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More Than Crafts MAG
I am their sunlight, their breath of fresh air. They await my arrival, one by the window, one in the kitchen, and the final one pacing the living room, hunched over her cane.
The smell of cigarettes and moldy carpet is the worst in the foyer. I hold my breath. The door opens just as I reach for the bell.
"We don't want no Girl Scout cookies." I smile nervously, never sure if George is joking or if he doesn't remember me. He holds the door open and I squeeze past his walker. Louise and Sadie meet me in the hallway.
"Where's your daughter?" Sadie asks. I inhale, testing the air. Disappointed, I take shallow breaths, leading the two women into one of the common rooms. "My sister is still at school," I tell Sadie patiently. She asks the same question each week. Sadie puts her hand on my arm, "She's a nice girl, your daughter."
"Her sister," Louise barks back. "You never listen." I feel bad; Louise is so hard on Sadie. Sadie just laughs quietly, either because she is nervous or because she doesn't understand.
"Did you have a good week, Sadie?" I prompt. She chuckles. I abandon my question and smile at her. Smiles are just as good as words.
"What are we making today?" Louise asks without listening for the answer. She doesn't really care, it's the human contact, the socialization, that she looks forward to. I place the contents of my bag on the table: six bottles of paint and some unfinished wooden boxes.
"We're painting boxes." I cover the scarred table with newspaper and explain how to mix the paint to create more interesting colors, and give them a few ideas for painting the boxes.
Louise reaches for the yellow paint and a paint brush. She slops the color across the box, not even considering what I said about mixing colors and different techniques. Sadie just sits there.
"Sadie, what color paint would you like to start with?" She chuckles.
Louise chides her, "Sadie, Melissa's talking to you."
"Marissa," I correct Louise. After four years she still hasn't learned my name. It's all right, I don't really mind; she appreciates my visits, regardless of whether my name is Melissa or Marissa. "Which color paint shall I open for you, Sadie?"
"Pink." Sadie likes pink and cats. She reminds me every time. And she likes to color by number. I rarely have pink paint or color by numbers, and I never bring cats. Sometimes I bring pictures of cats to color, but never real cats. Sadie likes the cat pictures; she talks to them.
I pick up the red and white paint bottles. "We don't have pink paint, Sadie, but we can mix red and white to make pink. Would you like to do that?"
"Is this purple?"
"No, that's blue. Would you like to use the blue paint?"
"Yeah, the purple paint." I unscrew the cover and hand her a brush. "You don't need much," I remind her. Sadie chuckles.
I look up and see a figure hunched in the doorway. I never hear her come in. I smile. I don't know her name. Few do; she never responds when you ask. She creeps to the table, each step putting more strain on her weary body. I let out a breath as she sits down; I'm always afraid she will fall or trip. She's so fragile. "Would you like to paint a box?"
"She's deaf," Louise tells me. "She don't hear you." She's hard of hearing, but not deaf, so I try again. I always try again. When I am old, I don't want people to give up on me, and so I don't give up on her. "Do you want to join us? Paint a box?" I hold up some paint and a box as I speak loudly and clearly, exaggerating the words. She watches my lips move through her one good eye. "Just watch," she tells me, barely audible. "I'm no good at that kind of thing."
"Oh, I'm sure you're very good at painting, and besides, it doesn't matter, it's just for fun." I feel bad for her, she acts so dejected and, well, old. She doesn't respond. She rarely does. She just sits there and watches.
A silence presides. They've been here so long that speaking no longer seems like a normal activity. I sigh. It's often depressing, being here. The walls are drab and everyone creeps around, exhausted and pessimistic. They never get out, no one ever comes to see them. Where are their families - the people who should keep them company every once in a while?
It's sad they're so alone.
So I come, every Friday, armed with a new craft idea. They look forward to my visit. I am their contact with the outside world. They look at me and see youth, energy, hope, all the things they no longer find in themselves. They never want to talk about themselves, they only want to hear what I've been doing. Feeling foolish, I describe in detail all the trivial things I've done that day. They listen with interest, eating up every detail. Or maybe they just like the sound of my voice and don't listen to what I'm saying. Who knows. They never say.
I look up; she is leaving the room. Silently. "Have a nice week," I call after her. She turns slowly, her face aglow. "You too, dear." With these four words, I've made her day. It took no effort and hardly any time. So why don't more people get involved, make a difference?
"Sadie and I have to go set the table," Louise tells me, picking up her box. Sadie follows Louise to the window, where they lay their boxes on paper. "You both did a great job," I tell them, "The boxes look great."
"I can do better than that," Louise gives her usual response. Sadie smiles and chuckles at the praise, "You're a nice girl," she tells me. "Your daughter is nice, too."
"You'll be here next week?" Louise asks.
"You'll be done with school soon," Louise informs me as she walks toward the door.
"Yeah." I want to change the subject; I know what she's about to say. Louise regards me with large, sad eyes, "You'll be going to college and won't come no more."
"I'll be here a little while longer, and I'll try to come visit." I will visit, but it won't be nearly as frequently. It's not good enough, and I feel terrible. Like I'm abandoning them. I've brought happiness into their lives, only for it to be whisked away again.
Perhaps my "daughter" will come.