"I CAN'T HEAR YOU!"
I drove over to her apartment after work. The traffic was horrible and my brain was less robust after a full day of work. And even though I technically volunteered to do this, I really wanted to just go play outside tonight.
I arrived at the elderly independent care facility near downtown Salt Lake. A single building, 4 stories high. I grabbed my laptop and keys and headed inside.
It was dinnertime so all the elderly were sitting in the atrium together, but I headed for the elevator to go up to Pauline's room. I'd only talked to her on the phone several times, and she seemed about like a 94 year-old women should - a bit cantankerous, entirely untrusting, but really not too bad.
The elevator opens on the 4th floor, and I maneuver through the group of elderly trying to get on. I walk down the hallway, open to the atrium below, and note that this building really is not very big for the number of people living here. I guess not much space is needed for one old person living alone, so they are really packed in. And even the atmosphere feels old. Outdated paisley carpet. Yellowing walls. Maybe it's intentionally antiquated for the comfort of the occupants, but it mostly just seems like a constant reminder to me, a beeping alarm clock. Old. Old. Old.
I am dead-ended in the corner of the building, so I turn the other direction, finding Pauline's apartment just to the right. The door is slightly ajar, so I knock gently, and hear a faint, "come in."
Pauline is sitting at the kitchen table in her white robe, an empty chair opposite of her, just waiting for me. So I greet her, briefly observe her tiny apartment, and quickly sit down across from her and open my laptop.
Suddenly I'm nervous.
I'm asking her how her day went. "Not good," she says. And she looks at me like I'm clearly missing something. "I have heart failure, you know."
"eeeehhhh-huh." Is the sound that comes from me.
I don't know how to approach chronical illness well. Like, "Oh how terrible!" As if they need that reminder. But "oh okay" seems so uninterested. So I sort of just fidget around while she tells me about it. And then she begins a very rigorous round of questioning about whether or not I really know how to do taxes. "You're too young to know how to do them." "Not all CPA's know what they're doing." "I don't trust anyone." And no matter what I say, she replies, "I CAN'T HEAR YOU!!"
This is just great.
Our attention gradually turns to the tax documents on her kitchen table, and I try to connect to my tax software, but after calling the lobby downstairs, we quickly realize the building only offers wifi in the atrium, where everyone is eating dinner. Pauline is sad that she didn't know because she doesn't feel suitable to go out. "Look at me!" she exclaims.
"No, no, it's okay. We can think of something else," I assure her. And I tell her, tentatively, because I'm afraid of another round of interrogation, that I think it would be best if I just take the documents, and complete the work at my house. Then I can bring them back and we can review them. She continues for awhile on a grand spiel about every person who has ever done her taxes and the errors they made on them, and she's also pretty positive I'm going to get in a horrific crash on the drive home. I assure her that I'm quite accurate, if I do say so myself, and I also drive just fine too. Plus, I mean, taxes for the elderly is like.... we should seriously just train the 1st graders of America to do them. "I CAN'T HEAR YOU!!!!"
So I just bagged the tax agenda all together and asked her what she used to do for a profession. And before I knew it, we were in a full-fledged conversation like two ladies over lunch. Laughing ourselves silly. Sharing about our personal lives. It was so enjoyable for the both of us. She is a really sharp-minded lady, and she found me impressive as well. And she never once shouted again about how she couldn't hear me.
At one point, she asked if I was dating someone, and I told her that I was. She tells me to take my time and not let my hormones rush anything. She tells me about how she was really a pretty thing, and all the boys wanted her. In football season, she'd go with the football star, but then she'd drop him by spring, so she could go with the basketball star. "You do that in high school, ya know, because you don't know what you're doing. You just have hormones."
After we talk for nearly two hours, I tell her I better get going, and she should get some rest. As I stand up to leave she yells, "Don't let the hormones take over!!" I nod my head in agreement. Because we can't have that. Then I tell her I'll see her soon and head back out onto the blue paisley carpet.
New friends come in funny places. And I am very very glad I met and spent the evening with that white-haired Pauline Allen.
Upward and onward,