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The Home This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

Withered. Weathered. Like an old leather book, with too many fingerprints on the pages, the pages ripped and torn and abused: mistreated. The acrid smell of disinfectant floods the hallways, with the lingering scent of despair bouncing off the walls, from room to room. The pungent smog of the passing of time floods the air and my nostrils. I’ve always had a skewed view of these homes—you’d hear the stories, or the horror stories rather and shudder. It seemed a sort of hell-house, you know, someplace you’d never want to go to. Or at least, that’s how they’d always made it seem. We’re sitting at the table in the recreation room of the Cedar Branch of The Home. The residents are gathered round the table, a variety of wheelchairs, walkers and the like encasing the table like the walls of a fort. A radio is blaring music from the 40s, Barbara stands up, swaying side to side singing. Billie Holiday, I think. I’ll Be Seeing You.

Several volunteers sit there, looking at one of the plethora of magazines that litter the table. The girl across from me is wearing three coats too many of eye-makeup. She chews her gum loudly, and pops the bubbles intermittently with her tongue as she hums a song to herself. The sense of quiet that encases the room is eerie. The silence is interrupted with the spasmodic cough or the occasional shouted conversation. Aside from the music, the room is dissonantly still, like the remembrance of a time passed—of memories slipping away. I tap my fingers on the table, waiting for the coffee I’ve brewed to finish cooling down. The ticking of the clock is audible in the background. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.

I’m waiting to leave, sitting on edge. I’ve been here five minutes, and already I can’t wait to leave. Five minutes equates eternity.

I can never decide when I come to The Home what time becomes to me, either a thing of incredible relevance, or something that doesn’t matter at all; something insignificant, insubstantial, slipping away through my fingers. Something that used to have a significance but, like a definition lost, it’s something that you can still look up, but you can no longer comprehend what it means. The entire attitude, like a sort of seedling to the eyes of the people there, a seedling of something that has lost all importance to them or something that has become the paramount.

The movement around me seems to be in slow motion, a lethargy and lassitude oppressing the air around me, interrupted by the shrieking of the obnoxious coffee machine. I look up at the clock, the most apparent and obvious fixture of the wall. The ability of a small instrument to completely dominate the space around it is astounding.

Diane enters the room. Her presence brings an invigorating force to the room. To me she is my savior, the signal that I get to go and fulfill my purpose here. Immediately, everything is lighter, airier: buoyant. Her mane of frizzy blonde hair and friendly eyes give her away as the type of person meant to work with people. A definite people-person. She looks over, smiling at me. I smile back, of course, my face an automatic mirror. I do adore Diane—a great person, so sweet and so dedicated.

“Thanks so much for waiting, Jen. I had to run down to do some one-on-ones, but they took a little longer than I’d have thought.”

“Oh, really it’s no problem, I understand, it’s so easy to get caught up with things. It was so nice to get to see you, though!”

“Oh yeah, I’ll see you soon!”

Out in the hallway, I walk past the lethargic residents, some in their chairs, talking to themselves or holding conversation amongst one another; others napping in the peaceful quietude of the hallway. Well-lit and comforting, I feel more at home in the hallway than I do in the room. I’m approaching his room, and when I finally reach the room, I’m happy to see the door slightly ajar. I hate waking him up when he’s asleep.

I reach out to knock on the door, “Daddy? It’s me, Jen.”

“Jenny, you came!”

I push the door open, and dad is on his bed, lying down. His roguish smile, one of the souvenirs of his youth, is my greeting. I rush over to hug him, so glad to see him. He turns his eyes to the TV screen, turning off National Geographic with an easy click of the remote.

His room is full of books. I remember when we moved him here we brought in his bookcase with all of his medical journals and Great American Novels. His collection of Time Magazines rest above his bed. His placards of accomplishment line the wall, his medical degrees, his awards. Pictures of my mother and Kendra and I sit on the night table, right next to the book of poetry and the dictionary. All the fruits of his work, all the knowledge he’s acquired filled in this one room. It’s as if he wanted to surround himself with every possible reminder of who he is.
“Jenny, it’s been so long since you’ve been here!”

