a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
She’s on her way to pick me up and I think she should be here soon. Maybe she’s running late, perhaps because of Jonathan. That boy can get lost in his own little world of play sometimes, a consequence of being an only child. I do wish they would have more kids. I think that would help Jonathan get out of his shell a bit. He’s so shy and I know he has some trouble with the other boys at school.
I look at my wrist watch and run back inside and grab a sweater, remembering that office is always chilly. That waiting room always feels so ominous, with the uncomfortable blue chairs that are too big for any regular person, the air conditioner blasting no matter the season. I suppose it has more to do with me sitting in the waiting room knowing I have to go fail those tests and hear that everything is getting worse, rather than the waiting room itself. But nonetheless, I still hate it.
It’s the afternoon, the sun high in the sky with scarcely a cloud in sight. I like these days; they always remind me of when I was a girl in the country on my parent’s acres of land, farming already a dying art in the fifties. I didn’t have a care in the world but completing my chores, as I was dutiful of course, and spending time with my animals. I had this horse, her name was Prancy. I named her when I was just a little girl. Oh, I would ride her around all day when I finished feeding the chickens and the pigs. My father would help hoist me onto her, smiling up at me. Every day before I rode off, he would tell me “Go out and explore. Have a grand adventure, and I’ll be waiting to hear all about it when you get back.” I miss him. But he was right, Prancy and I had so many grand adventures together. We would ride for hours, through corn fields and sparse forests as I made up imaginary friends to explore along with us.
I hear the crunch of tires on my gravel driveway as I’m locking up my front door. I know she’ll be rolling her eyes as she watches me do this. She claims no one would ever break into my house because it’s in the middle of nowhere, but it makes me feel safer. Jacob died four…wait no, five years ago? No, it was four. I’m almost sure. But I still don’t feel comfortable all alone in this big farm house. As I walk to the car, my daughter is scrolling through that phone of hers, likely checking emails because she had to take the day off to take me to my appointment. I know she doesn’t resent me for this, but I can’t help but feel guilty. I wish I could drive myself. I really do miss driving.
The sun flashes quickly and brightly on the windshield of the idling car, and I can see the big screen filling the front car window, the audio of the film scratchy through the car radio speakers. It was better then, in a lot of ways. Being a teenager in the 60s was simpler. All we worried about was whose letterman jacket we were going to wear to the Friday night football game or what movie was playing at the drive-in theater that weekend. Then again, we rarely watched the movie, but that was a lifetime ago. Finally at the car, I open the passenger door.
I’ve had a good life. I married my high school sweetheart, Jacob, had two beautiful children and now I have three grandchildren and one on the way. I went to college and got a law degree, which I used for a while before I got pregnant. Those days, when a woman got pregnant, it wasn’t a choice as to whether you went back to work or not. You didn’t. It was your job to stay home, raise your children right, and take care of the home. I don’t resent my children or my husband or even society because I didn’t work much; it was the way things were. But now, sitting alone in my home with nothing to do, I really do wish I would have worked more or done something to stimulate my failing brain. For that short time, I loved being a lawyer. I don’t remember any specific cases I worked on, but I remember feeling like I was really making a difference. Maybe if I had gone back, I would have stayed sharper and this would never have happened. But maybe not.
“Hi mom,” she says setting her phone in the cupholder and offering me a tight smile as I buckle my seatbelt.
“Hi darling, how are you?”
“Oh fine,” she says dismissively as she turns her head to back the car out of the driveway.
“Hi grandma,” Jonathan says from the backseat, looking up from his iPad. He’s such a sweet kid, sometimes I worry too sweet. Especially with that father of his. I know her husband wishes he was tougher, more of a boy’s boy. I don’t love that about him.
“Do you have the day off school, today?”
“We had a half day today,” he says briefly then looks back down at his movie. I’m sure she let him take it along because we’ll be there for a while. She’s normally pretty strict about screen time. I glance at her as she stares seriously at the road ahead. I know she can tell I’m questioning why she brought him along.
