Diary of Junie Kay
Living with Gladys is the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, hands down. Not only am I physically tired, but I am emotionally exhausted and at my wit’s end. I love the innocence of children, and it’s making me really consider applying for a teaching position instead of suffering through the verbal abuse this old woman hurls at me daily. Ever since I can remember, being called certain things and treated in an awful way has left me in tears. I’m an emotional person, and I just don’t understand what this woman could’ve gone through to make her so hateful.
Every morning I wake up early to make her breakfast. I usually try to make wheat pancakes or waffles, and I top it off with her favorite fruit. If anything, I know I’m a good cook.
However, Gladys never fails to complain about something. One day it was too much syrup, the next day not enough. I started bringing her syrup in a container so she could pour it and she intentionally spilled it all over the carpet. That took forever to clean.
I try to cater to her and get her to open up to me, but instead she just continues to complain and make my life as difficult as possible. Another thing she does that absolutely kills me is smoking.Her health is already very fragile, and she has a terrible cough. For the life of me, I can’t figure out how she gets the cigarettes since I’m the only one who goes shopping and is consistently in and out of the house. It didn’t take me too long to break down. I used my new phone to call my mother. I needed someone to talk to, someone who knew me well enough. I hadn’t been fortunate enough to meet anyone in town because I was always afraid to be gone for too long.
I waited nervously as the phone rang. It had been about a month since I left home, and I knew my mother was worried sick. I wasn’t sure if she’d respond lovingly or angrily. I knew I deserved the latter, but I was finally standing up on my own two feet, something she had been encouraging me to do all along.
“You’re a weak little thing,” she always mumbled to me when I started to cry. I loved her, but I couldn’t be her. I knew I could never be that strong, so I focused on pleasing her with my meals instead of my emotions.
Finally, after several rings, I heard her pick up the phone.
Tears sprang up in my eyes. I held them back the best I could, but that didn’t stop them from pourng down my face at the sound of the familiar voice.
“Hey, mama. It’s me,” I answered. “It’s Junie.”
I have never in my life heard my mother let out so many emotions (and expletives) in such a short amount of time. Much to my surprise, she cried a little bit. She exclaimed how glad she was that I was okay and how she had been worried about me. In one short breath, she was enraged. I absorbed every bit of it because I knew that I had probably put her through an emotional hell. She was a strong woman, but everyone has a limit to how much they can take. Before she condemned me to Hades for all of eternity, I mentioned to her that I now had a job and a place to stay. In one month I had gone from being a mama’s baby to an independent lady. This led to her being stunned, which I knew meant I’d gotten her approval. She just wasn’t ready to show it after being so angry.
“Why don’t you come over this afternoon?” I asked her. I’d explain the situation fully when she arrived. “I’ll cook us lunch and we can sit and catch up. I want you to see how cute the place is.”
She wholeheartedly agreed and said she was going to leave the house very soon. In the mean time, I peeked into Gladys’s room to make sure nothing chaotic was going on.
She was napping, so I decided to start sorting through some of her old things. She’d left some books in an unorganized pile on the front desk – probably just to get me to clean it all up. I tucked each book away one by one. An old family Bible first, then a vintage children’s book, then a notebook. Eventually I had everything sorted out but one, and it had my attention front and center. On the first page it said The Diary of Gladys Cain. My curiosity was killing me.
Just as I was about to open it up the doorbell rang. I let out a huge sigh before closing the book… for now. It would have to wait.
I walked faster and faster as I saw my mother’s face through the windows. She wrapped me up in a big old hug when she saw me. She noticed everything.
“You’ve lost a little weight!” she began before she pointed out details about my hair, teeth, feet, and whatever else caught her attention. I smiled through it all and basked in her love. Even though I had made a sudden move, I was always gonna be a mama’s girl. After my no good father left us when I was in kindergarten, it’d just been me and her. I had a stepfather, but he passed away when I was sixteen due to a car accident. Even though people were constantly entering and exiting our lives, it would always be just me and her really.
I gave her a tour of the home. We went through every room and oohed and aahed at tiny details- every room except Gladys’s that is. My mother sure tried to go in that room, though. Luckily, I stopped her before she got the chance.
“No, mama! Not in there,” I interjected. I guided us over back to the living room. I needed Gladys to sleep for as long as possible.
