Title: This Side of Paradise
Author: "Solus Nemo"
Summary: "Though my life would be spared the black agony of these visits, not having that despair might be even worse than having it." One-shot.
Disclaimer: This story is fiction from first word to last. I do not own the "Degrassi" television series nor anything affiliated with said television series. The story title comes from F. Scott Fitzgerald's book by the same name.
There was never a moment when I didn't contemplate turning around and leaving, jumping into my car and break land-speed records getting as far away from this building as I could. I never once did that as much as I might like to. I could stand on the mat in front of the peeling white double doors for ten days without actually getting back into my car – I just can't ever bring myself to run screaming away from this place and hide under my bed at home in my apartment. Spineless, yellow, coward, pussy; any way you phrase it that's what I am.
"Why set yourself up for more heartbreak?" That's what the devil on my right shoulder always tells me. "A lot of pain for the both of you will be saved if you just turn and leave."
I tip my hat to those strong arguments, though each and every single time the angel sitting peacefully on my left shoulder wins the pot. You can't abandon your loved ones, if you love them at all you wouldn't slam the door in their face and leave them out in the cold.
I could say I didn't want to until I'm blue in the face, but the fact of the matter is I would go into that building because I love him. I would march in there and have my heart ripped from my chest because I couldn't live with myself if I didn't. Though my life would be spared the black agony of these visits, not having that despair might be even worse than having it.
Besides, I'm not a bad person – well, not wholly, anyway. Hell would find itself buried snuggly under a nice, gleaming blanket of white snow before a Friday afternoon would pass without its annual callings.
So there I stood, staring at the mammoth brick complex of my impending soul decay, kidding myself with the option of running for the hills. I was sweating something fierce too, whether from nerves or the heat I wasn't all that certain. If from the weather the building was air conditioned against the summer's dog day heat, all I had to do was walk forward into the home and get it over with already.
Home. I always find myself wanting to scoff at that word, at this place. More people come here to die than to live, that's my view on this place, like the state of Florida. A lot of human beings are locked up in places like these, hooked up to machines while their brains literally mold and turn to a disgusting flavor of jell-o. The lucky ones, if you can call them that, still have some sense of mobility about them, can still feed themselves and talk – if not coherently than in garbled strands.
Families dump the old folks here so the ailing elders don't intrude on whatever misconstrued life the rest of the family might have scraped together. They throw their mothers and fathers at the feet of the nurses here so the kids don't have to be burdened by their parents' presence. What the hell kind of home is that?
There are no family-esque activities here, not in the normal sense. Instead of children and parents crowded around the dinner table, scarfing down pork chops and ears of corn and telling each other about their days, a large room stuffed with dining tables is filled up with the sick residents of this place, slowly eating their meals under the harsh glow of a long forgotten past. Video tapes of Christmas pageants are not watched here by happy children, only syndicated episodes of Mama's Family or Golden Girls by faces ravaged by time and sorrow.
Children and grandchildren rarely visit, not when they have better things to do like Timmy's soccer game, Grace's cheerleading competition or the annual summer get-away to the beaches and forests of Brazil.
No, this is not a home. In actuality this is more like a child's closet, filled to the breaking point with all the things they don't want to see on the other side of that closed door. The world is a happier place when that door is shut tight, though inside beautiful porcelain dolls splinter under the weight of the dust from a since passed childhood, fire engines with missing wheels are left buried under stinking clothes and old school papers, having lost the contest with porno magazines and Xbox.
I refuse to let that happen. Over my dead body will I let him be chucked to the bottom of a moldering box in the basement like a worthless toy, and that is why I never leave. I couldn't ever let him be met with that fate, a fate so many other men and women in this nursing home share.
I'd be lying if I said that I never played with the notion of doing that, of how easy it would be to just stop coming to Ocean Breeze and of letting him die without me having to watch. How glorious my life could be without a rotting mind stalking me. Oh! the things I could do with these hours of my Fridays carefully removed from my life.
But, though I am many things, human scum to that extent I am not.
Maybe I'm a complete and total masochist to go along with good kin. Maybe that's why I come here, because I need and enjoy the debilitating pain of these visits. Why not? Add it to my card right next to "borderline sadist" and "painfully misinformed". For instance, horribly misinformed as to the name of this place.
The words "Ocean Breeze" send up images of a Cape Cod-style mansion sitting on a bluff on the Atlantic Ocean, grass dancing with the cool salty breeze, seagulls practicing their beautiful acrobatic skills over the clear blue water. A river cutting its way through a field of wildflowers and old maple trees in the country might even suffice, but not a busy main road choked with diesel gas fumes from shipping trucks, the nice "Ocean Breeze" sandwiched between a Pizza Hut and new-age so-called church with no large body of water other than the public swimming pool for miles.
The "home" wasn't even decorated in anything remotely resembling a nautical pallet, it's actually kind of pathetic. I swore to myself long ago that if I ever got old enough or diseased enough in the mind I'd take a bullet from a shot gun – maybe even an elephant gun if I could get my hands on one, just to ensure fatal damage – right between the eyes before ever living in a place like Ocean Breeze.
Evidently I hate not only this nursing home, but all hospices catered to the normal life living challenged. Believe me, if I wasn't bound by a not yet completely dead conscious and a love for another human being I wouldn't have walked into the building like I had just done.
Ocean Breeze frightens me to put it simply.
I don't like the smell molesting the molecules of the air, that distinct stench of bleach and urine grasping onto every surface of the place with grubby little talons. I'm not too stupid to deny being terrified by the undeniable fact that one day I will be as old as most of the people living in this nursing home, if not as ill. I don't plan on living that long, I'll be jumping ship before it reaches that dock, but it'll happen if I stick around just long enough.
