Waiting Room

Any Day But Sunday Waiting Room

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I don’t believe in past lives but I think in a past life something died in my womb. Every month I bleed, but I can’t go to sleep without laying a hand over my core as if cradling some dying growing thing. And sometimes I wake up with a searing pain in my pelvis and my spine and I swear that something is I’m dying, but my doctors and my partner swear that everything’s okay.

My partner.

It still feels weird to say.

My grandmother would say that she (my grandmother my partner) is the reason for my suffering, that no matter how hard she (my grandmother) prays, there’s nothing she (my grandmother) can do to save my soul. But if my grandmother would just take the time to get to know her, she (my grandmother) would see that she (my partner) is Heaven-sent, an angel specially handcrafted by God just for me. Even now she sits here in the waiting room with me, yet again indulging me and my “phantom” pains not necessarily because she believes my pain, but because she believes me. She notices the thoughtful look on my face and smiles.

“What’s on your mind, love?” she asks.

I don’t answer her right away. I don’t open my mouth and tell her the infinite number of ways I could love her if I let myself try. Don’t tell her that I’m still waiting for my brain to catch up with the right side of my heart, which she holds in her hand, and that the left side was lost somewhere back in the book of Genesis when God looked down on His creation and smiled. Don’t tell her that sometimes the hurt in my core is so strong that I wish whatever it is would just die and take me with it. Don’t tell her that I’m trying so hard to believe in love. Ask her: “Do you believe in God?”

Her tender smile turns to one of confusion. “Huh?”

“I mean, I know you’re not religious or anything, but you don’t think that somewhere in all this madness, there’s something out there that’s entirely wholesome, entirely pure and good?”

She looks up to the ceiling and chews her bottom lip for a moment before saying, “I believe in us.”

“Us? Us, like humanity?” I look down and run my fingers over my stomach, an imperceptible tremor rolling through it. “Well, that’s pretty fucking sad.”

She laughs and shakes her head. “No, baby, I believe in us,” she says. “You and me.”

“Oh.” I don’t know if it was me or the internalized thoughts of my grandmother, but I think I liked the thought of her believing in humanity better. “So your faith is in us, our love.”

“Yes,” she says, assertively. “I believe in our unspoken promise to promise ourselves to each other from now until further notice.”

“Hm. So you acknowledge that your faith is in temporality.”

“No. My faith is in change.”

Change. How can she rest her faith on something so intangible, so unstable? To have faith in change is to have faith in nothing at all the state of the world. And the state of the world, the state of our world is that even on Sunday morning, the hospital waiting room is full of children and adults of all ages, each experiencing their own special Hell. The woman across from us has been in a perpetual state of panic, the toddler on her lap crying profusely while her other kid sits next to her, calmly picking at a wound on his arm. On my right, a teenage girl attempts to cover a sob with a laugh as she plays hand games with her snotty-nosed little brother to distract him from the fact that their mother is probably bleeding out in a hospital bed somewhere on the second floor. On my left, my partner watches the little girl on her left. The girl looks up at her mother with large, sad eyes. “Mommy, is Daddy gonna be okay?”

The girl’s mother sighs and runs a hand over her tear-stained face. “I don’t know, sweetie.”

The girl’s lower lip quivers, but she sniffs and holds back her tears. She gets onto her knees in the chair and then reaches over the armrest separating her from her mother. She (the girl) grabs her (the mother’s) hand and says, “Can we pray, Mommy? Daddy says God will take care of him if we pray.”

My partner looks from the girl to me. She leans in close to me and fails to keep a straight face as she whispers, “Do you want to pray?”

“Yes.” I laugh and push her away. “I hate you,” I say.

She allows herself to smile fully as she moves back to me. The light in her smile and the love in her eyes as she looks at me is enough to uproot the pit of doubt in my stomach. As if she alone has the power to cleanse and heal and resurrect life love us my womb my courage. As if she alone is God my salvation the object of my love. Sometimes it’s as if she is.

A sharp point of pressure begins to form in my lower abdomen. I don’t say anything, but she sees the pain in my face.

“This is bullshit,” she says. “We’ve been here for hours. Urgent care my ass.”

The children on either side of us look at her with wide, shocked eyes, and I can’t help but laugh. It’s a funny thing, hearing an angel curse.

