Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The river of hallways

photo credit

I come to these halls every week, walk beneath the florescent stream, try not to breathe too deeply the air.  Who can describe this cocktail of aroma?  A baby's room when the diaper is hours past needing a change; mashed potatoes, green beans and tater tots from my elementary school cafeteria; unwashed hair; carpet in an old house. 

Today, I bend low to greet a favorite and I can see it all across her face. She is not well.  Still.  Every week but the last one, her answer has been the same: pursed lips, slow shake of the head back and forth, words forced from her lips in a labor of breath.  I say I'm sorry, because I am, and I don't know what else to say.  

"I wish I could do something to take your pain away."

Her hand reaches out with rose chipped nails, the ones I painted three weeks ago, and red marble eyes stare into mine.

"Don't.  Go."  She shudders and coughs. 

I'm not actually there to visit her, but I can't pass by.  So I sit, and attempt conversation, and observe the hallway activity.  

It's busy here, by the nurses' station.  The old man with the red blanket sits on his usual perch beside us, in his wheel chair, with thin blood-spotted legs and slippered feet, his eyes glassy red beads.  Occasionally, he stirs, lifts up his legs and twists, contorts, his pillow dropping to the floor.  My friend hands me the stuffed frog on her lap, tries to lean down to pick up his pillow, lifting up his feet to reposition.  He dwells in this corner, half alive, it seems.

A middle aged woman wheels her mom with the flowing white hair into the hallway, kisses her goodbye.  The mama scoots her wheelchair back and forth with a twinkle in her eyes, wearing white running shoes, and I think immediately of my mom - slender, like her, walking everywhere she can, unyielding to age or pain or limitation.  I ask her name when she passes by and she only beams back at me.  

In front of us, a gentleman faces off with the drinking fountain, shuffling his walker forward, brushing up against the wall like a wind up toy with nowhere to go.  He backs up and pops the front legs with its tennis balls in the air - a walker wheely - and my friend beside me mumbles something about how he's always getting into her personal belongings and crinkles her nose.  She also motions toward the male nursing aids walking by, saying that one is her husband, and the other is her friend's husband.  And then she looks away.

A few doorways down the hall, a lady's voice punctuates the air with whimpers of pain, not quite drowned out by the uninterrupted bustle of hallway activity. 

Mr. Walker Wheely focuses his sights now on me, shuffling forward, standing right up against my knees.  He turns to the aide, says he wants to say hi to his girlfriend, and reaches out to cup my chin.  I joke playful with him and ask his name, and the aide replies, "He doesn't even know."

I sit here, in this river, until I must move on, and it lingers on my clothes and on my fingertips, disrupting the edges of my heart long after I've walked to my car and driven home.

Linking up with Heather King at the EO today for another week of Just Write.


  1. Oh. My. Word. Friend, this is so honest, so observant, so tender and so heartbreaking. How grateful I am that you are there among the confused and the hurting and those who still imagine themselves to be young and spry and those who don't know who they are. You are such a gift as you walk those hallways and as you stop to listen. You who allow your face to be cupped, who stay when asked, who carry them with you and to us, too. You are a blessing. My love for you just grows and grows.

    1. Wow, Ash. I don't know how to respond, but this makes me want to cry. Thank you, for hearing my heart, even when I didn't say any explicit "message" in this. Even when I drag myself tired to this place, I always leave more full than when I came. It's such an honor. My heart returns the love, friend.