Thursday, February 28, 2013

No, Not Her

I was on my break sitting at the foot of the hospital fountain when a lady bent down to look at my face. She started to say "P-" then saw me and her face lit with the same expression a person gets when they think they're sipping water but it turns out to be lemonade.
"No, you're not her," she told me, but she smiled and winked at me.
She turned then, with an unlit cigarette in her fingers, a patient robe on, jeans and tennis shoes. I wondered if she was waiting for "P-" and if anyone else was here for her. If maybe she'd come out here for a cigarette because she got tired of waiting in a hospital room, and she might have thought to herself that she could use a smoke. She had long, blond crinkled hair and lines in her face. The only part of her that looked old was her skin, like maybe she'd spent too much time out in the sun as a child. Maybe she did all the things they tell you not to do - like smoking and playing in the daylight between 11-4:00, the harshest hours of the day, and it led her to the hospital for whatever ailment she's got that keeps her in a hospital gown and blue jeans, looking for someone who looks sort of like me.
The hospital might be a lot of things that aren't so great, but one good thing I've found is that it's okay to be vulnerable. In fact, you have to be. Otherwise, you can't walk around in a gown that barley covers you. There are people who cry, yell on the phone, and tell someone they love them repeatedly to the point where it gets annoying to hear.
"Momma, I love you," from a middle-aged woman to a much older woman falling asleep in a wheelchair with tubes up her nose.
"Huh?" she wakes up a little.
"Momma, I love you."
"I love you, Momma."
I've cried here before, when I first started working and I was going through the divorce. I practically planned my breaks around it. "If I stop thinking about everything and focus on work then I can cry between 11:00-11:30." And with my name tag off people might have thought I had a relative who wasn't doing well. But it was me who wasn't doing well, and I was thankful to have the criers then, so I could sit around their benches and we could cry together.
I was impressed that the lady who mistook me for "P-" wasn't embarrassed. Usually when I mistake someone for somebody else I feel self-conscious but she just smiled and winked. No crying, no apologies. She went off, I imagine in search of a lighter, and a recognizable face.

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