At some point in everyone’s life, they will have an encounter with a celebrity. Whether by bumping into them on the street or seeing them in concert, it’s inevitable. I can now say I recently had mine. In a nursing home.
I’m not just someone who hangs about in nursing homes in my spare time; my mother works at a local nursing home. It may sound boring, but every day she comes home with stories of what the residents are up to. So one day, she came home with news about a new resident, a celebrity, no less. For privacy’s sake I can’t give out his name. Just know he was a singer from the 50’s/60’s era.
I knew little about him at that time, but after a little research I quickly became a big fan, and he became an idol of sorts for me.
For weeks I begged my mom to let me meet him, and so, a little over three weeks ago, she finally relented.
The date was set. I’d been rehearsing my questions for him all morning. As we were about to leave I grabbed one of my favorite books, hoping I could get him to sign it for me.
Once we got to the nursing home, she led me through steel plated doors, into the Alzheimer’s ward, and right into a crowd of residents. There were about twelve in total, all men. Some were sleeping in their chairs, while others were just staring off into space; one was being fed bites of cake by his elderly wife.
I didn’t have enough time to take it all in before my mom tugged on my arm and led me away. We were heading towards another man I hadn’t noticed before. He was sitting alone in the corner, bent forward at the waist.
I didn’t realize it was him at first. He looked like one of the many residents there, slumped over in his wheelchair, dazed. However, when we walked over he immediately lit up. His face stretched into a bright, dazzling smile, and he gave us a loud, “Hey!” as we approached.
It finally started to sink in that this was him. I was actually meeting my idol.
He was just as I’d imagined. Besides the skin drooping with age and the white, wispy hair, he was still the charmer I’d always imagined him as. One thing that didn’t change with age was his smile. It was a classic, Hollywood smile that had been etched into his face with years of greeting fans and fellow celebrities.
I was already rehearsing my questions in my mind, and working up the courage to ask for his autograph.
I was yanked out of my daze by my mom introducing me, telling him I was a big fan. He opened his mouth to respond, and…
It… it was gibberish. His mouth struggled to form words. All that came out was the same syllable over and over. I didn’t understand at first, but then I realized. He’d forgotten how to speak. A man known for his voice, his music, could no longer sing.
The worst part was he couldn’t tell. He thought he was speaking just fine. So we played along.
My mom and him continued to talk, and it became apparent he wasn’t all there. Drool hung from his lip, and he made no effort to wipe it away.
My mom began singing one of his biggest hits, and I joined in, though much softer than her. Something lit up in his eyes when he heard us, a faded memory of his fame, perhaps. He remembered his music, but didn’t know he sang it. It was merely an imprint left on what remained of his mind.
This wasn’t truly him. All that was left was a distant memory of his songs and his smile. Take that away and there would be nothing. Who he was had been lost with age.
The nursing home had taken on a more sinister atmosphere by now. I became aware of other bedridden residents moaning from their rooms, asking to go home or to see their long departed wives. The door nearest us was open and showed a man laying in his bed, breathing shakily. His eyes were dry and red from not blinking. I could tell he was in hospice.
By this time the visit had turned from an excited fan meeting her favorite singer to a girl who had experienced too much in too little time.
My mom must have sensed my agitation since we made to leave after only 15 minutes. My mother patted him on the back and gave him a hug. In return he gave her a kiss on the cheek, leaving a wet pock mark and a strand of spit. I waved goodbye as we left. He didn’t notice, and instead slumped down in his wheelchair again, the smile leaving his face. That smile was the last thing left of my idol.
I put my book back on the shelf when we got home. Him writing seemed like a miracle after experiencing that.
I couldn’t understand how someone like him could be gone. A man who once played for droves of fans, all screaming his name. All of that had been lost from him, faded away beneath plaques and tangles. This was a shell of what he once was. All that was left was his smile.
And so I cried. I cried for what was lost and what was left behind. For knowing someone so great could become so pitiful. For having my idol shattered.
After all that, I’m still glad I visited him. Even though it pains me to think of what’s become of him, even though I’ll never forget how everything that made him him had left, and even though i’ll never be able to go back, because I know that in the end, his smile will leave too.
[Image credit Espressolia on Pixabay]