“Daddy, I came three days ago, remember? I brought you your Starbucks?”

“No, you did not, I recall…” he trailed off, looking away before turning back to meet my eyes with a pained smile. “I suppose you did, didn’t you?” His voice was tight and his eyes fluttered towards the dictionary.

“How is everything for you, dad? How’s everything today?”

“You know the usual. We wake up at seven, get our food and what-have-yous, then we eat. The food is repulsive; doesn’t stand a lick against your mother’s.”

“Mom’s chocolate cake?”

“My favorite, only second to her killer cherry pie.”

“So cliché, dad.”


“There’s a reason there are clichés, Jen. There is a reason. How is the one and only grandchild?”

“Oh, he’s great; Jack’s just started school. He’s very eloquent, he gets it from you, dad.”

“How old is Jack?”

“Seven.”

“Oh, yes. That’s right. Do you still read to him every night?”


I nod, “Just like you taught me.”

“And how’s your sister?”


“Kendra’s fine; you know, she’s working full-time now. She’s back on her feet after the accident, finally.”

He nodded at me, “Good, good.”

“What do you think of the people here, dad?”

“They’re nice; they do their job, that’s the end of it. I appreciate the watchfulness, I suppose. I just feel so…” he paused for a moment, squinting at the wall.
“What are you thinking ?”
“What’s the word… Terminal. I feel so terminal here.”


“Dad…”


“No, Jen. In all seriousness, I’m still working on accepting this. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, the hardest part is I guess knowing what’s happening to me. How long have I been here?”

I’m still for a moment, trying to refocus my thoughts. Positivity. Smiles. Happy. My hand flutters to his, and he grasps my hands with that strong grip he’s always had.

“Two months, dad.”

He nods thoughtfully, “Two months. I try to look at it this way; today’s a perfectly fantastic day.”

“That’s good, dad.”

The silence grows too long for my liking.

“I brought some poetry, dad, another book for you to read.”

I hand it to him, the worn volume I rented from the library.

He takes the book, flipping through the pages, “I’ll read it,” he promises.

We talk for a bit more, before I get up to leave. I have to work later, and he knows that. I leave with the promise that I’ll be back next week.

Walking out of The Home is like walking back into the real world. Motion is going on all around me, people talking, yelling, and laughing. Cars shrugging along the roads, and the stores and advertisements of the radios scream at me. I think it’s hard to say exactly what I can learn from these trips to The Home; I mean, I’d love to say I come back hopeful, full of the spirit of generosity. I find it hard to keep on that face. My game-face crumples outside of the room. I’m alone. Alone with dad who’s slipping away from me, and nothing I can do could stop that from happening. No matter how much money I had, no matter how smart I could be, no matter how smart he could be, nothing can stop the eeking creeping of time.


Maybe it would’ve been different if he were a smoker. Maybe it’d be different if he’d taken part in some sort of risky activity that’d have put his health at hazard. Dad’s sixty-two. Early onset, they’d diagnosed. Talk about understatement of the century. Too little time, too short. I’m sitting down on the bench outside of the home, so close to everything that I fear for him. Seeing him in there is so hard for me, hard for him too with that everlasting sense of pride. But no matter how brilliant he is, or how brilliant I think he is, he’s no match against this. The thought depresses me. The Disease slowing eating away at his inside, losing all the wisdom he’s learned, slipping right through the both of our fingers. Like a handful of sand, there is only so much time I can keep my hold on it before it slips right through both of our hands back into the ocean from where it came.

