I worked a full-time good paying job that was somewhat stressful and required a lot of attention to detail. It also meant sitting on my behind for much of the day. My children almost ready to leave the nest, I found myself rarely running after them and craved something physical to work at, but which came with little responsibility. A local fast food restaurant advertised for an evening hostess/ cleaning person and I had nothing to lose by trying. Three nights a week I hurried from my day job to the restaurant to start in time for the supper rush.
Anyone who has ever worked in that industry will tell you that it is a microcosm of humanity, teaming with every hierarchy of society - rich, poor, old, young, families, singles, teens. Some days I found myself standing and simply watching.
One day I walked into the dining area and found it full of families, a couple of teens and a gentle looking senior sitting by himself. Grampa bringing the kids to the play area and for a little lunch treat, I thought. I started on the garbages, and cleaning tables, asking this person or that if they needed more coffee and noticed the old gent up talking to a young couple with children. He would stop and chat a while and move on, then return to his table.
When I went to the basement to clean the staff room and returned almost 45 minutes later I was surprised to see the old gent still sitting there. Curiosity completely got the better of me and I approached him.
"Well," I asked, "Are you waiting for someone? I've noticed you here for a while."
"Yes," he nodded. "I'm waiting for my wife. I'm picking her up from the bus."
We were miles from any bus stop, but I supposed it was possible a tour bus might make a stop there for passengers, so I pressed on, asking where his wife was visiting and when she was to arrive.
"Oh," he assured me, "Any time now, but..." he added quietly, "Can you help me?" He stood and turned and quietly asked if I could pinch his suspenders on to the back of his trousers where they had come unclasped. Asking him to turn slightly so as to be facing the majority of the people I quickly lifted the back of his sweater and pinched the clasps. What I saw immediately brought little tears stinging to my eyes. The tell tale sign of an adult diaper.
"There," I told him. "Good as new. Now why not sit and I will bring you a cup of tea while you wait." He rested back in his chair and I approached the manager asking if he knew the fellow. No one seemed to know him and except for one lone staff member, not one person had really even noticed him. My co-worker said, "You know, he's been here almost all afternoon." Because he was there almost an hour and a half of my shift I knew something was wrong, very wrong. Had he sat there alone? scared? patient? all those hours?
I approached the manager and asked him to please call the police and see if there were any reports of a missing person, and though he seemed to find that rather dramatic, I was insistent and then returned to my old fellow.
Bringing his tea, I asked him what his name was, you know, just in case his wife called for him. "John." he said with a twinkle in his eyes. "Big Bad John!" like he had said it probably many times before. Many times before that terrible disease called Alzheimers had robbed him of the years. We continued to talk as I passed him on my duties and at one point he looked to be getting up to leave. Another cup of tea soon had him sitting back and I told him we were calling about the bus and why would it be so late. Placated now, he tried to comfy himself on the cold hard seat.
There was almost a palpable hush of expectancy when the door opened and a younger woman walked in, followed by an old, weary looking woman. I knew her the moment I saw her. Her face flashed worry and strain, but then instantly to love and relief the second she spotted her Big Bad John. While the younger woman approached the counter to speak with the manager, the older woman immediately fell to John's side, her eyes flashing a silent thank you to me.
"Well there you are!" he reprimanded. "You sure took your time and I'm so very tired." Suddenly, all bravado forgotten, he turned into a little lost boy and allowed his dear old wife to take his hand and lead him out to the car. The car he had gotten into when she and her daughter's backs were turned as they weeded the garden. The car he had driven to town a hundred times before the ravages of a hideous disease left him locked in a failing body and mind.
I will not often think kindly on that job, for the work's sake. It was hard and stinky, but from it I gained more life experience than I had in a lifetime of other jobs. Am I my brother's keeper? To that I say that yes, indubitably, unequivocally. yes. Do we keep pieces of everyone we meet in our hearts and souls? Also, yes and also as unequivocally. What I learned that day from an old man was worth every smelly uniform and every blister on my foot. In as short a time as I knew him, I learned more than one could possibly conceive.
Wherever you are, Big Bad John, I am sure glad you got off on my stop.