“What’s in there? Do you have a baby?” she asked randomly. Instead of pointing out that I’d just been gone for a month, I just smiled and shook my head no.
“I’ve been living here since I left. I found an ad in the paper from some people looking for a caretaker for an elderly woman. Her name’s Gladys,” I said, pointing in the direction of the room. I explained that I cooked and cleaned for the woman and I got paid well. My mother took it all in silently. I tried not to complain, but I did mention that she was mean to me.
“You’re a weak little thing,” my mom responded, as usual. “Do you enjoy slaving away for an old lady? Don’t you think you should be enjoying your life?”
“This is a good deal for me. I’m not really sure what to do since-” I stopped myself. All this time I’d been able to mentally block James. Some days were better than others, and the nights were always the worse because I’d gotten all the cooking and cleaning done, so there was nothing left to distract me.
“James has had no trouble meeting new girls. It’s true. He’s already started flirting with some young blonde girl who comes from a family as snotty as his,” she scoffed.
“Mama, stop. I don’t wanna talk about this,” I responded coldly. My feelings were hurt, and I let a few tears trickle down before wiping them and trying to change the subject.
“How’s the school?” I asked.
“It’s fine, it’s fine. They don’t have any new positions. I know that’s why you’re asking,” Mama said. “Don’t they have a school down here you can apply to? You’ve resigned yourself to taking care of an old bat, and you’re too young for that, darling.”
I scowled at that. She could be so insensitive at times. Before I could respond, I heard some stirring in the other room, and I knew Gladys was finally up. While my mama continued fussing, my eyes darted around the living room, making sure everything looked fairly decent. The day wasn’t over with yet, but so far the room looked nice. Gladys burst through the door and put a cigarette in her mouth right in front of me.
“Who’s this?” she asked, looking Mama up and down. “I don’t want company in my house.”
“This is my mama,” I replied. “Gladys, could you please stop smoking?”
I waited, hoping that she’d cooperate just this once. I didn’t want my mama to think this was too much for me to handle because it wasn’t. Right?
Gladys blew a puff of smoke out of her mouth then spent the next minute or so wheezing while Mama got up and snatched the cigarettes from her. Gladys looked taken aback, but she went into another coughing fit before she could really say anything. My mother shook her head at me with disappointment, and I tensed up under the judgment.
“This ain’t what I pictured for you, Junie,” she muttered.
“Sorry, Mama,” I replied back sadly. I wanted her approval, but I wasn’t going back to Twinbrook, partly because she probably wouldn’t let me anyway.
“Looks like your work day is starting,” she said while preparing to leave.
“So soon? I thought we were gonna have lunch!” I pouted. It didn’t work. She continued talking without missing a beat.
“Now, I want you to call the school and get something set up. I know you’re in a rut because things didn’t go according to plan, Junie. But guess what? Life isn’t mapped out. It’s random as hell. You call that school, ya hear?”
She shut the door and left, but her presence was still felt. I wanted her to wrap me in her arms and tell me it was okay. Instead, Gladys insisted that she needed help in the bathroom. I sighed loudly before doing as I was told.
After much arguing, I got Gladys to eat and go to bed. Slowly, I pulled the diary out of its hiding place to avoid making too much noise. I didn’t know where to start so I started from the beginning.
For our anniversary last night, Edward made sweet love to me, and he got me this beautiful diary.
That was enough for me. I winced and flipped a few pages, trying hard to push away any mental images.
Ursula’s getting divorced again. Seems like the girl is so hardheaded. After she lost the baby, I knew it would put a strain on her marriage. She always throws herself into work when things get too difficult to deal with. I want so badly to be a grandmother, and at this rate, I’m never gonna get that experience. Paul won’t talk to me. He’s still sore about me cutting him off, but drugs are dangerous and I’m not supporting anybody’s bad habit.
I found that ironic now that she was a smoker. I felt like I was delving into her children’s personal lives. I knew nothing about Paul other than the fact that he agreed for me to be the caretaker, although Ursula was the one who had come down to take care of Gladys until I was hired. Ursula was also still very much a workaholic. She hadn’t really checked too much on her mother since I was hired. I’d taken that to mean she trusted me, but a month was really too long to go without checking up on a close family member. I skipped ahead to the last page in the diary.