I feel so ashamed; I’m so weak. I could’ve stayed in there, could’ve stayed with him those extra moments. I remind myself he’s not going anywhere, but every moment I feel like I’m losing the perpetual game of poker, every second more and more of all his memories are leaving. All the history, a part of him and a part of me are deserting. Kendra can’t come anymore; she says it’s too hard for her. Though I’d argue it’d be better to be here for him, I can feel the toll.

My father was always a figure for both of us. “You’re just as good as any boy, Jenna. Don’t forget it. You can do just as good as any of them ever did, or ever do. Your mother was the same way, committed, devoted, you’re exactly like her you know.” I smile at the thought, looking at the cracked sidewalk beneath my feet. The autumn breeze rushes through my hair, filling the gazebo with crisp air. Next time, I’ll bring my Jack with me; he’ll be my strength.



It takes me a week before I can come in again, this time with Jack in hand.

“Mommy, we’re going to see grandpa?”

“Yes, sweetie, we’re going to see grandpa,” I say, signing us both in. The attendant gives me and little Jack a sticker. “Hello! My name is” is our calling card. We walk by Diane in the hallway and she stops me.

“He’s on the piano today, he was feeling inspired,” she smiles, “or so he said.”

I chuckle. Dad always was so great on the piano. I pick Jack up on my arm, and he squrims, pointing out the window to the birds perched on a nearby tree branch.

“Mommy, look!” he points, “Why aren’t they flying?”

“The birds don’t always fly, love.”

“Why not, mommy?”



“Because they don’t want to, love. They’d get too tired, don’t you think?”

We approach the recreation room, and I turn to see my dad on the piano. A small upright, beaten up brown Yamaha. His fingers are flying across the keys reading the music. He always said that the music would be the last to go, because it’s the first thing he learned. He’s playing the Beethoven’s Moonlight. Exhuding the pain, the restlessness, the longing. It’s beautiful.

My mind flies back into a recollection—the big house we lived in when I was younger, and how I’d wake up sometimes to the sound of the melancholy melody rising from the downstairs into my room at night, the rain pelting my window pane the universe’s sad melancholic tribute to the masterpiece.
Jack squirms in my arms, calling me back to the present. I wait until dad finishes before I let Jack run up to hug him.

“Grandpa!”

He stands, up perplexed by the child at his feet, clutching his legs. But after a minute, he remembers, “Hi there, Jacko.”

“Hi dad,” I say, approaching him, box of his favorite chocolates in hand. His face lights up when he sees me. He moves to sit down slowly on a nearby couch and he smiles, beckoning Jack to come sit on his knee. Jack looks at him for a moment before he scampers off, caught up with the piano.

We watch as Jack whizzes around the room, an energetic force in the indolence that swathes the room, covering it in a layer of gossamer. He props himself up on the table, next to an older woman, who regards him with amused eyes.

I turn my attention back to my father.

“How you feeling today, Daddy?”


“Fairly good, Jenna. I’m having more trouble reading now; there are words I don’t know anymore. I’m reading the dictionary more and more these days—more so probably than I do books.”

“Well it’s good your reading dad, great actually.”

“Where’s your mother? Why doesn’t she ever visit me anymore?”

“Mom’s not here anymore, Dad. She died, remember?”


His face fell. I try to smile, the muscles on the edges of my mouth twitching with the effort of the simple movement. Dad shifts his legs, looking at the space above my head. I feel our times together are always so melancholic, like we’re living the sonata. Every word is a note, every sigh the G sharp, every cough a D minor.

He smiles thinly, “At least I can remember.”



The next time I visit, a blinding smog fills the air. The sun is out today, but the air is thick, filled with humidity. An uncertain precipice lingers between me and the home, and as I take my keys out of the ignition and unstrap Jack, my hands flutter to my neck.

I’m wearing mom’s pearls; pearls my father had given to her before he proposed. He always had joked about how he hadn’t eaten for a month to save money for them. Maybe it was a bad idea, bringing something of such value with me. What if I lost them, these pieces of the past? My mind runs back almost automatically to when I went into the box and actually found the pearls. Perhaps it’s my own subconscious attempt to reconnect my father with his fading recognition of the existent moment. Perhaps it’s because I just like them. I’m inclined to go with the former.

