She loves it when the kids come to do their school interviews. She loves their energy, their vibrant good health, their irreverence.
She never admits this out loud, however, because she fears the manager would stop her from participating, or even end the visits altogether.
The manager’s primary job seems to be to deny the residents anything that brings them joy. Their food is bland, brown-grey mush. Their bed linens are bland, brown-grey artificial fibers that are “easy to clean.” Their entertainment is bland, too. Although every room has its own screen, the programming is uniform. Everyone watches the same old situation comedies and musical variety shows. Every week, on Sunday, the residents complete a poll of what they would like on their screens for the upcoming seven days. Every week, the results are the same, and bear no resemblance to the residents’ claims as to what they requested.
The kids coming to do their interviews are not bland, not grey, and not uniform. She does not know how they have been able to continue. Maybe the teacher knows the manager. But all the residents know not to show any enthusiasm. They are kind to the students, mostly, throwing in just enough grumpiness to hide their pleasure. No one wants to give the teacher an excuse to stop sending the young people to their home.
Home, she thinks, offering a silent snort of disdain. This is no home. This is a bland, comfortable, easy-to-clean warehouse for old people.
She knows what the student arriving this afternoon will ask about. Some of the other residents had their interviews already, and they shared the inside scoop through the residential grapevine.
They are going to ask about that year. The year everything changed.
She remembers it as well as she remembers anything, which is to say, not all that well. Some details have faded, while others stand out in clear, bright colors.
The yard signs. The street corners full of people. Her friends, back then, taking a stand on one side or the other. The losses. The dread of going outside. The shock at seeing an orange sky in midday.
The decisions they all had to make. Looking back, she wonders at how lightly they seemed to hold those decisions.
A bell rings on her tablet, indicating her visitor is waiting. She speaks the code into the tablet, hears the lock on her door pop open.
Is this old age in every era, she wonders, or are we truly experiencing something new?