The monotonous droning of the machines spilled from the tiny rooms. Coughs and yells from the residents echoed throughout the corridor. The woman next to me seemed puzzled by a nurse’s simple command: “Maria, tie your shoes.” A man in a wheelchair stared out the window. No matter where I looked, I saw a lonely individual seeking companionship.
I began my nursing home journey in the dementia unit. The folks there were more remarkable, entertaining, and interesting than I expected. Each had an unmistakable peculiarity. There was Rose, who couldn’t remember her own identity but could think of a song for any word you said. There was Larry, who couldn’t recall his son’s name but could recite math facts as if they defined who he was. Eugene had a passion for checkers and played the same way every time.
I knew when I touched on a good point of discussion because (even if they didn’t realize it related to their lives) there was a convincing glint in their eyes that let me know that beneath the confusion, I had freed a memory. And even if they could not fully recognize it, a vague familiarity was settling beneath the loneliness, confusion, and doubt. A certain hope emerged.
For the hour I spent there each week, my heart was both shattered and uplifted. Every Monday for two years I punched in the code, opened the door, and entered a world where no one knew my name. I reintroduced myself to the same people every Monday, and though I had no identity for that hour, I had a purpose. To the residents I held an unfamiliar significance. It seemed that for the one-hour friendship that I gave, they gave me a certain breath of hope to my own life.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.