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The View from the Front Desk This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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I am a receptionist. Other than sit around, I answer phones, disengage the alarm on the front and back doors, and call the kitchen to bring more coffee to the lobby. Being a receptionist at a nursing home means I spend the majority of my time inhaling the smell of sick. I have actually become immune to it. Most newcomers walk in and crinkle their noses; I get ready to say “Bless you,” only to remember my initial reaction on the day I filled out my job application.

It is risky business working at a nursing home. Too often I find myself a human barrier preventing residents from escaping into the free, fresh outdoors.

“But we just want to go outside, and then we'll come back inside.”

These are words I hear in my sleep. The man who speaks them is from Toronto. His name is Lenny, and he speaks French and English at the same time. If not for my Canadian ancestry and love for the French language, I would not understand a thing he says.

“Mais, vous ne pouvez pas sortir.” (But you cannot go out.) It breaks my heart to say this to him.

Some days, I dread coming to work. Six hours of sitting in a chair in a freezing lobby is less than enticing. They say that germs spread less easily in the cold, which must be why it is never warm in here. Maybe I should bring a sweater to work. This idea never occurs to me before I leave my house each Saturday and Sunday. From 2 to 8 p.m., I regret my absentmindedness.

While I freeze, I find time to do homework or, in the summer, read a good book. This is one thing I appreciate about my job; I can get my English ­reading done, type up a lab report for physics, ­brainstorm ideas for my next journalism article, and quiz myself on whatever region we're studying in global issues. I don't have to worry about flipping burgers or making someone's iced coffee.

Don't get me wrong, I love people. I don't think I could be a receptionist if I weren't comfortable talking to strangers. It's just that I'd rather help somebody find their ailing Aunt Judith than have to make them a turkey, cheese, and tomato sandwich with the works, minus the pickles, mayo, lettuce, pepper, and‚ oh heck, the bread. As for ailing Aunt Judith, I think I'd also rather converse with her about how her day is going than run to the back to find her those shoes in another color and size.

The truth is, working here is one of the best things that has happened to me. I don't think I would have come to appreciate life the way I have ­without watching so many elderly people lose everything. As sad as it is to befriend that cute old woman in Room 108 and then lose her two weeks later, I think it has taught me to live life to the fullest – while I have the ability to do so.

“I might as well leave now. My wife doesn't know who I am anymore.” I cried on my second day of work when a visitor said that. I didn't think I'd be able to handle such a depressing environment.

Since then, I've seen many people enter the ­facility. Some were happy, even healthy-looking, despite their condition. Some didn't know that they had a condition. Or were in a new facility. Or had children.

Many of them have left too. The lucky ones return home. Yet, still, many remain. I have learned lots of their names.

There's John, Lenny's best friend and roommate. He doesn't remember any more about his life than Lenny does, but he does know his car is a Chevrolet and that he and Lenny met a long time ago.

There's Sophie, a smoker who's in her late nineties. She asked me to knit a hat for one of the many grandchildren who comes to visit her.

Leona's Coke-bottle glasses make her eyes look seven times larger than they are. I don't always understand what she's saying, but I love to stop and talk to her. She grabs my hands and won't let go; I think she forgets that she's holding them. After a while I tell her that I need my hands back, but she can't hear me. No matter what, I always smile at her; that is the one thing she understands.

Don used to be a teacher. He has three daughters, and one is named Sarah – spelled the same way I do. Once we spoke for an hour about the importance of education. He told me that I had admirable aspirations and thanked me for the conversation.

“Any time,” I replied and meant it.

Florence was my favorite. She was a tiny woman, and her son made her look even smaller. One day he asked me to take a picture of them. From then on, she always held out her arms to me when I walked by. I would offer her my hands, which she would kiss. “I love you” was the one thing she always had enough strength to say to me. A month later, she passed away.

It is because of these people that I understand the world. The oldest can be the youngest at heart. The slowest wheelers can make it halfway out the front door the second you turn your back. The least coherent can say the most.

I am a receptionist. This means that I get to meet the most beautiful, intelligent, interesting people in the world. This means that sometimes I'd rather go to work and listen to their stories than hang out with my friends.

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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knittinginspace said...
Jan. 28 at 9:09 am
How inspiring! I am absolutely in love with the characters you wrote about. You certaintly have a gift.
 
brightsideofthemoon This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Dec. 3, 2009 at 7:53 am
Wow I love this so much
It's so beautiful and I can tell that you are a beautiful person
 
Sarah S. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Apr. 4, 2009 at 10:24 am
Thank you, everybody, for voting me to the front page of the Jobs
 
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