“I don’t wanna talk about it. Christopher was being a complete—” she stops herself and glances in the rearview mirror. I can tell her heart hurts for Jonathan, but his headphones are back on and he seems engrossed in the animated film. She lowers her voice. “He was supposed to watch Jonny this afternoon so I wouldn’t have to drag him along to your appointment. I mean, he’s a patient kid, but I know he’ll be complaining by the time we’re done. Anyways, Chris said he had to go golfing with some work colleagues,” she shoots me an irritated look and I nod along, “and he couldn’t watch him anymore. I mean we talked about this weeks ago but I guarantee he wasn’t listening. I have no idea why he planned this golfing outing, because he took the day off for this specific reason. I’m just so frustrated. And I don’t even know why they have a half day anyways. Some sports game for the high school or something. Ugh and work has been a total bitch lately…” she trails off looking at me. “I’m sorry mom. How have you been feeling the last two weeks? Sorry I haven’t been able to stop by more often, things are crazy…”
She was talking so fast and used too many details, I lost her in the middle for a while, but I know she just needs a sympathetic ear, and that’s what mothers are for. I smile at her side profile, loving this human I created with all her complexities.
“I am doing okay. I’ve been doing more silly things lately like putting my book in the microwave or forgetting to check the mail for days at a time, but other than that, I’m okay. I try not to leave too much because I’m afraid I’ll get lost. But, you know, I take my daily walks around the property because I can usually keep the house in sight. I enjoy my walks,” I tell her. It’s been lonely around the house lately and each day I get more and more worried about my ability to live alone. I’ve been…oh what’s the word? Collaging? No that’s not it. It’s something like that, gluing pictures down and writing things around them. I know there’s a word for it, but what is it? My mind feels completely empty, not even a hint of the word I’m looking for hiding somewhere in the recesses. Well, anyways, I haven’t told her about my project yet. I just figured I have all this free time on my hands and so many pictures of my life and the kids’ lives that I want to have something concrete to look at. Later, when things get worse. It’s a good way to pass the time, sitting at my big kitchen table with scraps of paper, photos, glue, and markers exploding across the entire thing. And looking at the photos helps me. Sometimes I test myself to see if I can remember what we were doing when the photo was taken or how old everyone is. I’m usually pretty good at it, but lately it’s been a little harder. I need to finish that project sooner than later.
“That’s good, mom. I’m glad. I think it’s good that you’re getting out of the house, but I do think you should be careful. We might have to think about having someone move in with you soon…” she glances at me. I know she’s right, but it makes me angry to think about not being competent. I have been on my own since college. I can’t imagine not having a life under my own control anymore.
I look out the window at the corn slowly dancing in waves in the distance, anger and confusion blurring my thoughts. I’m upset that our parents forced us to drag Adam along to the annual carnival, but Elaine and I already talked about ditching him as soon as we get there. Adam will be fine, though. He’ll find his friends and goof off in the arcade the whole night, losing money to try and win cute girls stuffed animals. Elaine and I are so excited because this is the first year we get to go without mom and dad, and there’s these boys on the football team that we want to talk to. Elaine, of course, has her eye on the quarterback, Tommy, but I have a soft spot for the kicker, Jacob. I know that it’s a long shot that he’ll even talk to me, especially with Elaine standing right next to me. She was always the pretty one, with that natural blonde hair and a smile that could charm just about anyone into giving her just about anything. Of course, she was also the clichéd cheerleading captain, so it was almost fate that her and Tommy go out. The perfect American couple at the perfect American high school with their perfect American bodies. I’m not jealous or anything. I have my own qualities. Sure, my hair is somewhere between her perfect blonde and brown so it looks kind of like dirty straw, and I can barely touch my toes, let alone be on the cheer team, but I am smart. I am really smart. I actually want to go to college to have a career, not just get married. And I go to school to learn, not just to sneak lunchtime smokes in the bathroom with my friends. So, none of that matters to me. The only problem is that it matters to pretty much everyone else. I’m sure it matters to Jacob. But I guess we’ll see tonight. I turn to the left to ask Elaine how I should start my conversation with Jacob, but she suddenly screams and everything goes dark.
