There’s an art to living in a hospital and not losing your mind. This is not to say I’ve mastered it. I am doing quite well, considering the circumstances, but most of that is due to all the attention, kind words, and wished wellness we’ve been fairly clobbered by since we’ve arrived. I’m afloat on a sea of good humors and faith. I don’t know how long such things can last, but I’m not too proud to ride this wave as far as it is willing to take me.
The woman in the cafeteria tonight is not doing so well. She was having a go at anyone who would hear her. They do dinner early here, in the four o’clock hour, but I didn’t head down until around twenty after six. I knew what I was getting myself into—nothing but the staples, the picked-over salad bar, French fries, pizza, nonperishables. She did not. They were still packing up the trays of the main course for today, some kind of beef cut in a gravy sauce with mashed potatoes, so she saw what she couldn’t have, and she was fuming. I caught wind of the conversation as she was letting them know how stupid it is to stop serving dinner at six. Stupid. Doesn’t make any sense. Protestations of that nature.
After the cooks had all retreated to the safety of the back, she made her way over to the salad bar, her volume now inescapable. No vegetables! How stupid is that, no vegetables to eat anywhere, she said, at the salad bar. The romaine pan was scraped nearly bare, true, but the spinach was still ready for consumption. I mean, I understood the sentiment, to an extent. I didn’t want an all-spinach salad, either. Makes my teeth feel fuzzy, I’m not a fan. I kept wandering about the place, trying to make my own reluctant decision, somewhat regretting I’d already had the pre-portioned tin of chicken Florentine yesterday.
Eventually I decided on the buffalo wings, which were not available yesterday, and as I got to the counter I saw that the woman had made the same decision. Now it was the cashier’s turn to catch invectives. $5.99 for this? That’s insane! That’s hilarious! For six wings that have probably been sitting under a heat lamp all day? She actually laughed, a forced, derisive, and awkward ha-HA!
When at last she left, it was my turn. I smiled at the cashier politely, asked how she was doing this evening. She barely flinched. I’m living the dream, she said, in a voice almost as dry as those chicken wings. I almost snorted.
I don’t know what that woman was going through. It could have been nothing. She could’ve been here to pick up a neighbor who’d thought he was having a seizure but really his arm was just asleep, and while that dingus filled out paperwork she was about fourteen minutes late for her regular dinner time. She was dressed like she’d had to figure out how clothes work on her own, her pants riding way too high for her age with high water cuffs, her flannel shirt tucked in tightly and buttoned all the way up to the collar. Big-lensed eighties eyeglasses on a severe face, her pulled-back hair frizzed and graying. A look of someone very easy to other, to say well you just suck all the time, don’t you. I bet you make your own yogurt. Shop with expired coupons.
It’s also possible she lost her favorite uncle today, the one guy on the planet who’d seemed to get her, who’d actually and randomly also attempted to teach himself the accordion when he was he was sixteen, who also made his own yogurt, and who had been the only person in her life who knew the secret to making her smile. Who wants to pay a dollar per chicken wing on such a day? For bone-in, at that?
* * *
It’s almost the 23rd week. About forty minutes, as I write these words. Alexander is still breech, water still broken, but our team of neonatologists here is much more willing to do their thing at 23 weeks, and we’ve made it to that milestone. I’m amazed. I’m thirty-seven years old, with wealths of education in the humanities and of experience in the various service industries. I’ve lived in six states, seven if you count that summer in Michigan. I didn’t know I could be amazed anymore. I couldn’t remember what it felt like.
We don’t want to get too distracted and forget what’s really happening here, the reason for this tidal surge of blessings and love. So I don’t trust to hope, I don’t kid myself that this swelling in my chest is at all a promise of a bright, impeccable future. What I can say for certain is that we’ve made it this far. That I am lucky to be sleeping in the same underwear as last night on this foldout chair-bed, that I am profoundly lucky to have heard my child’s heartbeat four times today, that I could find among the buffalo wings a tray with five out of six drumsticks, because whatever the sustenance available it lets me be here, lying here, amazed, undone, awake, but living the dream.
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