Motel Retirement Home

Stacie and I giggle as we rifle through the pile of hand bags strewn in the corner of the room. They were the type of bags that little girls carry when they want to feel grown up, cheap cloth adorned with rubber bows and sequins. Some were in the shape of animal faces. The sequin head of Hello Kitty would be a popular choice. Which would we choose for tonight?

We are playing a game, our participation a wild and spontaneous decision made in the name of ‘’why not?’’ and ‘’what the hell!’’. This is our first time, surprising not because of our personality or character-we are down for anything!-but because it is bewildering that we haven’t done this before, given that we’ve been hanging out at Al’s for years. We call it Al’s but really, his place occupies only one corner of one floor of the industrial complex. This is where he runs the business, making this his workplace, but that has never stopped us from hanging out. We knew the boss, so who would stop us? The space, with its sparse furnishings and floor to ceiling windows, has the feel of an old New York City loft. Very cool.

There was nothing special about tonight. We drank our beers and milled about like all the other nights spent at Al’s. We watched the girls as outsiders, those who were trying too hard, grinding in the rotating beams of red light cast by the karaoke machine. That wasn’t us; we were one of the boys. Maybe it was Al who suggested it. Maybe he pointed out how strange it was that we have never done it before, I don’t remember. Regardless, we decided ‘’why not!’’ and so we now dig through the hand bags to select our costume. This was going to be fun!

Giggling still-’’I can’t believe we’re actually doing this!’’-we make our way down the narrow corridor. Stacie finds her place in front of the second door; I find mine in front of the third. The doors are painted a muddy shade of beige.

Al gives us basic instructions. We are to occupy the full hour, he says. An hour seems like a really long time. I wonder how I could possibly fill it. I exchange glances with Stacie, trading my uneasy smile for her nervous excitement. As I stand waiting in front of my beige door, it dawns on me once again that we have never done this before, only this time, it is in a way that seems to sober and paralyze.

It’s time. I knock on the door and let myself in. In the brief moment in time wedged between the closed and open state of the door, the terrifying realization that I do not know who is waiting inside rushes through me. Then I see her, reclined in an old schoolhouse chair. She is watching a broadcast from a television set, the small, bulky kind you find on cheap travel buses. Her legs are propped up on a table and at the same time, also stretched out underneath. Game tiles are scattered on the table. I can’t decide if they are scrabble letters or a set of dominoes. She must have been playing earlier. The lady, the desk and the television make up one tableau; a set of dusty rose curtains and a mattress make up another. Together in this musty space of filtered light, they create a motel retirement home feel to the room.

There is a certain relief that comes from knowing that it is a woman, and the terror that once filled me washes out just as quickly as it came.The woman is simultaneously Filipino, Spanish and Italian. She is old, in her 70’s or early 80’s, maybe. She is old, a fact that slowly trickles through my consciousness, giving rise to a wave of new terror. I think of what I will have to do. I think of my lips to her dry folds, and I realize that I can’t do this.

I try to buy myself time by making small talk, the innocuous kind a therapist makes with their patient-’’what are you watching there?’’ I ask, nodding to the television. Before she can answer, the door echoes with the sound of a pounding fist. I rush to the door and look through the peephole. It’s Al.

‘’What’s going on?’’ I ask.

‘’Get out!’’ He yells as he charges in. The lady quickly gathers what she can of her belongings, a wool blanket and a duffel bag stuffed clumsily with clothes, and rushes out the room, visibly ashamed and upset.

‘’What happened?’’ I ask Al.

‘’She lied about her age on her Facebook page!’’ he says, still reeling from his outburst of rage. ‘’Does she look 87 to you?’’

‘’I…I don’t know,’’ I answer truthfully.

‘’She’s 63!’’

‘’Is that worse?’’ I ask.

‘’Of course it is!’’ He retorts.

It is only then that I notice the picture frames of her loved ones propped on the nightstand, the photos of her loved ones hanging on the wall. This had been her makeshift home, a temporary residence that she had paid per night to extend indefinitely. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her. Where would she get her pleasures now, and where her comfort? She was left to wander alone.