I have no idea why or how we got to the hospital, but I am sitting in the waiting room and I can’t find Elaine or Adam anywhere. I look around at nurses rushing through hallways and doctors engaged in hushed conversations with crying families. I thought we were going to the carnival? Why are we here?
I look down and I’m sitting in one of those horrid chairs I hate, the blue ones. The waiting room is frantic, people around me looking intensely concerned, which is slightly odd for a regular doctors’ office. I don’t sit for long, feeling agitated by all these people’s faces and thirsty and decide to take a walk while I wait for my appointment. Maybe find a mediocre cup of coffee, even though I’m not technically supposed to be drinking that anymore. I should really find some tea instead. Yes, tea. Tea is perfect for the old folks, and that is, after all, what I am.
I’m not sure where she went, but I know she drove me here. I hope that Jonathan is with her because I don’t remember seeing him. I’m sure he is. I wander through the hallways, not really remembering what I went searching for. I bet I’ll know it when I see it. That always helps. It’s like walking back to where you were to help you remember why you left the room in the first place. I am finding that I have to do that more and more often these days, and it usually doesn’t work the way it used to. There are so many rooms on each side of the hospital, and I see glimpses of sleeping people, people animatedly talking to family or friends, oblivious to their current situation, and people watching bad reality TV alone. I feel sad for them suddenly, and I am not quite sure why. Somehow, I feel like I’m one of them. Why do I feel like that? It seems larger than before. Usually when I come for my appointments, it’s just the constricted waiting room with small examination rooms behind the nurses’ station.
As I wander the too big halls trying to find that thing I was looking for, I see frantic looking doctors and nurses in blue scrubs and I’m reminded of my father. He was a doctor and, while my mother stayed home on the farm with us, he was always very present. He made sure to eat breakfast and dinner with the family when he could and, no matter what time he got home, he would come in my room to wake me up and say goodnight. I almost became a doctor because of him, but I couldn’t get over the blood part. I could always tell how much he loved his work by the way he would talk about interesting cases to my mother when he got home. Or when I would hear him crying softly in his office after a hard day. He cared so much. I miss them, sometimes so much it hurts, even though they’ve been gone a long time and I’m a grown woman. I don’t think you ever get to the point where you stop missing your parents.
I spot a vending machine as I continue to stroll down the suddenly empty fluorescent-lit hallways. I think that’s what I was looking for, food! I walk over and quickly realize I have no money. Why don’t I have my purse? I could have sworn that I brought it with me when she picked me up. I couldn’t have forgotten something as essential as that. Could I? Well, drat. I suppose I should probably make my way back to the waiting room. I’m sure my appointment is soon. I feel like I’ve been walking forever. Maybe I shouldn’t have left. I turn to go back the way I came from, but I’m not sure where the waiting room is. I spin in a circle. Nothing looks familiar. I feel my heart irregularly pounding in my chest and perspiration gathers under my arms as my breathing becomes short and shallow. Nurses and doctors and frazzled looking wives and husbands are suddenly rushing all around me. I don’t remember all these people being here before.
Thank goodness, there’s father! But he’s talking to a family. I know I’m not supposed to interrupt him when he’s with patients. I always get in trouble when I do that. I remember one time he got so mad that he screamed at me on the car ride home until I cried, but I know he had just had a long, hard day. He would sometimes take me to the hospital with him when I begged him. I spent most of my time wandering around like this but sometimes he would let me sit in the gallery for his surgeries or swivel on his office chair while he charted notes. The family finally walks away and I run towards him, ready for him to swoop me up and spin me around like he always does.
“Dad!” I shout as I approach him. My father gives me a curious and concerned look. Maybe I’m not supposed to say hi to him yet. I slow down to a walk, arms outstretched to give him a hug. He instinctively takes a step back, a puzzled look still masking his face.
