After nine years of retirement, Martha Hernandez returns to Palisades Nursing home, to share with us the story of how one of the best memories she had, turned into the biggest scar in her life. Photo by Brigitte Bedoya.
I used to work in a nursing home called Palisades. It was right across from the New York City. At the time, I was working two jobs to maintain my girls. I saw the residents and my coworkers more then I saw the walls of my own home. One day, a new resident arrived, her name was Jeaniva. She was the cutest little thing. We instantly became attached to one another.
Aside from caring for the residents, the nurses also had to take off the sheets and linen from the rooms, carry and dump them out into a cart. It was a lot to carry, and a long walk. So one day, while I was working, I placed the bags of sheets outside the hallway. When I went back to grab them, the bags had disappeared. It turned out that Jeaniva had carried them for me. I remember I looked at her so confused, and all she did was smile and say,” I’m working with you.” I laughed. “Well if you’re working with me,” I said, “then I’m going to pay when you do.” Jeaniva got so excited. That was the day Jeaniva’s business began.
I told her that if she helped all the other nurses too, that I would make sure they paid her for it. Each nurse paid Jeaniva $10 for her help. Sometimes when I would take my break, I would go to her room and see her lying down. She would tell me to lay down with her and she would pass her fingers through my hair and say, “my poor baby, oh how hard you work.” I felt like I was lying down with my grandmother all over again. Jeaniva was funny, she would tell me how she was planning on winning the lottery and giving me money so that I didn’t have to work so much. I grew to love Jeaniva.
Later on, a guy joined us in the facility. He had been shot, leaving him paralyzed and schizophrenic. He was very violent, especially if anyone came near him. It turned out that he had been hiding a knife that the residents used to eat with for some time. No one knew he had it, until one day, he killed Jeaniva with it.
They took Jeaniva, and the guy from the facility, I never knew what happened to either of them. Jeaniva didn’t have any family and the subject was off limits. Back then, a lot of things happened there. For the heads, everything was a business to them. Whenever something happened, they would cover their mess up and act like nothing happened. Many of the nurses wanted to speak up, but our job was on the line. For me, I had to think of my girls, even if I knew certain things were wrong.
I don’t care what anyone says, but no one loved the residents more than we did.
I wanted to know where she was buried, I wanted to be with her, but I couldn’t. When I went back to work, I continued to place my bags outside the hallways, expecting her to carry them for me, but every time I saw them there, it would hit me that she was really gone.
It took me some time to accept that she wasn’t there anymore. I like to think that she came to the nursing home for a reason. I became the love of her life, like what a child becomes to a mother the day they’re born. She loved me, and I loved her.
Jeaniva was my best friend at work. She was the best memory I have from working at that place.
It’s hard not to get attached to the residents. For a while, I would see her in the halls with me, the last image I had of Jeaniva. It was sad, I didn’t even know why he killed her, what she could have done so terrible to him, but that was the story of Jeaniva.
Montclair State | New Jersey