Maybe it's that phobia that fuels my hatred for the place, much like my disdain for gays. Even if I do hate this place because I fear the people in it (because it's in my fate if I don't find a way out before I get old), I'm pretty sure I'm correct in my analogies that the elderly and infirm are to the homes as an embarrassing photograph is to a smart-looking two volume biography that no one is ever going to even think of reading. Yes, hospices are so totally the Monica Geller's locked closet of the world.
I didn't toss him in Ocean Breeze Nursing Home because I'm ashamed of my "mess" or because I'm embarrassed or anything like that. It's because I'm a selfish asshole and want him around as long as possible; without him I'm alone. I also can't really utilize 24 hour nursing care as my apartment is too small.
So I've stuck him in this hell hole and pay the monthly bills promptly to keep him here. It won't be long, they tell me through their expressions, before I have to turn my money over to a fitting eulogy. That frightens me more than becoming feeble minded in old age – not the writing on the funeral verse, but not having him around anymore. I don't want to be completely alone.
I told you, I'm selfish. So selfish, in fact, that the engineers pulled the plug on my model because I was just too damn perfect. Perfect. It depends on how you see it, I guess. Sometimes I wonder how perfect I am when he looks at me with those vacant eyes.
I feel a twinge of guilt when I realize that those empty eyes have to look at these walls every day, at these nurses – especially this nurse because she's the spitting image of my mother.
My mother shot herself in the face.
When that happened I was five years old and to this day I swear on what little bit of soul the devil might have left behind that her blood is still on me, maybe a bit of her creme skin on my arm or part of one of her Monet inspired blue eyes.
My mother's name is Heather while this woman's is Anne. Her voice is also nothing like the soft smell of baking apple pie, Anne's isn't, it's more… backfiring car. It's because of that I rarely talk to her more than I need to. She's only a receptionist dressed in pink scrubs, I don't know why, and so there really isn't much that must be said.
I suppose one day I could ask something like "Has he died yet?", you know, just to give me a chance to speed out of Ocean Breeze if the answer was "Yes, I'm sorry but, he has". So far I've voiced nothing more than a soft "Hello". The people working here know me, really need nothing more than to see my face to know that it's really me visiting him and not an impostor trying to kill him.
A small part of me might welcome that, to come up to the front counter one day and have Anne look as if she's seen a ghost brandishing a bloody knife in her face. I might on some level be glad to hear that someone pretending to be me had gone and visited him, then stuck him like a pig or simply slipped something into his drink when he wasn't looking. Of course, I'd be absolutely devastated, but it would put an end to both our misery.
Unfortunately, I can't fathom what anyone would want to kill him for. Maybe out of frustration they blew up and throttled him, but there'd be no way they could possibly have gotten that frustrated. I'm the only one who visits him, and only if you've sat in the same room with him as often as I have you wouldn't get pissed off enough to kill him. I might, but not anyone else.
There have been several occasions, you might think, in which I've thought about terminating his life: a mercy killing. I assure you that I haven't. Why would I do that, single handedly plunge myself into ALONE? Sure, I might imagine someone else doing it for me, but never me, myself.
But then I look through the doorway at him, sitting in a chair by the window and watching the parade of life pass by without him in it.
But then I see the reflection of his face in the glass.
"Hello, Edward. It's a lovely day, isn't it? A bit warm, but from the inside it looks wonderful."
He turned in his chair, only far enough to look at me standing just outside the room. Looking back to the window, he nodded and said, "It looks like all kinds of paradise out there." He pointed at something in the courtyard. "Chess. I've always wanted to learn how to play."
With one forward step I was in the room, but I didn't walk any closer to him than the foot of his hospital bed. "You're not missing anything, but I'm just saying that because I'm horrible at it. My father taught me, eventually got so fed up he'd just let me win."
He laughed lightly. "I don't know, I might be good at it. You never know."
"No, you never do." I've always known it's a bad idea to deal with people like him in this way, humoring him if you will, but it's far too painful to tell him the truth. He'll be ashamed, I'll be ashamed, we'll be ashamed together like some screwed up Barney song.
"Hey, Edward, I've got you something."
"Me?" he exclaimed as I pulled something from the inside pocket of my jacket. "What's the occasion?"
I walked up to his chair to hand him the unwrapped present, watched as his hands were pulled down slightly from the unexpected weight of the Sterling Silver picture frame. "No, occasion. I just wanted you to have it."
"How very sweet of you." He looked at the portrait in the frame for a few quiet moments and leaned over to set it on his night stand. I took the picture from his hands and set it carefully on the oak table for him. "What a handsome family, wouldn't you say? But I suppose they would choose the best looking people to be models for their frame, which is exquisite. Thank you, thank you very much. I don't get gifts very often, you know."
I chose not to look at the many paintings and photographs displayed all around the room, but frown out the window at the old tree in the yard, its leaves waving in the breeze. I should talk to him more, but I always run out of things to say. I reach a brick wall and I'm unable to keep the conversation rolling. Maybe I do that on purpose, stop talking, in hopes that he'll think I'm waiting for an invitation to leave, one in which he never ceases to give.
"Well, it was nice talking to you, er…."
"Jason," I said softly. "Jason Hogart."
He chuckled, looking at me with those dull mahogany eyes. "Isn't that funny, we have the same last name. What a small world, huh, young man?"
My heart won't be able to take much more of this. I know my father's in there still, trapped deep behind those dingy, abandoned brown windows. I have to believe he's somewhere in that mind, able to recognize his own son, able to remember sitting on an uncomfortable box when we took the portrait sitting in that fancy silver frame and everything else we've ever done. But he just can't yell loud enough to be heard through his disease.
And he's still so young, too young.