“I’m sorry, do I know you?” he asks. At first, I think it’s some horrible joke. Of course, he’s joking. But his voice sounds a little different than it normally does. Deeper and raspier somehow. I look right and left, suddenly feeling intensely lost. Nothing is familiar as I scan the hallways around me, and I feel scared, like a child. I think I was looking for tea; maybe this doctor knows where some is.
“I’m sorry sir, could you please point me the direction of some tea? I could really go for a cup of hot earl grey with some cream and sugar.” That drink always comforts me.
“Of course,” he replies, looking confused. I’m not really sure why. Odd. He gently takes a hold of my elbow and guides me about thirty feet away to a coffee station.
“Oh, I am such a silly woman, it was right there!” I exclaim, lightly laughing and looking at him. He smiles back softly and looks around. Lukewarm water from an old-looking hot water tap splashes into a Styrofoam cup, and I add my tea bag, cream, and sugar and top it off with a lid. The man is still standing next to me, expectant or something. I turn back to him and say, “That was all I needed, thank you,” his indication to leave.
“If you don’t mind me asking, what brings you here today?” he asks casually.
“Oh um, hmm…” all that comes to mind is the waiting room, but I don’t remember what that means. “Well, I was in the waiting room…”
“Waiting for what?” he asks gently.
“You know,” I say with nervous laughter, “I am not quite sure I remember that.”
“Did you come to the emergency room with anyone else?” he replies.
“Oh, no I wasn’t here for an emer—” Images suddenly appear in my head. Maybe there was an emergency. Blue and red flashing lights appear like something out of the corner of my eye. I am not sure if they are real. She picked me up and drove me to my appointment. I don’t know what I’m remembering. I hate myself in this moment. I hate myself for not being sure of anything I think or remember anymore. I hate that I can’t trust my own head. I feel like it’s betraying me. I hate that my wrinkled face feels damp, as I just now realize I’m crying in front of this man.
“I’m sorry, who are you?” I ask, wishing I had a tissue. I don’t know where my purse is. I can’t imagine I would have forgotten it.
“I’m Doctor Fairfield. I work in neurology.”
“Oh, that’s very interesting,” I reply. “My father was a general surgeon when he was alive.”
“Quite respectable. I’m sorry for your loss. May I ask your name?”
“Rose. Rose Thatcher.”
“Very nice to meet you Rose. How about we go back down to the ER waiting room?”
“Alright,” I reply, simply because I have no other options at this point. I don’t know where my daughter or Jonathan went, and I’m sure I’m not where I am supposed to be. I follow Dr. Fairfield, my tea already cold in my hand. I haven’t even taken a sip yet. We make our way down various corridors and a flight of stairs, none of which I remember. Finally, we emerge in a waiting room and everyone looks scared or frantic. I spot Jonathan sitting with a young nurse and rush towards him.
“Oh, my dear!” I say as I bend down to hug him.
“Hi grandma,” he replies with a small smile. I can tell he’s upset.
“You got this?” the man asks the nurse.
“Yeah, we’re good,” the nurse replies, glancing at me.
“Nice to meet you, Rose,” he looks at me with a smile, which I gratefully return and he walks back the way we came.
“I noticed Jonathan was sitting alone so I’ve been talking with him for a few minutes. He says you he couldn’t find you.”
“I’m so sorry sweetie. Grandma just went on a walk to get some tea while we wait.” I say holding up the small cup.
“It’s okay,” he says robotically. He seems off, but I’m not sure why. I wonder where his iPad went and why he’s not watching his movie anymore.
“Ma’am, why are you and your grandson here?”
“Well, my appointment.” I say matter-of-factly, a little flustered, heat rising into my cheeks, that this young man is questioning me like this. He looks at me skeptically.
“Jonathan, are you here because of your grandmother’s appointment?” I pull back in shock that he would trust an eight-year-old’s word over mine.
Slowly, Jonathan shakes his head no.
* = Editors' Choice work
Unless otherwise noted, all pictures used are open-source images in the public domain.