I held her hand. We weren’t quite twenty years old. I wasn’t sure what decision I would have made, I’m still not. All I knew was that she was the one whose opinion mattered in this moment. Today it was her choice, and the most I could do was try to be there for her.
Opening my purse to pull out my reading glasses, I notice the small white nasal-spray bottle still encased in its clear plastic packaging. I’ve been carrying it for a few months now. Do I feel reassured seeing it there?
As a physician, I wonder if the chance is greater that I’ll one day use this bottle to save someone’s life than it is that I’ll rescue someone with CPR or the Heimlich maneuver.
The door opens, we pause again.
Voices singing in the lobby drown out
her parents and the specialists alike.
I think they added bells this year,
the cheerful carols carefully chosen
to celebrate the season, not a faith.
A guitar picks up a riff, the same
one my daughter played so long ago
in her one embarrassed solo
on the school stage. A song both
fitting and ironic, about keeping up
the fight. Down the hall, their daughter
listens to the voices rise and fall.
The doors open, and the doors close.
A man a few feet ahead of me
is pulling a rolling carry-on,
a clear plastic “belongings” bag tied
to the top by a white drawstring.
I can’t resist a glance in the bag,
like a stranger who wonders about lives
in the elevator or grocery line.
It holds some clothes, playing cards,
the ordinary things. And lying on its side
is a small helicopter, its unpainted
wooden slats as thin as split popsicle sticks,
a broken rotor bent awkwardly
Tears should be surprising.
He is, after all, well over six feet tall,
must top 250 pounds,
always quick and confident
with a joke upon his lips.
Most of his patients weigh a pound or two.
Eyes fused shut, translucent skin,
with lives of needles, tubes,
machines and probing hands.
On this week there are too many
who will never have a chance.
Chocolate, silence, and he hauls
himself up from the office couch.
“At least I can still cry,” he says
and turns back up the stairs to work.