I am sitting in the all-too-familiar waiting room of my local emergency department on a Saturday night in July. I am here with my daughter, Ashley, who is nineteen but could pass for a typical twelve-year-old—until she starts to talk. Ashley has a rare genetic disorder. On the good days I laugh and say that she will make a great ventriloquist because she talks without ever moving her lips. This is not a good day. She has a fever, a wet cough, and she snuggles up against me.
I have been in this place too many Saturday nights with Ashley, who gets high fevers and infections frequently. It is likely she has another case of pneumonia.
The only other person in the waiting room is a young mother in a summery dress of pastel colors. She is crying, explaining quietly on her phone how her daughter is getting stitches in her face because the family dog bit her. Everyone who was at the barbeque is blaming her, despite the fact that she was cooking and nowhere near the dog. She is worried about scars and feeling the unfairness of a Saturday night in the ER.
Ashley used to have trouble controlling her emotions when someone cried. She would hit the person who was crying with her tiny hands. I spent years teaching her what she should do, in language she could understand.
“Lady, pretty dress, crying, Momma?” Ashley asked as she watched the lady who had now hung up the phone.
“Yes, Ashley, she is crying. She is sad.” I thought back to all those times that I wrapped Ashley in a blanket so that she wouldn’t pull out her sister’s hair, or punch her with her little fists, trying to get her to stop crying.
“Hug, Momma? Hug lady, pretty dress, crying?”
At that moment the mother realized that Ashley was talking about her.
“What did she say?” she asked me from across the room.
“She wants to give you a hug because you are crying.”
With that the woman came over to Ashley, leaning down, and reached open her arms to both give and receive a hug. She thanked Ashley, tears now gone, and told her she hoped she felt better soon. For once I was glad we were in the waiting room on a Saturday night.
Nashua, New Hampshire