To Nancy, who, because of our many days together that may not have seemed extraordinary. On the surface I may not show my tremendous love for her - the depth of which she may never fully realize. This story is a way to express that love.
Rachel parked in the driveway, locked the car and made her way to the front porch steps. It had been a long and tedious day so all she could think of was having dinner and propping her feet up. As she mounted the steps she looked at the front door.
The inside door was open and behind the storm door stood her husband, Brian. With a mile as wide as a Cheshire cat, in his two hands, held in front of him, was an envelope. Brian held the door open for Rachel while she put her eyes on the envelope.
“It’s from Fordham” she said, eagerly taking the envelope.
She was now twenty-eight years of age and had served as a Certified Nursing Assistant since leaving High School The years of serving the elderly or infirm was as fulfilling today as it was the day she got her first assignment.
Two years ago, she began making an appeal to be on the staff at the Fordham Comfort facility. Being near Washington D.C., the facility was renowned for its wealthy clientele and state-of-the-art surroundings. Its place near some of the country’s wealthiest made it a highly desirable assignment.
Rachel had met several CNA’s having worked there. They told of wide hallways, adequate Doctor and Nursing staff and a manageable resident per CNA ratio – unlike the Nursing Homes she had worked for thus far. She tore at the letter, not even waiting to reach the kitchen where her Son, Chase, waited.
Standing next to Brian she read the letter aloud.
“We are happy to announce we are asking you to join our staff at Fordham Comfort. If you may, please give your present employer the standard two-week notice.
Please contact Peggy Doran with your desire to go ahead with this assignment. If all goes well in planning we expect your appearance at our Staffing office, Room 25 at 8:00 a.m. on April 4th for Orientation.”
The rest of the letter verified contact information for her taking the job.
Rachel hugged her husband and went to the kitchen where she shared the good news with their seven-year-old Son. A sense of jubilation consumed the household that night.
On April 4thRachel sat in front of Peggy Doran at Fordham Comfort. Much of the Orientation was typical but the pay and workload was much better than any she had ever experienced.
The very next day she was assigned to an experienced CNA that would guide her through the process of her employment. That next day she met thirty-something, Leena.
Over those three days Rachel learned the facility and procedures and how to look at her daily assignment sheet to see which Residents would be under her care. She couldn’t help but express to Leena how few Residents she would be assigned.
“I know it, Girl” Leena replied. “It took me three years to get into here and one thing the clients demand is their loved ones never suffer a lack of attention”
Rachel threw herself into the work, using her fastidious work ethic and attention to detail; plus, a constantly smiling face, to gain a favorable mention from one of the Charge Nurses in her section.
The Nurse, Claire, said on her fifth day, “Rachel, I think you’ll fit in here just fine”
By the end of her second week Rachel was feeling a whole lot more comfortable with her tasks – still amazed at how having only six Residents assigned to her allowed her to give more of herself in serving each and every one.
It was a few days later when she asked Leena a question.
“Leena, when I look at the assignment sheet I see Room 105 listed. But that assignment goes to one CNA only. Is there something special about that resident, or does that patient have a bad disease, like MERSA or AIDs?
Leena just gave her a look, saying, “You’ll have to talk to someone else about that. As a matter of fact, don’t even ask”
Perplexed, Rachel just shrugged her shoulders. Rachel took Leena’s advice and asked no more questions. But as time passed Rachel could not help but see an elderly woman come nearly every day. Even when it was not visiting hours this woman would come and walk right into Room 105.
Occasionally the older woman would walk outside the room with the male Resident, a medium-height elderly man with fully grey hair and an always charming smile. Rachel wondered if they were Man and Wife.
Sometimes the elderly Lady would stop and chat with the Charge Nurse. Sometimes their conversations yielded smiles and other times a bit of a sad look.
Time passed and Rachel became more accustomed to the routine at Fordham. The mystery of Room 105 was not answered for her as she witnessed the comings and goings of the elderly Lady.
It was on one particular day when Rachel saw the woman standing outside the room and talking with the Charge Nurse, Serena. The woman appeared to be sobbing and Serena appeared to be comforting her. The woman leaned her head on Serena’s shoulder and openly sobbed.
Later that day Serena summoned Rachel to the Nurse’s office. Serena was the Head Charge Nurse for that wing at Fordham so Rachel was anxious as to what the meeting might portend.
Rachel entered the office and Serena motioned her to the chair in front of the desk. Serena was a middle-aged Black woman whose eyes could draw you in and immediately put you at ease. The Nurse placed her hands on the desk in front of her and clasped them as if in prayer.
“Rachel” she began, “everyone here is very pleased with your work. Tomorrow you will be assigned to Room 105.”
Rachel thanked her for now seeming to reward her with a never-before assignment.
Serena opened the center drawer of her desk, took out a single sheet of paper and slid it across to Rachel.
