Every morning on my way to work, walking down Mission away from the 16th Street BART, I pass a dirty building with dirty windows. Actually, I pass by dozens of such structures (this IS the Mission, after all), but this one, above others, breaks my heart.
Bars in the windows, presumably to keep potential burglars out, but likely with the side effect of deterring visitors, making prisoners of the elderly.
You see, this specific squalid construct is a nursing home. Its one large window streaked (nay, caked) in detritus, overlooking a vacant building and parking lot now resembling a shanty town. Remnants of a garden in front, clustered only with weeds.
"Promise you'll never put me in a rest home," my mum's words, spoken years earlier, echoing through my mind.
Next door is a bright, newly refurbished cafe. Free Wifi enticing youth inside. Clean suits and briefcases forming a line for their fix, accidentally emphasizing the clear lack of a line of callers just next door. The cafe is auroral, its inhabitants young and animated.
An elderly lady watches them all, as she does every morning. Today, just as yesterday, and the day before, she is impeccably dressed, makeup applied. A face of bleak hope.
She sits in her wheelchair in the doorway, blocking no one, and I hope today (as I did yesterday) that just behind me, on the horizon, her visitor approaches. I nod at her and the nurse behind her. The nurse, hands on hips, casts me an illusory smile, and I hurry on my way.
Every night I take a different route back to the BART, walking South Van Ness rather than Mission. The idea of seeing her, still waiting twelve hours later, too grim a thought.
"Promise you'll never put me in a rest home," she asked.
"I won't. I promise."