Friendships aren't always about the ones you've know the longest
Elizabeth Mills knocked on the door of number 10 Pinecrest Avenue and waited. Her breath was coming in short, staccato bursts and her heart was doing an unhealthy mombo inside her chest.
A moment later, the door opened and a tall, dark-haired man stood staring at her. He was impeccably groomed and frowning impatiently. “Are you the personal support worker?”
Elizabeth nodded. “Yes sir. My name is…”
He held up a hand to forestall her. “Don't need to know. The old man is in his bedroom. Down the hall, second door on the right. I've got to go. I should've been at work an hour ago”. He swept past her and was gone without a backward glance.
Not a very confident start to her first ever PSW assignment, thought Lizzie ruefully. She walked slowly down the hall and stood at the threshold, peering cautiously into the second room on the right. Lizzie didn't need a case report to know that the 66-year-old male on the bed had had a stroke; the drooping, right side of his face said it all. “Mr. Peterson?”
His unkempt white head turned in her direction. “Well come in, come in my dear. I don't bite. You must be my personal support worker?”
“Yes sir. My name is Lizzie Mills.”
“Is that short for Elizabeth?”
“Well Elizabeth, the first thing you should know is that I don't stand on ceremony. I prefer to be called George. The second is that while I will need help with some things, for the most part I prefer to do things for myself.”
“Yes sir, George.”
“I haven't been knighted. Simply George will do.” He eyed the impish girl with the bobbing brunette ponytail. “How old are you, Elizabeth?”
She held up her small, delicate chin resolutely and looked at him with clear, blue eyes devoid of makeup. “I'm 22.”
“That old eh? And how much experience have you got?”
Her direct gaze did not waver. “This is my first assignment as a personal support worker, but I spent several years taking care of my sick mother.”
George was curious to know more but was loath to ask such personal questions on such a short acquaintanceship. “All right. Let's see how we get along, shall we?”
True to her word, she was a competent and compassionate caregiver. She helped him into the shower, gave him a shave and helped him get dressed. She made him breakfast and prepared a lunch that she put in the refrigerator for him, straightened up his room and made his bed. “When I come tomorrow morning, I'd like to give your hair a little trim,” she told him before she left for the day.
And so it went. The mornings took on a familiar routine that he enjoyed thoroughly. She had a very positive, animated personality that he looked forward to on a daily basis. They talked of love, life, music, art and she made him laugh surprisingly often with her remarkably quirky insights and charming witticisms. “Have you ever considered that life isn't the main event, George? Maybe it's just a practice run for something a whole lot better. Why do you think we were given eight fingers and two thumbs? Why not six or four?”
It was during what she liked to call a 'spa day', while she was manicuring his fingernails, that he finally asked a question that he had been curious about throughout his relationship with her. “What made you decide to become a personal support worker?”
She paused, nail file in hand, while she pondered the question. “I don't know that I decided to become a personal support worker. Logically it just made sense.”
“Why did it make sense?”
“Well. My dad died when I was 12 and my mom became a drunk later that same year. At first her drinking wasn’t too bad, but it got really bad in a hurry. Before I knew it I was taking care of her, buying groceries, cooking meals, and doing laundry. You get the picture?”
He encouraged her to go on.
“I had just graduated high school when she was diagnosed with cirrhosis and then the fun really started. There are probably worse ways to die, but seeing someone die of liver failure is right up there with the most gruesome. I was two weeks shy of my 21st birthday when I buried her.”
“I'm so sorry, Elizabeth.”
“You needn't be. I'm not. I never allow myself the luxury of self-pity. If I did I would drown in it. Instead I use it as a catalyst to make myself stronger.”
He nodded comprehendingly. He felt much the same way after his stroke.
“Anyway by the time my mom died, we were broke. I had to take out a loan just to cover the cost of the funeral. After that I made a promise to myself: I would save enough money to go to university and get an education. Initially I tried working retail and as a cashier, but neither job really suited me. Then a friend suggested personal support work.”
“And if you don't mind my asking, how much is it that you need to save?”
“I can get loans, grants, and other sources of financial aid but I figure $20,000 would cover food and other incidentals.”
“$20,000 is a lot of money to save.”
“It is, but I'll do it. While we're playing truth or consequences, I have a couple of questions I'd like to ask you.”
“By all means,” George replied amiably.
“Why does your son never come to see you?”
George considered his answer carefully. “My stroke was a big inconvenience to David. He had always contented himself with a card on my birthday and a brief visit at Christmas. I was there merely to pay for the eight years of his postsecondary education and to ensure that he always had adequate funds to live on. I don't blame him. He looks out for number one. That's not the way I choose to live, but to each man to his own choice. What's your second question?”
“What's with the black book?”
George picked up the lovingly worn little black notebook that he perpetually kept by his side. “This is my friend, my confidant, my compadre. It listens to my feelings, takes note of my ideas, and is there for me to talk to when I'm alone. It never judges and never tires of what I have to say. It chronicles a life well lived and serves as a constant reminder of all that I have to be thankful for. Everyone should have a little black book.”
The long, hot days of summer gradually grew shorter and the first chill of fall settled on the air. Winter came in like a lamb and went out the same way. The second week of March brought two firsts: a hint of milder weather and an early acceptance letter from one of the universities to which Elizabeth had applied. She was barely able to contain her excitement. She quickly showered, dressed and hurried over to George's. She burst through George's front door frantically crying, “George, George guess what?”
She reached his bedroom and stopped short in the doorway. David was boxing up some of George's things. He stopped and looked up when he saw her. “I'm sorry, Elizabeth. George had another stroke last night. He died.”
She stood perfectly still, a single tear escaping her left eye and tracking unheeded down the side of her face. She was, after all, well acquainted with death.
“Dad left you this,” David said, handing her a neatly wrapped package before exiting the room to give her some time on her own.
She sat on the edge of the bed, holding her precious parcel tightly in her hands and allowed herself the folly of tears. She had lost a friend today. Gradually the tears stopped and she realized that she was still clutching the unopened present her friend had given her. She removed the packaging, opened the box and found a brand-new little black notebook. Clipped to the outside was a check for $20,000 and a note that read:
If David has given you this, I am gone, no longer on hand to hear about your successes, triumphs, ideas and feelings. You now have your own little black notebook for that. All important people should have one and you, my dear, are one of the most important people I have ever known.
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