The Nine Lives of Xen Chapter 1: Xen meets M.

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Love doesn’t belong here. This is a place where love, along with memories and the residents come to die.

Don’t worry if you were fooled; they’re very good at the illusion of love. The glossy pamphlets feature smiling, bespectacled, gray-haired ex-patriarchs, enjoying each other’s company. The brochures assure you the best care possible will be given to your loved one. And what better care can be given to a loved one than love?

I glance at these folded pieces of propaganda on a fairly daily basis, and it’s probably this, more than anything, that makes me realize I have no concept of the word, let alone the emotion itself: love.

I understand the compassion behind the act of leaving someone behind, convincing yourself that they will be cared by others in a professional manner. But I’m the one that stays here, day in and day out, seeing these people wither away into nothing, regardless of the level of care.

How can this be an act of love?

Not that I’m blaming the ones doing the leaving. Far from it. Who in their right mind would want the burden of caring for someone who constantly shits themselves? That kind of dedication would indicate some sort of lunacy in my opinion. It’s much easier to clear the conscious with a monthly check. No matter what the cost, it’s a fair price for peace of mind. That’s why I think visitors are so scarce. No one needs a visual reminder of the purgatory they have subjected another person to.

Don’t get me wrong: This place isn’t really all that bad as far as shitholes go. I’ve seen far worse in my time. At least the employees here are paid well enough that they can force themselves to pretend to have a modicum of sincerity when performing their daily duties.

I have been roaming these halls just long enough that most everyone who works here has forgotten when I first showed up. And since I’m being completely honest, I like it that way. Not as many questions. Then again, my kind has always been a bit mysterious. I remember them, not out of care or concern, but it serves my purpose to pay attention. It would only take a couple slip-ups for me to be looking for a new place to live. I like it too much here for that to happen; it suits my level of comfort.

It must seem a bit appalling that I can find such a place comfortable; quite frankly, I could care less about appearances. As long as my life is easy, I’m happy. I think it’s that attitude that keeps me young. Well, that and the company I keep. Anyone can look young hanging around this lot. The best way to feel better about yourself is to come down to a place like Greendale Pines and surround yourself in a sea of wrinkles. Not that I have to worry about such things.

You get used to residents. Although the actual people rotate on a frequent basis, the faces look the same: deep lines and desperate eyes. Desperation beats the alternative. Better desperate than just plain dead.

The dead eyes of the living have always freaked me out. You see them breathing, the chest rises ever so slightly, but the fight has gone out and they are simply … waiting. That’s why places like this could never be called “hospitals.” In a hospital a waiting room is a place that you wait to get better.  Here it’s the place that you wait to die. The same faces over and over.

It’s true you really can get used to anything.  I have been here long enough to get used to the faces. I walk up the hallways, avoiding their touch and providing no comfort at all. Yet, they always seem to welcome me. That’s how I live. No surprises.

Then I see her.

Confused, at first I think she’s just visiting, but visitors are not permitted in the admitting room. It makes no sense; someone that young should not be admitted to a place like this. I back up and peer through the door to stare at her. She couldn’t be more than 23—maybe 36. I’ve never been good with age. She sits there in her wheelchair as the administrator proceeds to tell her family the ins and outs of Greendale Pines.

I don’t hear a word. I can’t take my eyes off her. She seems trapped in her own body, barley able to move more than sporadic jolts.  Her right hand is clenched into a fist that never relaxes. It is quite possible it would never be able to open. She is frozen in place in that chair like a piece of demented modern art—except for her eyes. They are afire with life, darting around the room, taking in the surroundings. She’s obviously unenthused about her current situation. A living statue—and she is beautiful.

I have no idea from where the thought came. Riveted, I try to turn and walk away, but I can’t. Finally, her roving eyes find me.  It’s like I know her instantly. I can understand her frustration. She isn’t upset over the fact that she is being abandoned; she is pissed off at her own body. She feels betrayed, not by her family but by her flesh. I see the life in her desperate to get out. I feel the depression of the reality that it would never happen. I can’t look away. These are not the eyes of someone waiting; they are the eyes of someone wanting.

Suddenly the word made sense in an instant: love.

But it didn’t come with the ecstatic feeling that thousands of douchebags have waxed poetic about. There is no chorus of angels or floating hearts. There is only fear and pain; it’s how I first understand love. I am afraid. I hurt. I now feel more about someone else than I do myself. It terrifies me.

I could be responsible for my actions, simply take care of me and have only myself to blame when I didn’t do a good enough job.  Now, someone else is occupying space in my brain—something new to be concerned about.

I feel powerless as I watch my once simple and comfortable life slip away. The best outcome would be for her to not be admitted—to leave this instant. But it’s too late for that. If she left, I would wonder what happened to her—if she were being cared for properly. If she stayed, just maybe I could do something to help.

Already, love was making me crazy. Honestly, what help could I give? What chance could we ever really have? Despite all of these feelings, I was falling in love with her, which is pretty unfortunate. With her being practically paralyzed…

And seeing as how I’m a cat.

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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