“Ready Miss Joann? On the count of three, we’re gonna stand up,” I say. Miss Joann had landed her last few droppings for the evening more or less inside the toilet bowl. But there was no time to celebrate — it was past her bedtime, and we still had to get her bottom wiped, her diaper changed, her dentures soaked and her body in bed with her ankles elevated.
First thing first. I got down on my knees with a fistful of wet wipes as my coworker wrapped his arms around little Miss Joann’s upper body, bracing himself for the lift. “One, two,” and then he swiftly hoisted her onto her feet as I got to work on her rear. There I was, for the fourth or fifth time that shift, with my face centimeters away from another incontinent elder’s explosive anus as I wet-wiped around the rim. My coworker — I’ll call him Max — had the more pleasant task of wooing Miss Joan with sweet, flirtatious words he spoke straight into her hearing aids as he propped her up in his arms.
Working in a women’s assisted living and dementia care facility has meant effectively working in a sorority house full of 80-year-old cougars who’ve forgotten their ages — and most of their manners. You didn’t ask, but yes, I do believe that caretakers deserve more credit than they get. Putting up with mannerless verbal, and sometimes physical and sexual, mistreatment is part of the job when it comes to intimately caring for old-fashioned (racist, misogynist, etc.) folks who’ve long lost the filters they once had.
It’s my job to attend to these ladies in every fundamental way — to push their wheelchairs, change their diapers and spoon-feed them their meals and medications. But it’s also my job to be their best and often only friend, to be their own mother or daughter when their spotty memories call for such, to be the only audience to stories they repeat over and over, to listen closely as they sound out words too slowly for anyone else’s patience, to wipe away their frustrated tears when their words and thoughts get all jumbled up, to translate their mumbles and gestures to their own children (on the rare occasion their children visit), to hug and kiss them goodnight when I tuck them into bed, and to give them almost all the care and affection they receive each day. So I have no choice but to care for them, in a rather personal sense, as I watch them grieve and re-grieve the losses of their friends, their childhood families, their memories, their abilities and their autonomies. It makes this job the sort where, as tough as it is to bear the brunt of it all, the idea of no longer being there for these women who’ve already lost so much — and who I’ve come to see as my own grandmothers — is even tougher to bear.
Anyhow, amid all the grandmas’ unfiltered vulgarity is the occasional lewd pass made at Max, the only male caretaker in the house and the object of every grandma’s lustful desire — Miss Joann’s especially. Miss Joann also happens to be one of our more violent residents, eager to sink her fingernails and jab her bony knees and knuckles into any female caretaker who tries to get her out of her wheelchair. I can hardly lift any of the ladies on my own, let alone vicious Miss Joann (who’d recently dislocated a coworker’s thumb on purpose), so I desperately need Max’s help when it comes to getting Miss Joann onto the toilet. I need his granny-lifting arms as much as I need his ability to distract her — to charm her into a sort of trance that keeps her eyes glued to his, her arms around his neck and all her attention away from the coochie cleanse I then perform from behind.
I don’t need Max’s help with the others like I do with Miss Joan, but I started asking for it anyways. Over and over again, I’d seen him so gently wash saggy genitals and so carefully clean between all the lips and wrinkles, all while making sweet conversation with the grandma at hand about which necklace she would like to wear tomorrow morning, or what TV show she’d been watching today. I’d seen him so delicately cradle sleeping grandmas as he lifted them into bed, smoothly untying their hair and unclipping their bras without disturbing their sleep. Max is my age, so I’d already decided he was too young for me. But he was showing incredible maturity, and I admit I was incredibly aroused by it all.
I asked him for his help whenever I could, and we quickly fell into a pattern of tag-team-toileting all the residents each night. I would handpick every bum crumb in the house while he did all the lifting and distracting. I knew he could toilet most of the grandmas on his own, so I took his alliance with me as a sign that he was crushing on me too. I claimed I couldn’t lift anyone without his help (a half truth), and he claimed he needed my help because he wasn’t very familiar with lady parts — a lie he’d disprove after work in the backseat of his pickup truck, when he would navigate my lady parts with total fluency.
He drives me home, I let him come inside, we smoke my weed and then I let him come inside again (here I should mention my IUD and his negative STI test results) — we’ve made this our routine. After a workday of watching him indulge other women’s desires and feed them his attention, it’s a welcome one.
Brat Baby is a student at Cornell University. Pillow Princess Diaries runs periodically in Sex on Thursday this summer.