It’s been years since I wrote in this old thing. Edward’s long gone and so are my children it seems. They never come to check on me, and now my damn health is failing. I’ve failed as a mother. Paul and Ursula argued for so long about whose turn it was to come check on me. All I am to them is a burden. Paul hasn’t come to see me in such a long time. He keeps replacing all his bad habits with other ones, and I won’t support any of those either. He’s lost custody of his children and I bet another man is raising them. Ursula has gotten too old to become a mother, and she only visits every once and awhile. I don’t think the girl will ever get married again. I can’t tell if her heart is broken or if she’s just cold. Regardless, I’m tired. I’m tired of being here and I hate being old. I don’t know what they’re doing with me, but I doubt anyone will be here for long. Not sure if I’ll be put in a nursing home or what, but I’m finally ready to just give up on life. I miss Edward.
I slammed the diary shut, and cringed. I had just invaded this woman’s privacy and now I felt horrible about it. I knew the last entry had been made shortly before I came. The ink was a little darker than any of the other ones, and everything she mentioned matched up perfectly with what I knew. She was old and I was young. She was angry and I was sad. She had a stable lifestyle and I had stumbled upon temporary stability. The only thing it seemed we shared was heartbreak, but I knew that that was something.
The next morning I woke up bright and early and went to the grocery store for some lemons, sugar, and water. I made Gladys a fresh pitcher of lemonade, and instead of waiting for her to get out of bed, I woke her up when she heard me enter the room with her drink.
“Hush that racket!” she yelled loudly. She looked at me, expecting me to leave. It melted my heart to know that she expected that. Life had been that way to her for so long that she now expected it. I smiled at her instead of leaving.
“Can I talk to you?” I said with a smile.
She just sat on her bed looking quite uncomfortable. I took that to mean yes.
“The other night as I was clearing your books off the desk, I couldn’t resist reading your diary.” Her eyebrows raised and she looked angry.
“I know it was wrong! No denying that. I’m very sorry for doing that. I only read three pages, but they were so sad. You sure do miss Edward, huh?”
She continued to stare at me with her mouth slightly open. “Mhm…” she said. Her walls came down an inch, but that was still something. I decided to work with it.
“I’m sorry that your children don’t spend enough time with you and that you haven’t gotten to experience being a grandmother. That’s awful,” I said. Her scowl broke down and I could see that she was very, very sad. She turned her head away from me and stared at the wall.
“I think… I think you should stop sabotaging your health. Paul may or may not care. Ursula may not know how to show it. I don’t know. But I’d hate for you to die or get hurt under my watch.” I then began crying. I couldn’t help it. Me and Gladys were having a heart to heart all of a sudden, and I was happy about it. She continued to stare ahead, but I could tell the words were sinking in and leaving an impact. I told her about my first heartbreak with James and how he was chasing big dreams that I was never even included in for a second. She seemed to sympathize. There was a sliver of silence after I’d poured my heart out. It had been therapeutic and I could tell she couldn’t look at me the same way. Just as I thought we were finished and I was about to start cleaning for the day, she began talking about Edward and how much she missed him. They’d spent fifty years together and had two kids.
“You know, sometimes it feels terrible to have your dreams ripped away. But, honey, it also hurts to get everything you asked for and to find out it was wrong all along. I got Edward then I lost him to cancer. We had our two miracle babies and now they couldn’t care less about me. I’m back where I started. Lonely.”
I gave her a small smile and told her to get out of bed and follow me. She seemed nervous, but I told her to trust me. She hadn’t been out of the house since I moved in, and I was tired of being cooped up inside. We, of all people, deserved to have one good day. We spent the day hanging out together.
We took a short walk in the park until she was tired of supporting herself on that cane, then we just sat on a bench and made small talk. Afterwards, I took her to dinner instead of cooking. For once, she didn’t complain about the food. I think it had less to do with the quality and more to do with the fact she felt wanted for once.
When we got home, I surprised her with new makeup and I did her hair. I had been saving the makeup for a rainy day, although I rarely ever wore any of the stuff anyway. She looked beautiful and happy. For once, I was excited about my job and happy to be taking care of Gladys. I knew I could offer something to her life that even her children didn’t seem willing to bring.
But when I woke up the next morning, she was gone.