I'm foregoing my usual once-a-week post to bring you something a little different. Today is my father’s 83rd birthday, and for that I am extremely grateful and feeling blessed for the longevity that runs deep in my family genes. Though this day now also marks the anniversary of the passing of one of my best friends.
I can’t believe it’s already been a year since her death and I still have instances where I go to grab the phone to tell her about some crazy life event that I need to share. It’s still so surreal. A few months after her death I wrote a short story about the night she passed. Nothing grand or highly spiritual, just very human. It’s an extremely personal story that was very cathartic for me to write. The circumstances are sad, but anyone who has been through this experience will undoubtedly relate, and on this one-year anniversary of her passing I felt compelled to share it. I’ll be honest, I’m a little nervous posting it as it is such a departure from what I normally do, but hey, creative endeavors are meant to share, aren’t they?
Today I choose to remember the fun times and give thanks for my father’s birthday. And now it’s time for me to grab the phone and give him a call…
Waiting On a Friend
Flying into the parking lot I hit my bumper on the curb with a grimacing crunch that always leaves me apologizing aloud for the pain I’ve perceived my car has endured. The parking attendant glances up, glassy-eyed and unshaken, and immediately goes back to whatever task they were in the middle of before my assault on the asphalt. I zoom around curves, tires screeching a little, spiraling quickly up to the 3rd floor. A morbid thought enters my mind that if I do, indeed, cause an accident I’m at the best place for it – a hospital. Slowing down, I lurch into a parking space, I jump out of my car so hurried and distracted I must go back to make sure everything is locked up tight. It is, though the time-span between getting out of the car and locking it the first time has completely vanished from my mind, as if it never occurred. I take a deep breath and quickly start walking toward the entryway, hoping that I’ve made it in time.
As I approach the massive entry doors into the inner-sanctum of the county hospital they open automatically as if I were a Jedi Master willing them with my mind. A funny thought, I think, considering the sad circumstance. I pass through the second set of magic doors into a hallway painted industrial green, allowing myself that last bit of silence before the inevitable chaos of the waiting room and security check in. My expectations are fulfilled as I step through the last set of doors and into a throng of wounded gangbangers, obvious drug-related issues, and sick underprivileged children with stressed out parents. I step up to the guard station to check in as I have multiple occasions over the past week and half, this time no longer shocked by the fact that security staff outnumber medical staff. Now immune to the sights and smells of what goes on around me, I have one mission and one mission only – nothing and no one else matters. I get my guest badge from the unsmiling guard who doesn’t make eye contact, and head toward the next set of green-gray passageways.
I come to the next guard, who is holding vigil over the door leading to the wing where my friend currently resides. This time, our eyes meet, and while still no smile, he reflects a kindness that I find comforting and am grateful for. He lets me in with a gentle nod, almost as if he knows why I’m there. Another deep breath as I head through the double doors and into a dismal hallway bustling with activity. Patients on gurneys wheeled here and there, all manner of staff hurriedly on their way to some important – albeit life depending – task. I go to the nurses’ station and inquire about my friend. They’re changing her bedding, I’m told, and I can stand outside her room and wait. It should only take a couple of minutes. I stand by the door, head bowed, nervously scuffling my feet on the surprisingly shiny floor, while doing my best to keep tears at bay. Every now and then as I glance up a member of the hospital staff asks if I’m ok, or need anything. I tell them I’m fine, just waiting, and try and muster some semblance of a smile. They smile in return with an air of understanding. They know, and I know that I’m a horrible liar.
After what feels like an eternity, but in actuality is about 20 minutes, the door to her room finally opens. The attendant comes out carrying a wad of scratchy-looking sheets and nods for me to go in. I step inside, acutely aware of how the beep of the oxygen monitor battles her labored breath for attention. The room itself is completely nondescript and represents the general lack of coziness of a county funded institution. The same green-gray paint as the rest of the interior, no artwork, over-used furniture, and my catatonic friend lying encased in scratchy-looking sheets. Nothing that gives any warmth, everything seemingly cast in an unpleasant dingy yellow – the same color as her skin. Not a place I would choose for anyone I love to die, but we sometimes need to make the best out of whatever situation presents.
I go to her side, stroke her forehead, tell her stories, and sing silly songs from our misspent youth as she stares straight ahead, pupils dilated, and unresponsive. Knowing how stubborn she is I tell her that two can play at this game and I’m not leaving until she does. I’ll stay as long as it takes. I want her to laugh and roll her eyes, and tell me how ridiculous I am. She doesn’t. I settle in with some uncertainty of what lie ahead, waiting for her last exhale, singing her silly songs from our misspent youth.