Generation Gap This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

For a junior in high school, many would consider my job out of the ordinary. I work at a nursing home. I would prefer to sit home and play video games but I don’t really have a choice. So I run upstairs, throw on my black scrubs, and grab my phone and name tag.

Going to work always puts me in a bad mood. It’s hot out. As I begin my short walk to work, I can already feel the sun beating down on me like a cracked whip to open flesh. It’s been five minutes and I’m soaked in sweat. I’m only halfway there.

As I walk into the cool lobby, relief waves over my scorched skin. I clock in and head to the kitchen. I prepare my juice cart and bring it out to the dining room. It smells. There’s still a lot of time until dinner and I can already hear people barking at me for juice or more cups or napkins. Any person would snap within two minutes. I’m not quite sure why I haven’t yet.

“Michael, did you start to set the tables up yet?” barks my manager, Abdul. I should have known this was coming. He asks me every day and every day I have the same answer, “No.” I go back into the kitchen to separate silverware; I’ve become a pro at it. When I return to the dining room, I have more people yelling at me. Again I wonder why I haven’t snapped. One of the ladies who lives here, Anna, is yelling because she wants peach yogurt. “Where is my yogurt?” she screeches at me.

“Anna, it’s not time to eat yet, and you just had a yogurt ten minutes ago,” I reply. The residents are always cranky and bark orders at everyone.

A new patient was admitted named Sylvia. Talk about a witch. No one likes her, including me. She, has a heavy New York accent that drives me crazy. She often sits outside and smokes.

On this day, I have completed all my tasks and am ready to leave. It’s only 7:50, so I walk to the dining room and plop myself in a seat to wait. After about 30 seconds, Sylvia rides over to me in her electric scooter and says, “Hun, open the door for me. I need a cigarette.”

I reply, “No, Sylvia, I’m leaving soon and I won’t be here to let you back in.” She objects and I don’t feel like dealing with her, so I open the door.

After a minute I clock out and go to let her back in, but she hasn’t even started her cigarette yet. I open the door and tell Sylvia to come inside, but she somehow convinces me to sit with her. As I do, she offers me a cigarette, which I refuse. She starts to complain about the nursing home and how she wants to move to a veterans’ home.

“What’s that?” I ask.

“Well, I served in World War II for four years,” she replies. I begin asking her every question my brain can brew up. Sylvia tells me how she would do it all again in a heartbeat and explains her hardships. She says, “I sometimes don’t realize I’m grumpy. I was never a grumpy person, but as you grow older, you become a prisoner of your failing body, and it makes most people upset.” I’m speechless.

As we converse like old friends, the age difference slips away. Maybe that’s why I don’t snap at the sometimes-grumpy and unyielding elders at my nursing home: We are all just people on different branches of the tree of life.

I realize, as the cool air hits me on the walk home, that one day I will be old too. The residents look at me with envy because I can do everything independently. I envy that they are being taken care of 24/7. They envy me because I don’t have to be hooked up to oxygen to breathe. They envy me because I have a home to go to and can see my family every day. I sit and talk to some of them more in a week than their own families do in months.

I can see now that I am their link to the outside world and youth. They want to ask all sorts of questions, from dating to schoolwork. A lot of the time their gruffness comes from frustration. From this working experience I appreciate life a lot more and realize that my problems are nothing compared to others’. And, oh yeah, the next time Sylvia wants to go out late for a cigarette, I won’t think twice about it.

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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Brad C. said...
Apr. 20, 2012 at 11:22 am
This was actually really beautiful to read. It comes from the heart, and I love how I can totally understand who you are, and how it shocks you when something like that happens. Happened to me too with my grandpa with whom I had never had a real conversation with, and when they open up it makes you speechless. Well done, and I am really glad you shared this, I believe a lot of people can learn from this article about acceptance.
~Wolf-Woman~ said...
Feb. 16, 2010 at 9:50 am
Yea...I only volunteer too. How do you work at a nursing home being so young? Youre only a junior. Dont you just love helping the old people? They are soo cute. :)
Aspiring Writer said...
Jan. 22, 2010 at 7:39 pm
wow! You blow me away! How do you get to work at a nursing home? I'm your age and I only volunteer.
I loved reading about your experience, beautifully written! It makes me wish that I could have an experience half as touching as yours!
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