She was a head-injured quadraplegic at a nursing home. I took care of her sometimes. The other assistants who cared for her brought her Playgirl magazines. They’d open them up to a photo of some guy’s package, which brought a big smile to her contorting face. A former Cal Trans road worker, she had been smashed by some kind of vehicle. She couldn’t talk, only smile. She couldn’t eat except through a tube that dangled from her side. But she loved porn. You could see it in her eyes. I had to turn her constantly to keep the sores off her body.
A head-injured man shared the room. All he could do was eat. I spoon fed him and had to massage his throat so he would swallow. I changed his diapers, took him to a shower room and hosed him off while he lay on a big blue gurney. He stared a lot. That’s all he could do. I didn’t sense any thought behind his eyes. I figured any kind of reasoning was hidden far behind a veil of fog so thick that his soul was in a constant winter.
His mother, whose fingernails looked like strange spades, would come to his room once a week and rub his head. She thought he might wake up. “He’s going to come through,” she said. Her little puffs of grey hair and big glasses hid a motherly anger I didn’t ever want to rouse.
I hung out with a couple of CNAs at the nursing home. James was a large black man who would tell me lots of Bible stories. “You know Christmas trees are in the Bible,” he said one day, then launched into the old testament tale on the topic.
“Fool, that’s a bad word. Don’t ever call anybody a fool,” James said on another occasion. “People don’t know they should be afraid of that word. God will punish them.”
I was glad to be at the nursing home, far away from the clinic where the angry head-injured like Ken Svent couldn’t throw his breakfast at me, or scream until his ribs shattered, or like Herman Burger the former six-foot, five-inch-tall gay lumberjack — he couldn’t lunge at me with his razor or throw his shoe at his Alaskan wilderness lover, miss, and hit a window.
My favorite head-injured was an old timer named Tom. He pitched in the World Series back in the 1950s and still had enough wits to show me his slider and curve ball. His smashed brain could at least put together those memories. I always wondered if he made the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. Anyone who played in a World Series should be so lauded, at least in my book.
The rooms and halls of the nursing home smelled like piss. That’s the difference between a clean hospital and any senior living center. The old in the hallways constantly piss themselves, the floor, their rooms. The smell lingers in a cloud of human waste.
I studied in the nursing home. I read and then fed the injured. I remember fall months and the leaves tumbling through the air outside the windows. I remember James saying he had another story for me. “It’s about God’s covenant by fire and water,” he said. He came into the room often and saw a bit of God in there. I know he did.