Even they didn’t know what to do with me.
My parents sent me away to live with my aunt and uncle for the summer.
They thought I could go, “find myself” in the middle of the United States.
I was wandering aimlessly that year after high school. I had taken a few classes at the community college, but nowhere was there any inspiration to make something of myself.
My aunt and uncle were significantly older than my parents and all their children left them for NY or LA. They gave me the guest bed/bath and all the freedom I desire. I don’t crave much, but after two weeks of exploring the attic-it was time. I rode my cousin’s banana bike to the bus station and rode into town. The first thing to catch my eye would be the deciding objective. All there was: Mercy Hospital. I took a deep breath, volunteering would be good for me.
The sliding glass doors revealed a lobby with a few elderly people. I walked up to the desk and was greeted by a bubbly lady with a big smile and big teeth. “How can I help you, young lady?”
“I would like to volunteer…” I offered hesitantly. “Doing what?” I silently thought.
But she never asked. She excitedly told me to go to Wing D and ask for Carolyn King. She was, "just dying for volunteers".
I followed the signs and stepped through an automatic door. The hall was empty, but I heard the sounds of civilization coming from a room. My shoes squeaked on the newly waxed aluminum and I winced with each stop.
I peered into a room of people in wheelchairs. Some were hunched over, some drooling, some staring, some sitting straight up chatting coherently. Most were over 40, or appeared to be, some quite older, maybe older than my grandma. There were staff inside, nurses smacking gum and flipping through magazines, while one woman flitted between the patients. She noticed me. She was short, with short brown hair, and wore a business suit with a skirt. She greeted me with the same refrain, “How can I help you?” “I’m looking for Carolyn King. I’m here to volunteer.”
“Wonderful! I’ll only assign you one, since you are new.”
“I don’t know what to do.” I thought to myself.
“Today we’re going on a field trip!” She announced to the whole room.
Turning to me, she motioned to a patient nearby, “You can be Robert’s today.” She went on to describe his afflictions, the only word I understood, catatonic. “He won’t talk, move of his own accord, he barely blinks.”
“What do I do?”
“We know he can hear, we’ve seen the results of the brain scans, he’s in there…somewhere, but we don’t know if he understands. Just talk to him, hang out, push his wheelchair around at the park.” She smiled and flitted away, chatting with some family members along for the day.
I walked over to Robert. He couldn’t have been too much older than me. He had short, ruffled dirty blonde hair, and deep brown eyes. I sat down in a chair next to him. He started straight ahead and never moved a muscle.
Eventually, we all loaded up in two vans and drove to the park. It took quite a ways to get there. The ride there I wondered who he was before this and how it happened. My imagination ran wild, concocting up themes, circumstances. I hadn’t wondered like that in a while, not since I was a little kid. At the park, I pushed him around. I picked little flowers and put them up to his face and held fistfuls of grass up to his nose. I pointed to birds in the distance and commented on their calls. I ran with him in his wheelchair and giggled at the ducks in the pond when Alice, an elderly lady, threw her baloney sandwich at them. It was fun.
I learned from one of the nurses Robert’s full name, Robert Daniel Moss.
When I got home, no one noticed my absence or asked about my day.
This time when my head hit the pillow I knew what tomorrow would entail.