On one side, the smokers are obviously getting antsy. On the other, the coffee-drinkers are also beginning to lose their patience.
As Daddy and I duck through, one of the ladies in a wheelchair meets my eyes. "Excuse me." She says, her gravely, smoker's voice announcing which activity she's waiting on. "What time is it?"
Daddy looks at his watch. "9:20. You've got ten more minutes."
Collectively, they all begin to sigh and grumble. Ten minutes might as well be an eternity when you're waiting to smoke, drink coffee, and socialize. Especially here.
Having properly riled up the crowd, we make our way through them and back to Meme's room.
She's already in her wheelchair, blue eyes sharp and bright. Today's another good day.
We begin our visit by making small talk. The weather, politics, family, and Meme's favorite subject: the past. She speaks of events that happened twenty or thirty years ago as if they happened yesterday. She brings the dead back to life, referring to them as if they're waiting in the next room. She thrives on this talk of history and days gone by. And I'm happy that she spends the majority of her days in that happy past.
As our conversation begins to wane, Daddy suggests that we go down to the cafeteria. Meme immediately perks up at the idea.
The trip back down the hallway is no less entertaining than the one upon our arrival. Except this time, Meme's with us. It's a bit clearer than before; the smokers have all moved outside for their morning smoke break, and the coffee-drinkers have gathered in the cafeteria, our destination.
On our way, Meme pokes fun at nurses, admonishes "slow pokes" in front of us, and seems to have something to say to just about everyone. She keeps the hallway laughing, and it turns out this is just a preview of coming attractions.
The second we push through the swinging doors of the cafeteria Meme comes even more alive.
Still unaware of her transformation, Daddy and I choose a table away from the crowd and settle down for a nice chat and a cup of coffee.
From across the room, a woman with light red hair and a full face of makeup gestures, "Mary! Mary!" She waves madly. "How are you this morning?"
I watch, astounded, as Meme yells back across the room. "Doin' good! How about you?"
A few other residents near the red-headed woman notice Meme and join in. They carry on a conversation...although I suspect each person may be on a different subject...from across the room.
Realizing his mistake, Daddy stands and says, "Guess we should move over there."
And so we do. We crowd around a few tables that are already crowded by what I've come to think of as The Clique, and appropriately, the final pieces of the morning seem to click into place, no pun intended.
Like a queen holding court, Meme becomes the center of this small group, cracking jokes and flirting madly with a man named Billy. My Meme, the same one with Alzheimer's, the same one who spends many of her days in a fog, laughs and smiles and entertains us all as if there's nothing wrong, as if a disease isn't eating away at her mind.
Looking across the room, I notice others, those not lucky enough to be part of The Clique, those not lucky enough to know they are even part of this world.
One lady colors furiously, bearing down her crayons onto a coloring book filled with pictures of puppies and kittens.
Another gentleman stares off into space, drool trailing from his bottom lip to the top of his hand where it rests on his wheelchair.
A man I know only as Bubba watches us all from the corner of the room, taking everything in and thinking deep, and what I imagine to be, sad thoughts.
The mixture of sad and happy in the room is one that I didn't expect, but then again, no trip to the nursing home is ever quite what I expect. Some days, like today, are good. There's laughter, easy conversation, and plenty of smiles. These are the days we all have to hold on to, keep replaying in our minds over and over so that we can smile and feel good again.
Because too many of the days are bad. They come too often and stay far too long. Days when the biggest response we can get out of Meme is a blink. Days when we can only stand in her room and cry.
When those days come again, and they will, I'm going to think of The Clique. I'm going to think of how they yelled across the room at each other, how they chatted and giggled, how they almost seemed like teenagers carrying on at lunchtime in high school.
I'm going to think of those fleeting moments of youth, lighting on their shoulders like butterflies, bringing them back to life in colors as vivid as an old woman's crayons.
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