BY MONIQUE CONIBEAR
Back in my day, I lived through a pandemic and it was the only thing that truly prepared me for this moment.
From the bottom of the carpark the white building was like a castle. Multiple levels looming over me with each wing interconnected through a walkway of glass that faced out towards a forest of green. It was beautiful in a way, a new adventure kind of like my first year at university. I would be living in a room about the same size as the one at my college hall. Everyone around me would be different, hundreds of potentials for another friend. There would even be games and activities to get me involved every single day.
It would be similar to university, but not the same. If anything, it would be more like my second year. The year of the pandemic. Sure, maybe this time I would be able to see new people every day, but I still wouldn’t be able to connect like normal.
As I walked into the foyer the first thing that struck me was how pristine everything looked. A bottle of sanitiser on the wall, a vending machine in the waiting room, a nurse sitting at the desk. It reminded me of the hospital where I had spent many years as a doctor. Pushing through on exhausted legs until the sun rose and I was granted a chance to rest. However as much as this reminded me of my working years, I wasn’t here to work. This time I was the patient and from now until the day I died; this would be my new home.
“Excuse me, can I help you?” the nurse at the desk called out, beckoning me over.
I jolted out of my thoughts.
“Hi, sorry, I’m uhh” the words jumbled in my mind. I dug my fingernails into my palm. What was the word I was trying to say? I bit the inside of my cheek. I felt like I was back on that zoom call but the internet was constantly cutting out. So many random words being missed that the sentence no longer made sense anymore. How could I possible connect with them if I couldn’t even have a conversation? The other day I had forgotten the word for mug. Mug. Such a simple word that I had used all my life and I couldn’t even remember it. Yet somehow my stupid mind could still remember all the elements of the periodic table that I learnt in Year 8. It didn’t even make sense.
“Mum, there you are. Sorry we got caught in traffic on the way over. Paul is bringing up your things”. Sophie called, wheeling in one of the suitcases she had packed for me.
“Oh, you must be the new resident,” the nurse said, shuffling through the paperwork. “I’ll go get Kerrie and she can show you around.”
I just nodded and took another look around. Why had I agreed to this? At least at home I would be surrounded by people I loved. How could anyone ever love me here if I couldn’t even hold a conversation?
Another lady was walking into the foyer, bent over her walking frame and taking slow shuffling steps. She was beaming from ear to ear as she hummed Amazing Grace. It startled me at first, how happy be looked, but then I realised she wasn’t exactly in the same boat as me. I would give up my mobility any day if I could just speak normally again. If I could still love like I had before. That was probably why she was so happy.
As she saw me her entire face lit up. She shuffled towards me and gave me a warm smile, resting her hand on mine and squeezing tight. Then, still without saying a word she made her way out the door and sat on the little chair overlooking the carpark.
“See. She seems really lovely,” Sophie said, squeezing my other hand.
I nodded; my eyes still focused on the woman. Her smile stretched from ear to ear as she looked aimlessly out towards the cars. I glanced back down at my hands where the feeling of her touch still lingered. We hadn’t even spoken, yet I felt like I already knew her.
Maybe this wasn’t like the pandemic at all. Back then we could never hold a stranger’s hand like that, yet we could talk as much as we liked. Back then I would have been craving what I have now. I might have even given up all my conversations if it meant I could just give someone a hug.
I felt tears begin to prick at my eyes. How had I forgotten that there is more than one way to love? The pandemic had been the same at first, I was so focused on not being able to hold someone’s hand or give them a hug that I forgot there were other ways to connect. We had adapted back then, finding new ways to care and connect despite the barrier. Calling a friend just to show them we were thinking about them. Not focused on the exact conversations we were having but rather knowing that the effort itself showed more than words ever could.
Maybe, just maybe , I could learn how to adapt now too.