We sign in, Jack and I, Jack racing ahead of me with his usual energy. I follow at a slower pace. His little feet against the floor send a peculiar rat-a-tat, reverberating echoes through the hallway up to the high ceilings and across the stucco walls. The entire hallway is filled with the sound of youth. As we reach dad’s room, I already know it is not a good day. Daddy sits there in his chair and he’s staring out the window. He doesn’t seem to hear when anyone approaches, and he remains turned, his eyes fixed on the window light fixture.

I approach slowly, hesitantly. “Hi, dad.”

He turns to look at me, a weathered and weary man. He smiles cordially, uncertainly; his eyes lack recognition.

“Have we met?”


My heart drops. Funny how that phrase, perhaps uttered by the dashing stranger or the gallant movie-star or even my ex-husband would have set my emotions in a passionate turmoil. How very opposite the emotions these utterances have elicited from me.


“Daddy, it’s me, Jenny. Jennifer Andrea Godwin, born October 24, 1980…”

My heart drops. Funny how that phrase, perhaps uttered by the dashing stranger or the gallant movie-star or even my ex-husband would have set my emotions in a passionate turmoil. How very opposite the emotions these utterances have elicited from me.

He continues to look at me, slightly puzzled now. A nurse aid comes in, and she stops me, putting a hand on my shoulder. She’s an older woman, in her fifties, with just as many laugh-lines as wrinkles.

“I’m sorry; Mr. Godwin’s not having a good day.”


I bite my tongue from my sarcastic rejoinder; it isn‘t this woman’s fault that my father is ailing. Jack jumps on his grandpa, and he’s stressed, not quite sure what to do with the child.

“Jack. Honey, you can’t jump on pop-pop right now it just won’t…”

The moment I pull him up from his lap, for a split second, I see jack’s arms before he flails his arms. Like a puppy’s reflex reaction to being grabbed up, he yelps, his arms snatching out and grabbing the first thing he could reach for—the pearl necklace. For a split second, I ee it in front of me, his hand suspended in the air before I feel the tug on the string that sends the pearls sprawling across the floor, flung through time and space into a place of uncertainty. I see the pearls, the beautiful stars of white float in the space before they fall onto the floor amongst the dust balls and ant traps.

I’m livid, not to mention speechless. I grasp Jack’s arm so tightly that he yelps, and begins to cry. The lights of the room suddenly seems too bright; all eyes are on me even though I’m only with my father and my son. I try not to so hard, but as I look at my father, glancing down at the floor with a sort of innocent puzzlement, my eyes tear.

“Mommy, I’m sorry.”

I look to the ground, getting on my knees. MY hands mechanically serch the ground, rubbing across the dusty floor.

“What happened?” Dad asks.

“The necklace you bought mom broke, Daddy.”

“I do believe I recall that actually, the pearl one.”

I look up for a moment, my eyes tearing up, and this time for a completely different reason. I stare at my father’s face for a moment, trying to absorb al my memories of him into my recollection. I stop rifling along the ground for a second and instead, I search his face. He looks back at me with the same eyes that people always told me were mine.

I glance around, trying to find the scattered pieces of memories throughout the home; I can’t find them. But maybe it’s good. Maybe it’s good that a piece of my mother will always be with him in this lonely little room, in this lonely little Home, in this lonely, lonely, little world. Because after all, he isn’t alone, and perhaps we’re not quite as lonely as I think, and perhaps behind those piercing eyes that we share is mutual recollection of truth that no degeneration can strip from a once and always beautiful mind.





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blueandorange This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Nov. 8, 2010 at 7:19 am
I like this very much.  It is so sad, yet you can see it happen, and it makes you think about your own grandparents and parents.  Excellent work!
 
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