a shit job. More often than not that was a literal assessment. The time Jodie spent wondering why she ever bothered getting a degree for this type of work was starting to consume more and more of her day. “Assisted Living” they called it. She called it wiping asses and becoming immune to the smell of piss for $13 an hour.

She had taken the job right out of college, and thought she could make some extra cash before getting a “real” job doing social work—or possibly going back and getting her nursing degree. Somewhere along the road, she lost her focus, and before she knew it, four years had passed. Now, she was 25 and still rinsing out bedpans of the elderly and infirm.

She knew that, on the basest level, she was being selfish. On a daily basis, she saw people who could not perform the most basic function. It used to humble her; now it was just humiliating. She started to resent all of the residents for making her feel as if she should be grateful for being able to feed herself. She resented them for making her feel guilty when no one would visit them.  She was just tired, and she honestly didn’t know how much more she could take.

More than anything, Jodie resented the establishment itself. Greendale Pines was no different than any of the thousands of assisted-living residences across the country. The lavish exterior promised the highest quality of living for those that you love just enough to keep around but not enough to actually take care of. The full-color brochures depicted the dozens of happy residents enjoying a multitude of activities and living out the rest of their short lives in what appeared to be the best parts of a prescription drug commercial.

One look at the hallways would show you the stark reality. No matter what colors they were painted, no matter how many pieces of “art” you hung on them, there was no covering up the nature of the walls. They were the walls of an institution. The happy and vibrant residents were nowhere to be seen—at least she didn’t see them. Instead, room after room was filled with old, shrunken bodies, either lying in their beds or struggling to keep their heads up while they sat in their wheelchairs. Lost souls who had been left in the hallway to amuse themselves would look up at each passerby as if hoping for a scrap of attention, or worse, recognition. It was the most dismal place in the world. It had been Jodie’s life for half a decade.

Jodie was in the middle of making her rounds when Janice called. “Hey, Jodie, you got anything going on this weekend?”

Janice was the type who liked to party to take her mind off of things. She didn’t mind working at Greendale so much, but that was due largely in part to her uncanny ability to blow off steam. She had often invited Jodie along in her numerous debaucheries, but Jodie always refused. She was quite amazed at Janice’s tenacity toward the subject. Maybe she could see just how miserable Jodie really was. Going out wouldn’t be the end of the world; then again, it was best not to let Janice know exactly how available you were. There was no telling what that woman had planned.

“Not yet; more than likely, I’ll pick up a shift or two” seemed to be the safe answer.

“Well, if you feel like it, a bunch of us girls are going out on Saturday night,” Janice would say. “There’s an all-male revue in town. Looks like you can use a night out.”  Quickly, as if to diffuse the slightly offending comment with comedy, she would say, “We gonna get freaky up in dere.”

As much as she hated to admit it, a night out with the ladies from the home (and away from the ammonia smell) actually sounded appealing.

“I’ll tell you what, Janice, if I don’t have to work, you can count me in.”

“Hell, yeah!” Janice exclaimed. “Oh, excuse me, Mrs. Calvin, I didn’t see you there.”

“You better watch that,” Jodie warned. “Mrs. Calvin can be a vicious little granny.”

Both ladies laughed. Maybe this wasn’t such a bad idea after all. If she started associating more pleasant memories with Greendale, it possibly could be a little more tolerable. As Jodie composed herself, she happened to look over at room 36A.

“Hey, Janice,” Jodie asked, “who’s in the room with Mrs. Robertson?”

As long as Jodie could remember, Mrs. Kathleen Robertson never had a visitor. Not just sporadic visits from family … literally, no one visited her. This always had broken Jodie’s heart a little bit. Mrs. Robertson seemed to be a genuinely loving and caring person, unlike most of the grouches she had to deal with.

“I’m not sure.”  Janice replied.  “He’s been here every day this week.”

“Nice threads,”  Jodie admired.

“Yeah, he seems to get all dressed up to come down here. All classy and shit right?  Like from another time. But you want to know the really amazing thing?”

“What’s that?”

“Mrs. Robertson has just been opening up to him. She’s been talking and talking nonstop for days.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard her say two sentences at one time,” Jodie admitted.

“You’re not the only one, honey; we all thought her talking days were way behind her. I mean, she’s like 100 or something.  I’ve heard a little bit of their conversations, and you wouldn’t believe some of the things that woman has seen. I tried to listen in as much as I could, but one time the man caught me. He just smiled and looked away, but I had this feeling that I was intruding on something I shouldn’t be.”

“I wonder who he is.”

“No telling. Anyway, you sure about Saturday, we’d love to have you, but I know how much you need the work.”

Jodie decided to finally do something for herself.

“No, I’ll be there. To hell with this place.”

This earned another chuckle from the two ladies and they went about their business.  Two days later, while Jodie, Janice and a group of the ladies from the home were enjoying themselves amongst the company of half-naked men dancing around, a well-dressed man was leaving the Greendale Pines Assisted Living Home as a well-worn cat was slipping back in.

Anthony David Lawson is the author of “Novel,” as well as a local playwright, director and actor. He will write a piece of prose presented in parts every other week in encore throughout 2015, entitled “The Nine Lives of Xen.”

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