Entering Adult Territory This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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“Paramedics. Open door three, please,” the speaker on the wall squawks. As I press the button to open the door I ask, “Where are you headed?”

“334.”

Apartment 334. In a heartbeat, I know. Norman. My Norman. I grab my keys and fly through the building like a crazed woman, my mind racing.

When I got the job at the front desk of the retirement community where I had served meals, I was ecstatic. The lazy teenager in me took over. No more being on my feet eight hours straight or tolerating the old ladies who couldn’t be pleased. No more killing my back lifting trays piled high with “spillables” or having to clean refrigerators or vacuum at the end of my shift. I could kick back behind the desk, answer a couple of phone calls and still get paid a dollar more an hour!

I met Norman during my dining-room days. Every meal, 30 minutes early, there he was at table five by the window. I’d walk past and he’d holler, “Why don’t you pull up a chair and stay a while?” Not long after he sat down, his friend Paul would wander in and sit across from him. They were exact opposites, Norm and Paul. Paul was a sweet, angelic old man the residents called “St. Paul” for putting up with “that old grump, Norman.”

Norm played the “rotten troublemaker” part to a T. But he was lonely and in constant need of love, though you’d never hear him say it. I gave him the love he needed and the attention nobody else would. When he had to wait three hours at the doctor’s office for a taxi all alone after hours, I cried for his loneliness. When he forgot the notebook that was his “life” at an appointment, I drove to get it for him. He would give me advice about my boyfriend, saying “Dump that piece of … ” and look out for me, saying, “You don’t look good today.”

“Well, thank you, Norman,” I’d say. “Not all of us can be as pretty as you.”

“Oh, shut up. Here, take my keys and go take a nap on the couch while Paul and I eat our breakfast. We can take care of ourselves for a while.”

“Norman! I have to work. Hush and eat your eggs.”

We took care of each other. Now I’m racing up the stairs because I need to take care of him again.

The police are outside his door, where his much-loved scooter sits. The paramedics are just standing there. He must be okay, or they would be rushing around. I ask what happened.

“Heart attack. Passed out on the bathroom floor. You have his medical card so we know what he’s taking?” I hand it to him.

“Will he be all right?” I ask.

They look at me.

“He passed away sometime yesterday evening, we think around seven o’clock.”

“Oh, okay,” I hear myself say. I turn around, and already tears are streaming down my cheeks. The trip up to his apartment that seemed so long seems mere seconds as I make my way back. Too soon, I am at my desk.

When the person from the morgue arrives, the police officer asks me to, “Come back up and give us a hand.” I again make the journey to apartment 334. I haul his scooter into the apartment and help put Norman in the body bag and onto the gurney. I look at Norman.

I’m sorry I couldn’t take care of you this time, Norman. I’m sorry you needed me and I wasn’t there. Thank you for lasting as long as you did. I love you and I’ll never forget you, I tell him silently. The police officer distracts me from my thoughts and asks, “How old are you?”

“Seventeen.”

“God, a 17-year-old seeing this stuff. What’s the world coming to?”

Norman was only the first for me to see go, but he made the biggest impact. I try not to fall in love with the residents at the community because each time I lose one, I lose a part of myself. When I gave up the responsibilities of the dining room, I gave up my childhood as well. Now I have to see adult things, do adult things and handle things like an adult. In the end, the desk job is harder.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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