My body has lost its ability to sleep in. A year ago, Saturdays were for lolling in bed, listening only to the whisper of rustling covers. Suddenly, out of nowhere, my body snaps to attention at 7:45 AM, just like clockwork. I’m usually up much earlier, of course, but the insistent medieval bell chimes of the phone alarm bears the responsibility for that. It’s the only thing that fuels enough hatred to haul me out of bed on a Monday morning just to make it stop, just fucking STOP already I’m UP Jesus CHRIST.
On Saturdays, I wake quietly and slip out of the room with the stealth of a cat burglar. My partner, bear-like in his inclination to hibernate, can still sleep in. So I let him.
I don’t know what this shift means. All my life I’ve had early mornings for school and work, but never this clear-headed alertness on a day where there are no expectations of me. Perhaps my body is preparing me for something.
I never intended to work with the elderly. My career training has all been for children and adolescents, for boundless energy and constant crisis. When the agency that hired me for my original line of work asked if I’d be willing to take on extra hours caring for seniors, I agreed with no little sense of discomfort.
My first day was spent learning to care for a man who was now bedridden. Cancer had whittled his strong form down to bones and delicate rice paper skin. In another life, another body, he had been a farmer. I spent Sundays there cleaning and feeding him. I talked to him sometimes, but he never replied. His bride, now bent and creased, was a cheerful lady who chatted with me about the weather and my home province. She never talked about him other than to ask how much he’d eaten or to mention he was on a new medication.
One day I arrived early and found her sitting by his side. She was holding his hand and talking to him. It was the only time I ever saw him lucid. I don’t think I ever told G why I came home that day and sobbed into his chest. He put his arms around me like he always does, unfailing and steady, while I wordlessly begged for the impossible. Stay like this. Just like this, always.
The days got harder. But I got better at them.
Over the year, I got assigned several more elderly clients. And somehow, I fell head over heels in love with my job. When a tiny French centenarian tells you her only remaining goal is to outlive Bob Barker, how can you not?
When you are young, you are in the greatest state of flux and yet somehow that is the state you think will last forever. I have never met a sixteen-year-old who has given any serious thought to what it will be like when she is eighty. When she is a world-famous poet who is married to Robert Pattinson, yes, but not the simple, quiet process that happens to every one of us without us really noticing. She will not see the beauty of white hair and fragile hands.
I see the beauty now, but I also see the fear. I am afraid of the idea of losing my ability to walk, of having someone to feed and bathe me, of burying the person I share my life with. I can no longer pretend these things won’t happen. But this is the natural order of things. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. And there is beauty in that too.
I am awake, wondering what my body is preparing for. Or perhaps it’s telling me to listen.
Early spring birdsong and the sound of my lover’s breathing. This is the sound of impermanence.