There’s this funny thing that happens when you just take off in the evening like a fool. I jumped in the taxi with my mind still feeling still and dead. I’d never known what people meant when they said they felt like a zombie. Maybe I wasn’t so sad at James not being by my side. But my future was ripped away. He took away my plans, and I’d naively let them center around him instead of focusing on myself. Now I had no clue who I was without him or Mama. In the taxi, things were awkward for a bit. We drove past a ton of trees for a long stretch, then as we were approaching a new town, the driver insisted she’d have to let me out soon. I complied. Getting out of the car should have been hard considering I had nothing and nowhere to go. If I’d had all my sanity, I would’ve asked the driver to take me back home. Instead, I walked out and let her drive away without so much as a glance back. Appaloosa Plains was beautiful. I hadn’t come here a lot. It was always described to me as another sleepy little town, same as the one I grew up in. This town seemed inviting to me because of that, I guess. I walked around in the dark for awhile before realizing that my body was tired and my feet were achy.
I stopped and slept on a park bench. I didn’t care about how I looked. No one was out to see me. I couldn’t stop my mind from wondering what Mama would’ve said though. I had avoided checking my phone and seeing her messages of worrying and panic. I knew that everyone would be waiting to see my next move, holding their breaths at the thought of me pining away for James. Eventually it occurred to me that I didn’t hate him, I just didn’t understand him, but I wasn’t ready to face that at the time.
When I woke up after three hours of uncomfortable sleep, I left my cell phone on the bench. I took my SIM card out and crumpled it up into a million pieces before I started walking again. I got a little bit nervous inside, and I started to cry. My senses and feelings were coming back strong, and I knew I needed to figure something out. I saw a newspaper lying on someone’s front yard, and I figured it probably wouldn’t be too intrusive if I read the Wanted ads. The town had many part-time jobs and few full-time jobs that required skills I didn’t have. I began formulating a game plan in my head about becoming a waitress and finding a hotel to stay in until I got myself together. It was scary and strangely exciting. Luckily, before I could make a fool of myself (again), I saw that there was a caretaker needed in a house. They wanted someone who was caring, patient, could cook, and clean for an elderly woman. They preferred for the person to have some experience in taking care of the elderly or knew a thing or two about medicine, which I didn’t, except for reminding Mama to take her Vitamin C pills every once and awhile. But I was gonna try it. I repeated the address to myself over and over again until I could recite it with no problem, then I took to asking locals to point me in the direction.
Just as I figured, everyone knew everyone just about. It took me no time to find the house. It was a nice size and quaint. All my nerves rushed in at once as I knocked on the door. I counted to ten slowly and managed to slow my breathing just as a woman opened the door. She appeared to be in her fifties, and she looked exhausted.
“Can I help you?” she asked with an accent that said she wasn’t from this area.
“H-Hi!” I said, perhaps a little too cheerily. I began wondering about my hair and my breath and what I’d say. “I’m here to speak with you about the job offer you had in the newspaper.”
“Oh! Come on in,” she said, opening the door wider. I felt a little better just knowing I’d gotten into the house. “Please, let’s chat on the couch!”
We sat on the couch in front of a warm fireplace. There was no television, and I kinda liked the way the house looked. I told her as much and she nodded and thanked me before getting back to business.
“So, my siblings and I are looking for a caregiver for our mother, as you already know,” she began. “We all try taking turns being here with her, but it’s beginning to be more challenging as she ages. This year she’s taken to using a cane and she doesn’t seem to fully be there. She’s cranky and has to take pills for several different things. Her body just……. isn’t working like it used to.” At that, the woman grimaced.
I politely nodded and gave a small smile, as if I really knew what that felt like.
“Anyway, we know she needs to be under constant supervision, and we’d just like it if someone were here to cook for her and make sure she gets everything done and doesn’t, you know, leave the house or hurt herself. Do you have any experience with this?”
It was my turn to talk, and I felt my throat tighten.
“Well, no ma’am. I don’t have any experience with taking care of the elderly.” I could see her brows furrow in frustration. She was wondering why I was here already.
“However, I’d be more than happy to learn. I’m good at taking care of children, if that’s any consolation. I can also cook and clean with the best of them, and I’d be able to start immediately.”
That seemed to do it. Not completely, but I know it helped because she nodded and her face stopped looking crumpled and irritated.
She seemed to have to think of the words to say next, but eventually she managed to make a decision.
“I’ll have to go back to my job within the next few days…. But…. I’m gonna stick around and train you. Show you how to take care of her. I’m Ursula, by the way. Now you can meet my mother, Gladys.”
Just like that I had a job and my hands were full. She taught me how to do everything, and I learned to grin and bear it when it was something I didn’t wanna do. Cooking and cleaning was natural and fine. However, I absolutely hated when Ms. Gladys needed any help in the bathroom at all. I felt like I was invading someone’s privacy. Learning to give her her medicine wasn’t too hard because Ursula wrote everything down for me. The most challenging part was setting the alarm and making sure she took the pills. Ursula warned me that she’d sometimes keep them under her tongue until she could hide them under the pillow or flush them down the toilet. It was honestly exhausting keeping up with the old woman. I could see why Ursula was tired and ready to go back to her job. Before she left, she gave me a key to the house. I felt like she trusted me now that she’d seen me do the work and she’d tasted my cooking. I promised her repeatedly that I’d take care of her mother very well, and I let the realization sink in that I’d left my own mom alone worrying about me. I couldn’t handle thinking about that just yet. Ursula made me promise I’d call her if I needed anything, and she bought me a new cell phone when I told her I didn’t have one. The last thing she explained to me was that I’d be paid once per week. She’d mail me a check along with money for bills, groceries, and medical expenses. I was also allowed to stay in the house rent-free. I felt like I had a great situation, and as soon as Ursula left, I couldn’t wait to start my job and begin to truly bond with Ms. Gladys.
“Well, I’m so happy to be here with you. Would you like anything to eat?” I offered to the older woman who was lying in bed. Using her cane, she slowly rose up from her bed and walked towards me with a scowl on her face.
“You can’t control me. I’ll cook for myself when I get hungry. Leave me alone!” the older woman snapped.
Quietly, I closed the door to her room and sighed. This was going to be a long, difficult journey. But at least I had gotten it started. I was quite proud of myself.