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Second Place - "My Attitude"

1996 Anne Horton Writing Award
Second Place
"My Attitude"
Rachel Clark (Stauffer)

". . . Eighteen, nineteen, twenty. Ready or not here I come!" I shout out the warning loud enough so all of the kids know that they are no longer safe. They must hide or be doomed to the impervious fate of being "it." I move slowly and steadily watching for movement out of the corner of my eye. I catch a glimpse of a pale blue shirt moving behind the tall grass. I let out a shout of triumph as I cite my first victim. " I see you Jimmy, and I'm going to get you." He is suprised by my words and lets out a small scream as he rushes towards "goal." I determine to let him escape this time, but on his way there he stumbles over a clump of dirt. That's when I really do run towards him with all the speed that I can.

By the time that I arrive, he is sobbing and clutching his dirty knee which is showing a little bit of blood. Everyone else takes advantage of my lack of concentration by running to "goal"; but at this point, I don't care. I swoop the little boy into my arms telling him that he needs to be taken to the Fliss General Hospital. I make a ambulance noise with my mouth as I carry him into the house; and even though he knows that he is bleeding, he giggles at my silliness. I am followed by the seven other kids that were playing hide and seek with me. I'm really only being paid for babysitting the boy I'm carrying and one girl that is in the crowd of seven; but in my mind, the more the merrier.

I step into the house, leaving my followers at the door with their faces pressed up against the window. As I walk towards the bathroom, I maneuver around half a dozen toys--a plastic machine gun, a red power ranger's mask, a plastic figurine of Simba, a red crayon, an "Old Maid" card set, and a ragged-looking stuffed version of Mickey Mouse. I set the boy down on the sink counter. He looks at me placidly as I assemble my equipment for sterilization. He complies after some coaxing on my part and puts his knee over the sink. He explains to me in jumbled terms what happened as I wash out his cut, rinse with hydrogen peroxide, and apply a "Lion King" band-aide. I stop him a couple of times because I am unsure of what he is trying to say. He repeats himself over and over until I somehow make the connection.

I no sooner walk into the living room with my "recovering patient" when I here the phone ring. I run to get the phone in the kitchen, hoping to beat the answering machine. I make it just in time. It's their parents just checking to see how their kids are. Both of the kids take their turn talking on the phone. Their parents take the time to listen to the story about the little boy's accident even though the call is long distance. The kids eventually finish talking, and we return to our game of "hide-and-seek."

As I roam around, I look at my watch. This time tomorrow I will be at work with an old person whose greatest thrill is reading the obituary page. I make good money being a C.N.A. (Certified Nurse's Aid), but I can't say that I really look forward to going to work. At least I don't have to work in a nursing home. Instead, I work in people's homes for them. However, the thought of being shut up in a house with a grouchy old person for eight hours is still not too appealing. I push the thought of tomorrow aside and decide to enjoy the time that I have left with the kids. * * *

". . . I'll be there in just a minute Mrs. Smith," I scream down the hallway hoping the hand bell she holds will stop its incessant ringing". No Mrs. Smith, I wasn't watching the T.V." As I enter her room, the putrid scent of urine hits me at the door. I explain to the patient that I can hear the bell she rings clearly when I am sitting in the living room. However, I can't immediately run into the bedroom. First, I must finish the sentence in my book that I'm reading. Secondly, I have to find my book mark. Finally, I can put up my book and make a mad dash for her bedroom. For some reason, she doesn't believe it would take at least four seconds to do that. I hold my thoughts in and shut my mouth. I assemble my articles needed for the bed bath I must give her. I blindly go through the motions as she babbles on and on about her breakfast. I finish the bath in twelve minutes flat. My fastest record is ten minutes. Maybe I'm getting old.

I assist her to the kitchen; and when she is finished with breakfast, I lead her into the living room so she can read the newspaper to find out who died today. I busy myself reading a book. Soon, I am lost in the story.

I feel someone watching me. Out of the corner of my eyeI see her look at me; and for a moment, I see past her grouchy exterior. I can see her pain. The pain of knowing that there'll be no phone call from concerned parents or friends. They are buried in the earth. Her only companions are strangers who merely crave a paycheck at the end of the week. The pain of knowing that she can no longer go outside. She can hardly make it to the bathroom, let alone walk down the front stairs and into the yard. The pain of knowing so much from life, but having no one who wants to listen to it. She's just an "old smelly lady" whose specialty is making messes. The pain of knowing that people hate being around her. She hears their comments and cries inwardly.

After earning a master's degree, caring for her mother and husband before their deaths', running a household single-handedly, and holding a job, she is now reduced to this "thing" considered "life." She cannot control what food she eats, how she is dressed, or even when she goes to the bathroom.

My gaze shifts to the floor as a tear flows down my cheek which burns hot with shame. My hypocrisy stares me in the face. My attitude towards two people I care for are so different, but should it be? With the young person, I try to compensate for his inadequacies. With the older person, I scorn her for her lack of control. One I adore because of the innocence within, and the other I abhore for the bitterness shown without. They are both human beings worthy of equal treatment.