On the way to work this morning, I stopped at the CVS near our house to buy a fingernail clipper. This is because the one we had in the bathroom burst recently when I tried to use it, expelling a screw from it’s center with such force that it arced high into the air before plopping right into the bathroom sink drain, where there was no little basket to catch it, and where it remains. If I look close, I can see it glinting, on top of a few other detritus-like items, in the depths.
I stopped at the CVS on the way to work because I really needed to clip my fingernails and file them too, before I got to work. I was self-conscious yesterday; I felt poorly groomed because my talons were growing out and looking unsightly. Of course, they were only slightly so, but too much for me. We used to have several nail clippers of several sizes, but you know how it is. We had none when I needed them, and the kids saw neither hide nor hair of any of them either.
So, I stopped at the CVS at the top of the hill on the way to work. I’m never in a very good mood when I go to that place. Let’s just say, the environs usually put a damper on my mood pretty quick. What is it? The tabloids at the register? The usually desultory employees?
The other night when I was there a true character, a near-shade, haunted the register area. She was old and only made herself much older by trying with immense desperation to appear young. She wore a tiny mini skirt and a brazen medallion at her throat.
She wasn’t well, that was clear from the moment I saw her macabre, Raccoon-like makeup job. If it were Halloween, she’d have fit right in. She was pretty unstable, flirting with the cashier, flitting about — or trying to flit when you’re rather stiff in the joints — maybe ambling, no, jerking — about, is more accurate.
It’s usually garishly bright in that place, full of sickening, overly sweet chocolate and chemicals and weird, cheap makeup and pharmaceuticals and what the hell, wrapping paper and alarm clocks and Christmas lights and pregnancy tests and KY Jelly. You know the place. We all need it. It exists for a reason. But, I don’t love going there.
Which is why this morning was so refreshing and enlightening and stayed with me and made me want to share.
Because, since I’m usually none too cheery in those places, expecting very little, I must admit, I don’t exactly seek connection.
So, when the male, middle-aged cashier made a conversational foray, I was polite, but not overly welcoming. I didn’t look him straight in the eye. I gave him more a glancing once-over, I’m afraid. I do this often, I’m afraid. And yet, when I realize I’ve done this, sometimes, I go back and look at the person right. Take them in. See them. Acknowledge them.
Something about this man made me do that. Or something about my mood, I don’t know. Perhaps a combination of the two. Either way, I looked up again and responded a little more deeply than the usual chuckle and “uh huh.” He responded in kind, and pretty soon we had ourselves a tiny conversation. He led me to the back of the garishly lit store and showed me the various fingernail clippers hanging on the wall. Then, he melted away.
I picked one and made my way back to the register. We talked about Christmas a little. We laughed about debt, and how not to get into it. He said ruefully he’d finished with all debt several years back. I laughed and shared that the same was true for me. No more credit cards. Ever. I said the credit cards were the work of the Devil. We nodded, together.
He said his kids were grown now (I looked again; he couldn’t have been older than mid-forties). He said it’s not about the presents anymore, that his kids understand that. He doesn’t care if he works on Christmas anymore because it’s not about that.
As I made to leave, having paid, he said, “Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. Every day is Christmas.”
That was my gift for today. Every day is Christmas because tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. And you can bet that he knew of what he spoke, a black man working for minimum wage in a CVS in Oakland. My sister, a substitute teacher in Oakland’s poorest schools, says more than half her class on a given day is wearing RIP tee-shirts for relatives they’ve lost to gun violence.
A relative we love was discharged from the hospital today. My kids were to pick him up a few hours later. As I drove to my new job in Redwood City, I called my son on speaker phone to give him instructions, to make sure he understood what was required of him. I found myself saying, “Ryan, tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. Be present. Show all your love.”
I have the CVS man to thank for that piece of wisdom which I passed along and mused on several times today. I thought about how messengers can come from anywhere. They can come out of left field when you least expect them. You have to be ready. You have to be receptive.
And you have to pass it on. Tonight, when I spoke to our family member who was just released from the psychiatric hospital, I was a little more tender, a little more patient, a little more present, than I might have been otherwise.
My father is still in the hospital with his hip broken in two places. Twice now, the facility has called me to say that he’s not responding, not getting better. That his dementia is preventing him from being able to follow instructions. They say that Medicare will stop paying if he’s not progressing.
Then, they’ll use up the last of his personal funds and shift him to Medi-Cal.
The subtext is… I don’t know. That he’ll be in hospice, basically? He won’t be able to go back to his “memory-impaired” unit — his dementia unit, The Grove at Piedmont Gardens. But, he never seemed happy there anyway. I fought to get him there because I like the manager, the scrappy blonde boy who seemed to have a real connection to his wards on the floor. That was Nate. But, he’s gone now.
I don’t know what will happen next. I don’t know if my dad will rally, if the pain meds can be reduced, and he can be allowed to rally and gather a little more cognition. I don’t know if this last broken hip is the beginning of the slippery slope, slightly steeper now, to death. I’m preferring not to think about that. For now, it’s about getting to work every day, doing as well as I can, bringing a check home and getting it in the bank, appreciating my kids, walking my dog, and realizing that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. Every day is Christmas.