Words and yogurt slop out of my slack mouth. Caregivers with phony smiles touch my wrinkled skin and act like they know better than me. They mop up the yogurt and listen to my ramblings, nodding and pretending that they’re trying to understand. I wish I could show them how I walk with death every day. They’ll be old, too, sometime, and remember me, and finally know.
My hands shake and create messes where I once touched with tenderness. My body ruins every good intention. I used to fix problems, but now I’ve become one. My daughter continues her life while I sit under scratchy nursing home sheets and wait for people to wash me. I see the aides who come in with their clipboards–I’m just another check off their list. I have become a body to sustain.
People used to listen to me like there was value in the very words I spoke. But now with each patronizing glance, each overheard mention of how my body and brain are failing–I know they don’t see worth in my breath anymore, and some days, I don’t either.
Because there isn’t any reason to have arms and legs if you get folded back into bed every time you try to use them. There isn’t any point in having a mind if nobody is interested in your thoughts. And you can’t very well speak if your mouth won’t even move like you direct it.
When my looks started to go, I thought that would be the worst of it. Not being a woman anymore, just a sagging sack of skin, a spotted face with thin lips and wiry hair.
But then the grocery clerks started smiling at me instead of answering my questions. People rushed to fill in my sentences when my brain went too slow. They picked up my keys when I dropped them because they were sure I couldn’t do it myself.
And I couldn’t.
I was weak.
And then I got weaker, and ended up here, in my bed, inside of my mind, and my mind is decaying quickly. Soon, I’ll be gone.
But I must show them before I’m nothing that once, I was something. I need to show myself that I was something. That I was here.
Tonight’s the night.
I climb out of my bed slowly, letting each knee creak and every joint ache. I reach for my coat, and then my glasses, but pull my hand back each time. I don’t need a coat. I don’t need glasses. Tonight, I am alive.
My bare feet tread along the cold hallway tiles as fast as I can make them. My neck aches, silently yearning to be laid back upon my starched pillow.
The voice echoes along the walls, reverberating within me.
I walk faster.
A pair of squeaky sneakers pound the floor behind me. I’m breathing now, breathing hard, and running! Yes, running to the door. I push it open, and the whine of a fire alarm sounds behind me. Behind me, because I am gone, feet on the pavement, and then in the grass.
Two gloved hands struggle beneath my frail body as I fall. The impact of my thin bones on the frozen, packed dirt shakes my body, my whole body, rustling every weak joint and unused muscle. A shadow leans over me, and I close my eyes, relishing in these last moments of pain.
Yes, I am human.
“Mrs. Opdyke, can you hear me?”
I can’t. Because I’m gone.
Autumn Owens is a Senior at Bryan High School who submitted her writing to The Crossings for the High School Writing Contest. This is her winning piece.