En la sala de espera
It’s not a quiet waiting room, by any means. From among the neat rows of chairs a muted cell phone plays the Nutcracker Suite. A woman digs in her purse for the symphony she can’t find, and a man speaks into his own mobile, saying “Pues, no se.” Meanwhile, my mom perfects her stage whisper by hissing at me, “I saw three men with big bellies,” then pokes me for good measure.
We wear the colors and shapes of hope in this sala de espera: green dress with white polka dots; wire-framed glasses tinted pink; platform sandals with silver straps; comb’s teeth raked through wet head. My own wild hair and faded Birkenstocks are testament to my morning rush; I didn’t think to blow-dry or put on nicer shoes as I ushered Mom out the door.
A gurney creaks. Attendants wheel in a young woman, park her next to the flat-screen from which Joan Rivers hawks perfect legs and shiny tresses. “I can’t be around a lot of people,” says the big girl from her rolling bed. “She’s immuno-deficient,” her mother adds, and I ponder the weight of the beads at Joan Rivers’ throat, they are so big, so blue. A different kind of yoke than the ones we here in this room carry.
Some of us are visibly wounded – the woman with the oxygen tank, for instance. Or the woman who rises, aided by a man on her right and another woman on her left. The man who hobbles from the reception desk to a chair. Then there’s the girl on the gurney: her mother asks loudly why on earth she didn’t think to bring an ice pack for the spasms. Whatevs, I can almost hear her say were it not for the pain.
My mother’s pockmarked brain is an affliction not seen nor heard until she opens her mouth and asks the man nearest if he drinks a lot of beer because his belly is so round. Behind her back I mouth “Alzheimer’s,” and he says, “Es la comida, I don’t drink.” A true gentleman in linen shorts and tennis shoes. I tender silent thanks to the universe for his kindness, for his ability to disarm the dementia that speaks through my mom.
Wounded. Injured. Broken. That’s why we’re all here. Yet, aren’t the invisible fissures, those fractures of spirit we carry silently within — aren’t those the most mortal of our injuries? I have to look again: What are we hiding under the blue guayabera, the rolls of fat, the slash of red over trembling lips? Who needs oxygen if you don’t have love? Perfect legs if you have nowhere to go? An ice pack when you’re an outcast among peers?
The nurse opens a door, and looks at a clipboard. In the waiting room, we look up expectantly, hold our collective breath. We loosen a bit the binding of our secret pains, daring to hope: Is it my turn yet?