“In order to be assigned to Room 105, Rachel, it is necessary for you to read and sign this paper”
Rachel was curious. She wondered what it was she was being asked to sign – what it was that went above and beyond the Privacy laws that were in place everywhere she worked, or was this something different?
Rachel took the sheet and read it over. It stated that she was to swear by that affidavit she would not discuss any conversations or words overheard by her, made by the Resident and his visitor. No communication inside that room was to be spoken by her except to duly appointed members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the FBI.
After reading then re-reading the paper, Rachel gave a questioning look to Serena.
“Relax, Rachel,” Serena said, “Any of the workers here attending to Room 105 have to sign such a document.
To put you more at ease, we accepted your application for employment six months before contacting you. Remember the nature of some of our Residents, some having had very important jobs in Government. It took the extra six months for the FBI to clear you for the job, so get that worried look off your face”
Serena’s huge smile put Rachel at ease and she happily signed the paper. “Report to Room 105 at the beginning of your shift tomorrow” Serena instructed. “Follow Mrs. Collin’s directions”
Promptly at 7:00 a.m. the following morning, Rachel knocked, then turned the handle to Room 105 and stepped in. She saw the elderly man sitting in a chair by the window. The man turned to look at her and immediately smiled.
“And how are you today, young Lady?” he said pleasantly.
“I’m just wonderful, Sir!” Rachel replied.
For a little while Rachel stood near him as they talked about the beauty of the outdoors. A knock on the door told Rachel Mr. Collins’ breakfast had arrived. She retrieved the meal and asked the man if he would like to have breakfast where he was seated.
“That would be fine” he stated.
The two made small talk while he ate and immediately after removing his breakfast tray, the door to the room opened and in came the elderly Lady. She placed the satchel she carried on a chair near the door and walked across the room towards Mr. Collins.
“Good morning, Francis” she said smiling.
“Good morning to you” replied the man.
The elderly Lady asked Rachel to move a chair next to Mr. Collins, where she sat after retrieving her satchel.
“My name is Cathy” she said in introduction to the man, making Rachel curious as it seemed she visited him nearly on a daily basis.
“I’m from the Library, Francis” she said, “I’ve brought some things to read to you if you’d like”
“I would like that” the man replied.
Cathy opened a book from the satchel and opened it to the first pages.
“This book is, Quantum Equations in Modern Physics”
Rachel now sat and observed. Cathy began reading the first chapter while Mr. Collins would occasionally nod his head as if in agreement. This was somewhat stunning to Rachel as the content of the book was soon over her head, dealing with science and mathematics beyond her schooling.
At one moment Mr. Collins interrupted saying it was time for a bathroom visit.
“Would you wish me to accompany you, Sir?” Rachel inquired, keeping in mind not to attempt to keep a Resident disabled by continuously doing things for them that they could do themselves.
As Rachel neared the man, Cathy smiled and set the book on the table next to her. In that brief instant the back cover of the book was visible and on the back cover was the unmistakable picture of Mr. Collins.
“Oh, I’ll be fine on my own, Miss, but thank you” said Mr. Collins in reply.
While Mr. Collins was in the bathroom, Cathy introduced herself to Rachel.
“I’m Cathy Collins, Rachel. Very pleased to meet you”
At this Rachel paused, thinking that this woman was Mr. Collins’ wife but his mental state must be that he was unaware of her being so.
“I’ve noticed you here, Rachel,” Cathy said, “You’ve got a kind and friendly disposition and it shows on your face”
“Thank You,” Rachel replied, accepting the compliment.
“That’s why after yesterday I requested you”
Before Rachel could respond the flush of a toilet in the bathroom and the door opening was followed by Mr. Collins re-entering the room.
Rachel worked throughout the day, actually doing very little as Mrs. Collins did a good deal of the visiting. The three of them took a walk outdoors before lunch, looking at the trees and nature.
Later, while Cathy read more to Mr. Collins, he uttered, “The whole science of the Universe is hidden in some great mathematical equation, wouldn’t you agree?” he said, looking directly at Cathy.
“Yes,” Cathy replied, “it’s all in the numbers, Francis”
The shadows lengthened as the day went into late afternoon. The morning walk and a good-sized lunch put Mr. Collins into a nap mode, falling asleep while Cathy read from a book by Voltaire. Once Mr. Collins was in dream land, Cathy arose and pulled the cover over him, patting him on the arm, then leaning down and kissing him on the forehead.
Cathy then asked that she and Rachel sit close to one another.
“May I tell you about me and my husband, Rachel?” Cathy asked, with a somewhat reminiscent look on her face.
“Oh, I would be delighted to know” Rachel replied eagerly.
“We met in the early 1970’s,” Cathy began. He was already an up-and-coming astrophysicist at University and I was in in Physics post-graduate work. We just seemed to be drawn to each other and shared much of the same interests.
