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Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

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Love at First Sight

Leann takes a deep breath to quiet her stomach and pushes the wheelchair into the resident’s room. Her first patient on her first day of her first job. I guess you’re allowed to be a little nervous. She smiles, but it feels forced and makes her think of her awful school yearbook pictures. When she sees her resident, Miss Margie, sitting patiently at the side of her bed, the smile becomes genuine and Leann exhales at last.

At this moment she feels a visceral transition between the end of something hard and the beginning of something better. The past few years have been very tough – a failed pregnancy from a failed relationship seemed to put her life on a loop while her lifetime keeps ticking by. Three relationships in seven years, though the pregnancy had been a new twist. And then, approaching thirty-years old, redemption came in the form of a program to train health care providers in the wake of the COVID crisis.

Miss Margie, the resident, is 93-years old and wiry, soft-spoken but direct. Her blue eyes look sharp, but underneath there is a hint of fear, a glint of uncertainty. The eyes are the castle gate – they keep out the modern world but also keep locked inside that awful spirit that runs amok, muddling memories and undermining personalities. Of course, it might be more likely that Miss Margie’s eyes reflect the morning scuttle between her medicated and unmedicated states. Leann knows something about this from her practicum hours.

Leann pushes Miss Margie to the cafeteria, the social hub for the nursing facility. She is sure the woman will feel right with a meal in her stomach. As they approach the door, the sunlight from the tall windows casts all details as silhouettes. Shielding her eyes with her left hand while pushing with her right, Leann almost runs over a slight, younger man trying a similar maneuver with his own ancient resident. Leann recognizes the outfit and ID badge – this is another LPN, a colleague. I guess now I have colleagues.

The young man mutters something about nearly having “a geri-accident,” a phrase that elicits a staccato laugh from Leann. The man smiles sheepishly, seemingly surprised he’d actually said that out loud. As cover, he starts shifting position so he can hold the door for the ladies. But a sudden electric hum accompanies the doors opening automatically. Leann and the man look back to see the head nurse, Juanita, standing next to the button labeled quite obviously with a picture of a wheelchair. She rolls her eyes at them. “I should know better than to have two newbies starting on the same day. Always use the automatic door opener when piloting a resident’s wheelchair.”

Juanita turns on her heel and walks away, eyes locked on her ipad as if it is some kind of GPS that will lead her to more grown-ass staff doing dumb-ass things. The nursing home is a second career for Juanita, who started in her early fifties after her kids were out of the house, when she finally had time to finish her social work degree. She often describes her job as “teaching grown children how to care for their grandparents,” though it has not been lost on her in recent years that some of her patients are not much older than she is. On some days she cannot shake an out-of-body feeling of watching a sneak preview of her own future playing out in the corridors.

Meanwhile, Leann turns to share her embarrassment with her new colleague. “I’m Javon,” he says, dropping his gaze to her feet as he speaks. His eyes are shy, but his smile is kind. “This is Mister Henry,” gesturing to his resident-in-tow. 

“Miss Margie, do you know Mister Henry?,” Leann kneels as she speaks so she is looking up at Miss Margie. Javon smiles at Leann’s empathy. That is definitely not something they teach in school. Miss Margie blushes at the question, but that could just be more medication kicking in. “I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure. Where are you from, Henry?”

 Mister Henry is the only one in the bunch who is not shy. “I’m from right here in North Carolina,” he says in a loud drawal that supports his claim. “Born and raised. What about you, Miss Margie? Where do you hail from? What do you do for fun around here?”

“Oh, I grew up in Virginia. I watch my shows… and play cards after lunch. Do you ever play Canasta, Henry?” 

As the conversation turns to desirable traits in a Canasta partner, Leann and Javon park their charges at a table by the window. The two old folks get acquainted, and the rookie nurses walk toward the kitchen to retrieve prepared meals. “Do you ever play Canasta, Leann?” Javon asks with a smile, a little less toward her feet this time. 

“I think it’s a rule that you have to be at least 60 years old to play Canasta,” she plays along. “I think it’s 70 for Mahjong.”

He laughs for the first time, and Leann feels a warmth in his presence. This feeling is foreign but not unwelcome, and the confusion must be showing in her eyes. Javon senses a tension and redirects the conversation back to Mister Henry and Miss Margie, who really seem to be hitting it off.

Javon asks Mister Henry if he’s ready to head outside for a turn around the gardens, and Henry says that he’s asked Miss Margie to join him this morning. Javon looks to Leann for some guidance, and Leann shrugs. “We were also going for exercise next, so why not?”

At the door to the patio, Javon and Leann trade wheelchairs for walkers and shuffle off to the sunny patio, redolent of spring flowers a-bloom. Javon assures Leann that he can handle both residents – and besides the terrace walkway is already a bit crowded with three. As they walk out into the sun, Javon appears larger than life, not just because he is framed against two shrunken 90-year-olds, but because he is the first man in Leann’s recent life that she has felt fully relaxed with. Leann leans against the table as Juanita walks up, eyes down at the omnipresent ipad. 

“Do you believe in love at first sight, Juanita?,” Leann asks without taking her eyes off the figure of Javon, now only partially visible behind the rose bushes. Lowering the ipad to her side, Juanita follows Leann’s gaze to the trio beyond the glass door moving slowly through the flowers. She smiles.

“I do, indeed,” she says with an assurance that draws Leann’s eyes to her, questioning. How could Juanita know what Leann has been feeling?

“Miss Margie and Mister Henry have been married for over 70 years. They’ve lived with us in the memory ward for five… and they fall in love with each other, from scratch, each and every day. I think it must be catching.”

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About the Contributor
Doug Ensley
Doug Ensley, Contributing Writer
Doug is an Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at Shippensburg University (Pennsylvania) who relocated to Leland in 2022. He holds a PhD in mathematics from Carnegie Mellon University and continues to contribute to mathematics professional organizations in his retirement. Within the mathematics community, Doug is known for his leadership and his innovative uses of technology in teaching. He regularly exercises his right brain with word puzzles, poetry, and fiction. He resides in Brunswick Forest with his wife and her cat.

Comments (6)

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  • K

    Kim PresserJul 16, 2024 at 10:17 am

    Another great story! And yes my eyes are tearing up once again.

    • D

      Doug EnsleyJul 16, 2024 at 9:09 pm

      Oh right, I promised you a funny story. Well… don’t read the one next month, but after that, really, I swear 🙂

  • D

    Dean DeAngeloJul 15, 2024 at 11:34 pm

    Wonderful story Doug !!

  • P

    Pam McLaughlinJul 15, 2024 at 5:05 am

    A beautifully touching story.

  • T

    TrishJul 14, 2024 at 7:21 pm

    Such a beautiful love story

  • O

    O L SentmanJul 14, 2024 at 5:33 pm

    Nice story Doug.