Amie Heasley

  • More than 70 percent of professionals with the title CNA (aka Certified Nursing Assistant or Certifiably Numb Ageist) switch the location of their job in any given year. I am part of that acronym, that army. I’ve yes sir-ed or m’am-ed with the best of them, mopping shit in the battlefields of The Springs and Lakeview Manor and Tendercare in just the last ten months.
  • Maxwell is stuck inside Virginia’s bathroom. He rolls himself in her room at least once a day, making eyes at her. Virginia repeats “getoutgetoutgetoutgetout” until someone who resembles me frees Maxwell and his wheelchair from the maze that is Virginia’s toilet and Virginia’s sink.
  • Virginia’s legs are virtually dead, but her mind is kicking. Wrinkled hands folded on top of her cane, she asks me over and over if I know where she grew up. Over and over, I tell her everywhere.
  • My dad split when I was six. He took me and mom to Disney, made me squeal and almost puke on that teacup ride, bought me Mickey Mouse ears, then headed off to the real Magic Kingdom—the one where alcoholic fathers hide from the sober reality of their wives and kids.
  • Virginia says, “Call me Ginny.” The way she says it reminds me of the first line of Moby-Dick, which I failed the test on back in high school.
  • The supervising nurse prefers sticky notes with bullet points. Sometimes her lists are direct orders. Sometimes they’re friendly tips and reminders. E.g.: “Call buttons are your calling,” “Practice evidence-based practices,” “Care as if it was your grandma.”
  • Dad sends me random postcards for my birthday. I don’t know if he’s ever been to these places, but he always scribbles “God Bless The us of A!!!” on the back. He always uses three exclamation points. I swear I can smell the Jack Daniels in the ink.
  • Ginny’s hands shake. LouAnn, who’s been divorced from Ginny’s son for more than two decades, wipes food clinging to the mouth and the chin of her ex-mother-in-law with the grace of The Pope.
  • I call Virginia Ginny because she’s my favorite resident. We’re not supposed to play favorites, but Ginny tells dirty jokes. The mess of lines on her face are the rivers of a life lived with little restraint. She calls me her darling, her angel, her double-oh-seven.
  • She hasn’t stepped outside in weeks, but Ginny still insists the sky out west doesn’t quit.
  • I haven’t been on a date in months. Too much of my time is spent changing bedsheets, bringing tepid water to weathered lips, chanting “I like Ike,” debating the pros and cons of colorized television, speculating whether women will again play ball, doing my best Fred Astaire.
  • I accepted this job and will not shove it. At least I’m surrounded by women. At least Maxwell, the only man in my care, doesn’t remind me of my father.
  • Ginny sings me “You Are My Sunshine.” She never screws up the words, even the part about dreaming of holding you in my arms. Before he left us, I remember dad’s attempts at that song. Six beers in and he’d slur the words. Ten beers in and he’d call me his bluesky, his blueberrypie, his littleboyblueunderthehay. Then he’d tell me to shut up and go to bed.
  • “A smile confuses an approaching frown,” the pink sticky note suggests.
  • Ginny says she never stopped moving, taking will-work-for-food kind of jobs with her father. I’ve only been outside of Michigan once, so I close my eyes and picture the Greetings from Montana-Kentucky-California-Iowa-Nevada-Colorado-South Dakota-Ohio I’ve glimpsed on dad’s postcards.
  • Mom died of cancer three years after my father went MIA. In the end, the shell of the woman who bandaged my bloodied kneecaps, who made my favorite tuna-noodle casserole without the peas, who promised I was her man of the house, had only the energy to lie beneath the red, white and blue afghan she herself had crocheted.
  • Bullets enhance the reader’s ability to scan important information.
  • Many examples exist where blood isn’t thicker than water. That’s why I consider LouAnn Ginny’s daughter.
  • Maxwell is like Captain Ahab, only Maxwell won’t give up chasing after pale old women, despite his erectile dysfunction and dementia. For him, the chase probably has everything to do with sex and nothing to do with revenge.
  • Nursing homes are teeming with ladies. More than two-thirds of Americans age 85 or older are women. Eight out of 10 centenarians are women.
  • The closer you are to somebody, the more grief that somebody gives you, especially if that somebody is knock-knock-knocking on the pearly gates. I tell LouAnn Ginny loves and appreciates her. I tell Ginny, who sometimes curses and throws food at LouAnn, to love and appreciate her daughter.
  • Maxwell sobs in Ginny’s bathroom. Ginny passed away yesterday, and any day now, another resident will move into the depression of her mattress, the hollow of my life.
  • Greetings from Nearly Pushing Daisies. That may be politically incorrect as a name for a long-term care facility, but consider this stat: About one in five of all deaths in the U.S. happens in a nursing home.
  • Bulleted items may be short phrases, single sentences or of paragraph length.
  • Most CNAs are women. Most change jobs often because of the crappy benefits and even crappier wages—under eleven bucks per hour on average. They bolt because of high injury rates and the shortage of what Aretha crooned as R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
  • “All of us will take a dirt nap,” Maxwell says, right before he begins singing “God Bless America,” blending the lyrics with “America the Beautiful.” His voice, that cracking and faltering, becomes the voice of my absent father, a lament drowning in the Pacific Ocean between us.

Amie Heasley graduated with her MFA in fiction from Western Michigan University in 2006. Most recently, her work has appeared online at Juked, Prick of The Spindle and The Smoking Poet.