A few weeks ago I was at a Halloween school event, one of those evening activities that’s absolutely jammed with parents and kids, and as I made my way through the cafeteria I spotted someone I knew so I held up my hand in a friendly fashion as I walked towards him. You know, sort of an elongated wave, like “I am both saying hello and acknowledging our collective presence but I’m on my way to find my kids and there’s no need to stop for an exchange of pleasantries so instead of waving once then breaking eye contact I’ll just kind of do a continual howdy as I cruise on by.” Just as I was going by him, though, something terrible happened: he looked briefly startled, then raised his own hand. FOR A HIGH FIVE. I laughed awkwardly and went for it — of course I sort of missed, so we did that weird heel-of-the-hand brush instead of a solid palm slap — then left the room and immediately googled “FASHION A CYANIDE TOOTH OUT OF HOUSEHOLD CHEMICALS HOW TO.”

Maybe a bungled greeting isn’t the sort of thing that takes up residence in your brain for approximately the entire remainder of your life, but I have naturally been thinking of it ever since. I am traumatized by the fact that he clearly thought I was the one initiating a high five, which, what? No! This fellow parent and I are not on high five levels of familiarity (although I guess we are now), and even if I had categorized him as such it was definitely not a high five situation. Like, dude this Spooktacular is going to rock so hard I can’t wait to be asphyxiated by 500 8-year-olds wearing unicorn onesies GIMME FIVE.

As much as I desperately wish I could clarify my intent I am at least mentally stable enough to realize there’s no good way to do it now. Even if there was an occasion to bring it up during our next round of polite small talk (“YUP SURE IS RAINING A LOT LATELY AND SPEAKING OF WATER WHICH REMINDS ME OF WAVES WHICH IS DEFINITELY WHAT I WAS DOING ON OCTOBER THE TWENTY-SEVENTH AT SIX FIFTEEN PM…”) the only outcome is one in which I make everything about a thousand times weirder, and so I will simply have to carry on under my new identity as Inappropriate High Fiving Lady. She seems like a jovial, carefree kind of person, busy doling out celebratory hand gestures along with a total lack of fucks. In fact, I could probably learn a thing or two from her.

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I have a new hospice patient, her name is M. We were visiting yesterday and chatting about this and that, and she said she tries to drink at least three refills of her oversized hospital mug throughout the day. I mentioned that I found it hard to stay hydrated in the winter because drinking water makes me feel chilly, and she stopped me right there. “Who says it has to be just water?” she said, craftily, and dug around by her bedside. I was absolutely positive she was going to pull out a flask and my head briefly spun at the ethical quandary of a patient with hidden booze (she can’t have that, with her health situation and all her medications, someone must be informed! Then again … she’s on hospice, maybe she should be able to have whatever the hell she wants?) but she produced a box of Twinings tea. “It tastes like a dessert mint,” she said. “And if you put a Stevia or two in there? Oh.”

This is a wholly different situation than it was with P., who was in a care facility. M. lives at home, and it is a very busy household. Adult grandchildren live there, a tiny 2-year-old runs around, M.’s daughter comes and goes and seems burdened with managing just about everything. In the midst of it, M. moves laboriously from bed to chair and back again. She keeps all sorts of things within reach: notebooks, hand towels, snacks. A cup of that sweet minty tea.

It’s hard not to feel like a stranger who’s arrived wielding a dubious skillset, which is exactly what I am.

One of the notes in her file included a vague warning about a cat: “The grey cat does not always appreciate being petted.” The family also told me to watch out for him, that he was known for attacking people out of the blue. As a result I have been downright terrified of this cat, greeting him with a quavering voice whenever he slinks nearby, breathing a sigh of relief when he moves on.

Yesterday he suddenly jumped into my lap and sat there for nearly half an hour, purring heavily as I nervously scratched his ears, and I thought: HE CAN SENSE MY CARING NATURE. NO NEED TO DOUBT MY ROLE, MY SOOTHING POWERS ARE FELT BY ALL! Then he leapt down, started to leave, reconsidered, and sunk his teeth into my ankle. As if to say, It’s not about YOU, asshole.

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