Second time around.
I pushed the button and waited for the hum of the elevator to arrive, it would take me from the arthritis suite on the sixth floor of the hospital down to the lobby. I step out and I turn left, then sharply right, continue my steps past the coffee cart where the lady with the glittery eyeshadow is waiting. She makes a mean latte and if you’re lucky she will call you “sugar” when she rings you up, which kind of makes me feel like a kid again, somehow safe, I wonder if she knows, maybe one day I will tell her.
Across from the coffee cart is the door that leads to the lab, I know this place well already,too well. The thing about being on harsh medication is that you have to make sure it’s not destroying your kidneys and liver, so I am getting blood drawn about every four weeks as the doctor slowly increases the medication to make sure my body can handle it. I often remind myself if my body can handle it then so should my spirit, but there are days that I just resent everything that is happening.
The waiting room in the lab is a kaleidoscope of characters, think Jerry Springer meets Grey’s Anatomy, only no one is quite that good looking. Okay it’s more Jerry Springer than anything and to be honest I generally keep my head down and mess with my phone or just close my eyes and try to quiet my mind, which is what I was doing when the stench drifted into my nostrils, it was foul like stale B.O and grease from a fryer mixed in an ashtray. I am sure I made a face before I opened my eyes to find a woman standing in front of me, turning she sits in the seat next to me. She smiled at me and I smiled back, though I am not sure what she saw in my eyes, or what exactly the look on my face seemed to communicate but she looked away. I took inventory of her from the corner of my eye.
It was not too long until my name was called and I went into the back where they effortlessly took four vials of my blood, it amazes me how good they are at it, how fast the tubes fill and all at once it’s over. I guess it helps that I am not really bothered by needles and watch with no problem, still I hear the people around me and I am grateful to have painless, precise pokers and veins that seem to behave when getting blood drawn. I have been rewarding myself afterward with a small latte from the coffee cart, so I gathered my things and headed out the large wooden door when I realized I did not have my id from when I had shown it upon arrival. I flung the door open and literally ran into the woman who had sat next to me just moments prior, our eyes locked and I immediately swallowed hard, the smell was rough, but I bent down and picked up the paper she had dropped and apologized. She took the paper from my hand, her calloused fingers brushed my skin, her fingernails were caked with grit and I instantly felt the hot sting of tears gathering on the back side of my eyes. She looked to the ground and muttered “I wasn’t supposed to be like this.” then she turned and was gone. She left me standing there with the truth of her words dripping from my haloed brim of insecurity. I don’t know her story, her pain or her situation at all, but I could taste the judgement linger in my mouth assuming somehow I was not like her, and perhaps in some ways I am not, but in many I am the same. Those seven words exploded in my head like a cannonball, the shrapnel of truth cutting to my core with little mercy. I wanted to run after her, I wanted to scream, “That is it, that is how I feel, exactly how I feel too.” In my deep rooted bitterness, which is often covered with optimistic, fickle courage those words are the heart of it all. Her and I we expected something different, wanted something else, my something else included running, bike races,fostering a litter of puppies, reconnecting with the person I still love, frequent trips to Knoxville, it was not supposed to include endless pain, mouth lesions, methotrexate, walking with a cane, blood tests and lord knows giving up bourbon was not in MY plan!
This situation is slowly changing my view of the world and the people in it, I can tell you that if I am ever given the opportunity to chat with this woman again, it will go differently because I am not the same. I see it differently now, understand a bit more and care a lot less about how someone smells. Maybe one day I can buy her a coffee from the glittery, eye-shadowed lady and tell her that she is not alone or maybe I don’t get that opportunity but I can honor her by never repeating that experience in the same way with another person. Each of us have our own burdens to carry, sorrows that haunt us, hardships that smother us, and grit that just won’t come off no matter how hard we scrub. We are all connected, of this I am sure.
“Are you my ally or my enemy?
Do you have self-loathing or empathy?
Can you keep me in your prayers, sister?
Can you keep me in there somewhere?
And sister, if you ain’t got nothing good to say
Don’t say nothing at all.”