We would talk about the Universe, gravity fields and magnetics, how atoms became molecules and nuclear fission; all that type of stuff.
We tied the knot in 1979 and we were so in love.
It was about two years later when Frank became known to those in Government working on nuclear projects that he was kind of drafted. Actually, the pay was extremely attractive so together were moved to Batavia, Illinois to work at the Fermilab there.
He was able to get me a position there also, not at the level he was, of course. He was, is, a brilliant man and the work was hush, hush top secret.
That’s why they made you sign that document, Rachel.”
“I understand, Mrs. Collins” Rachel assured her.
‘Well,” Cathy continued, “we worked quite a few years at Fermilab. We were happy, so happy and busy, we missed the opportunity to have children, we were so immersed in our work.
Frank’s work was on the cutting edge of nuclear research and the lab was conducting some of the most advanced experiments in the world. Even now they won’t tell me exactly what they were working on.”
At this, Cathy’s head lowered.
“But, as things go, when you work with something so dangerous, danger may come calling. They were running an experiment one day and something went wrong. There was a small explosion and a large magnetic discharge. It hit Frank and he was rushed to the hospital.
From that day everything was different. Frank had lost his most of his memory. He still understood how to speak and converse with people, but by then, in our thirtieth year of marriage – Frank did not know who I was.”
“I’m so sorry, Mrs. Collins” Rachel said in a low voice.
Cathy reached out and patted Rachel’s hand.
“I know, Rachel, and I know everybody here at Fordham shares your concern for us.”
For a few minutes the two of them sat silent, looking at Francis as he slept on the far side of the room.
“So, over the last ten years, Frank has been here and I have been here also, countless times, spending my time with the man I love, the man who at one time loved me, and began again to build a relationship with him.
After two years of coming here I could tell once again Frank had fallen in love with me, fallen in love with me without knowing he had at one time in the past fallen in love with me.
So, after nearly two-and-a half years of the man and I being in love for the second time, Frank proposed to me – right in this room”
Rachel by now had clasped Cathy’s hand in both of hers, giving her a reassuring squeeze.
“So, we got married, right in the dining hall. Some of our friends at Fermi attended, shaking Frank’s hands, even though he didn’t know who they were.
Again, Cathy’s head fell to her chest.
“Just two days later, Frank had a relapse. Just two days after our second marriage he didn’t know who I was.”
The room was filled with a morbid silence, the only sound was the breathing of the man sleeping on the bed.
“But, I wouldn’t give up on the man I love. So, I started again, coming here to see him, introducing myself as being from the library and reading to him. Frank was such an avid reader and he loves to listen to my reading.
Three years it took for us to grow together again. Three years later Frank fell in love with me again and we planned to marry.
A week before the pretend ceremony, Frank again relapsed. He again had forgotten who I was. The Doctors can’t explain it, or due to National Security, they won’t.
And so, it goes, Rachel. I come here nearly every day. The Government has taken good care of him and me, whatever we wanted or needed they provided because they were aware of his contributions to science and his sacrifice.
Our home is bought and paid for by the U.S. Government and I have been given a very comfortable pension. This is what allows me to come here so often.
Since I’ve been coming here, the man I still love has stated three times over the last ten years that he has come to love me. Even though I love the man who was and is Frank, each time he comes to that point he makes me happy as I am willing to accept the new love Frank comes to have for me”
Rachel and Cathy looked into each other’s tear-laden eyes. Rachel had never heard of such undying compassion a woman would have for a man.
“In spite of Frank falling in love with me again several times, his relapses became more frequent as the years go on.
You may have seen me crying on Serena’s shoulder the other day, didn’t you?”
Rachel couldn’t speak, only being able to nod her confirmation.
“Frank relapsed yesterday again, Rachel. It’s a heavy burden for me, even more for such a wonderful soul as his. When I looked up and saw your countenance, I asked that you be assigned here today.
If it all works out, as I’m sure it will, I would ask that you be here with me whenever that is possible”
“It would be my pleasure” Rachel said in a choked voice.
“Fine, fine” Cathy stated. "Do you have a family, Rachel?” she asked.
“Yes,” Rachel answered, “a wonderful husband and a tremendous Son”
“Well, when you get home tonight, remember my experience here and give them a big hug”
“I will, I will” Rachel said.
“Good!” said Cathy. “We’ll meet tomorrow and start again!”
When Rachel’s shift ended she exited Room 105 and made her way to the Nurse’s station. On the other side stood Serena.
Noticing Rachel’s face, she said,
“She gave you the talk, didn’t she?”
Rachel could only look at Serena, letting those big brown eyes be a comfort to her.
“Yes,” said Rachel meekly.
When Rachel got home, Husband Brian, and Son Chase, got two of the biggest hugs known to man. That night after Chase was in his bed asleep, Rachel and Brian got into bed. Rachel moved to her husband’s side and put her arm snuggly around him, falling asleep, just that way.