What I Learned From A Grouchy Old Lady

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Most teens would recoil at the idea of looking after a grouchy old lady. But I was desperate for a job. Ok, desperate for the money that came with the job. So as I climbed up the  creaking porch steps I reminded myself why I was there. Money for college. Money for my coffee addiction. The door was still locked so I took a seat on a squeaky lawn chair. A few minutes passed before I withdrew a book from my purse. Might as well do something while I waited. The minutes trickled by, and soon turned to hours. After three had passed, I finally heard the click of the lock turning, and saw the wrinkles of her face. She glared at me through the screen door before turning around. I quickly gathered my things, took a deep breath, and stepped into the house. She was pouring herself some coffee, arm shaking under the slight pressure of the pot. My mom had given me a list of things I could do, and I scrolled through them in my mind.
“For breakfast make her a fried egg on toast.”
I set my bag down at the caregiver station. “Would you like me to make you some breakfast?” I asked, awkwardly aware that my voice was raised about five octaves. “I can make a fried egg on some toast.”
“No, I don’t want that.” She protested, sticking her coffee cup into the microwave to reheat it.
“Well, what would you like? I can make anything.” That was a lie. I had only learned how to fry an egg the previous day.
She made a face, pulling her now warm mug out. She shuffled behind her walker to the fridge, opening it slowly. “I guess I’ll have an english muffin.” She grumbled, pulling the bag down.
“Ok.” Was all I said before taking the bag and opening it. She sat in her recliner as I toasted the muffin. I carefully buttered it before setting it on a plate and carrying it to her. A frown was still affixed to her face as I handed her the plate.
“I don’t know what you’re planning on doing here.” She grumbled after taking a sloppy bite.
I smiled as wide and fake as I could. “My mom gave me a list, so I know what needs to be done.”
“Then I guess you better do them.” Was all she said before returning to her paper.
I’ll spare you the details of cleaning out a commode. And if you don’t know what that is feel free to do a quick Google search.
The rest of the cleaning went quickly, and because she had made me wait on the porch for so long our time was up. We nodded a short goodbye before I practically raced out of the house toward the safety of my dad’s car.
Despite the awkwardness of that first interaction I continued to help out the old lady. Perhaps for the money. Perhaps because despite her bitterness I liked helping her out. Or maybe because my mom made me in a desperate attempt to get me out of the house. Who knows?
So every weekend I woke up at the ungodly hour of 8 a.m., got dressed, ignored breakfast, and drove to that tiny house down a long dirt road. I made her breakfast and lunch. I cleaned the kitchen and bathroom. I made her bed and helped her get dressed at 2 in the afternoon. And then we’d sit and watch some crappy news. It was a pretty solid routine.
Most of the time nothing super spectacular happened. Sometimes she’d have fits where she’d scrunch up her face and raise her fists above her head and shake them in utter rage. Sometimes she’d cry about how her life was and cry for death. Then she’d get angry because she couldn’t even seem to die. It could be pretty intense at times, because I often felt the same way. Despite our age difference we were more emotionally alike than one would think. We both felt that our lives sucked and that we were unable to escape them. It was sad because she’d had a full life of friends and family, I could tell from the photos that covered the aging walls of her house. But still she ended up depressed and inside I couldn’t help but fear that the same would happen to me. Even if I went on to a life filled with all I ever wanted would I still never be able to escape my depression? Would it always sit in the shadows waiting for the perfect time to strike? When I’m old and alone will it reappear to mock my final days?
Out of all our time together, I can remember one moment more vividly than any other.  I was cleaning the kitchen when she made me sit in the chair next to her favourite recliner. She looked me in the eyes for too long before she began to speak.
“I want to explain to you why I am the way I am.”
I only nodded. I’ve never been good at hard moments like this one was shaping up to be.
“I won’t give you all the details because it doesn’t matter. But I...well I fell a while ago and it made me this way.” She reached for a tissue and dabbed at her eyes. “And I don’t like it! I’ve been independent for my entire life and I don’t need people here. I have nothing against you, and I want to apologize if I ever came across as harsh, but I just don’t like it!” She was beginning to get worked up as more tears fell down her fallen face. “And I just wish I could die and get it over with, but I can’t seem to do that so I’m stuck with you people!” She removed her glasses to wipe are her eyes. A silence fell over us as I struggled for the right words. I’ve never been good at comforting people.
“It’s ok.” I squeaked out.
“Well I know it’s ok.” She snapped.
More silence. Finally.
“I understand.” I said with slightly more volume.
She looked at me with a glare. I looked at her with empathy. I did understand, even if she didn’t believe me.
My mom likes to say that lady was a miserable person that hated all of us. She complained endlessly about her. But I saw more than the anger. Perhaps because I like to see more than what’s there. But I saw a lady that didn’t like her situation. A lady who needed people to care for her whether she liked it or not. A lady who spent every day in a sad recliner watching T.V or reading the newspaper. She wasn’t a bad person, just an unhappy one. I think deep down most people are unhappy. And I know that’s a pretty pessimistic thought but really no one knows how to achieve true happiness. Some say it’s money. Some say love. Some say peace. But even if you had all those things, like she did at one point or another, you can still end up unhappy, crying because tears are all you have left.

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