“Mommy, she said a bad word,” the little girl says.

“Fuck, I’m sorry,” she (my partner) says to the girl’s mother.

Despite herself, the mother joins in on my laughter. “It’s okay,” she says.

“But, Mommy—”

“Shh, sweetie, it’s okay,” the mother says to her daughter. “She’s just upset, like me and you.”

The girl gasps and turns to her (my partner). “Did something happen to your Daddy too?”

The mother apologizes and starts to scold her daughter, but she (my partner) smiles and says, “No, it’s fine. She’s cute.” To the girl, she says, “No. My girlfriend has a really bad tummy ache.”

Girlfriend.

It’s even weirder than “partner.”

When she says it (girlfriend), she grabs my hand as if she can sense me failing to run away from my instinct to run away from her the word. She probably can.

“I didn’t know girls were allowed to have girlfriends,” the girl says, her face scrunched up in confusion. She looks from her (my partner) to me to her mother.

Her mother looks from me to her (my partner) to her daughter. Her (the mother’s) mouth falls open, but no sound comes out. I wait for her to say something homophobic, to play God and damn us to Hell. I can’t see her (my partner’s) face, but I know her well enough to know that she’s looking at her (the mother) expectantly, daring her to curse her (my partner’s) love for women me.

The mother takes too long to provide an explanation, so the girl comes to her own conclusion: “That’s cool.”

She (my partner) smiles. “It is cool, isn’t it?”

“I think so, but my daddy doesn’t.”

“Gracie!” The mother scolds her daughter, but she (the girl) keeps talking.

“But it’s true, Mommy! That’s why Daddy doesn’t like it when Auntie Sylvie brings her friend to church. He says it hurts God.”

“Gracie, be quiet.”

“Do you hurt God too?”

The mother stands up and pulls her daughter with her. She (the girl) asks where they’re going, but she (the mother) ignores her. She (the mother) turns to us and mutters an apology before running off, dragging her daughter along with her.

I wince as the pressure in my stomach builds. She (my partner) turns to me, pity mingling with the love in her eyes. She squeezes my hand lovingly and says, “It doesn’t mean anything. Only children believe in God.”

“And her dad? My grandmother? Me?

She stares at me blankly and shrugs. “I said what I said.”

She’s so damn adamant in her beliefs or lack thereof. It’s what drew draws me to her, but sometimes I wish she would just concede. Stop humoring me and start humoring my beliefs. Only children believe in God. What the hell is that supposed to mean? Only children are stupid enough to believe in the essentiality of good and evil? As if the story of Heaven and Hell is just an Old Wives’ Tale parents tell their kids to get them to behave. As if the loss of Heaven and the threat of Hell hasn’t plagued me long into adulthood. As if—

“What the fuck is taking so long?”

She (my partner) is becoming restless. We’ve been sitting in this waiting room for almost three hours now. I apologize to her. The hospital is usually so busy on Saturdays. I tell her I thought it would be more of a ghost town on Sunday.

“Why?” she asks. “People die every day. Especially on Sunday.”

I feel a tightening in my core, and I think it’s my uterus constricting, but it’s not that achingly dull, swollen pain of cramps. It’s more like a Christening consecrating mourning. But I don’t say anything. And neither does she. She’s currently wrapped up in her own pain—somehow I forgot that Sundays are her worst day. If I really loved knew her, I would remember that it was on a Sunday that her body was robbed from her, and it was on a Sunday three months later that her body robbed itself.

“Gabby—”

She (my partner) runs a hand through her hair and shakes her head, says it’s fine. “I just need them to hurry up so we can get out of here,” she adds.

“We can just leave.” I start to get up but fall back into my seat as a stabbing pain shoots through my core. She opens her mouth to say something, but I ignore my pain and force myself to stand up. “It’s nothing,” I say. “Let’s go.”

I start to move towards the door, but she catches my hand and holds me back. She nods her head at my empty seat and then gives my arm a small tug. “Sit down,” she says.

I stay rooted on my feet. “You don’t want to be here.”

“But you need to be here.”

My mouth falls open in confusion, and I can’t help the slight derision that comes across in my voice. All this time she’s spent complaining about my complaining, about how she’s always taking care of me, but she never lets me take care of her. Especially when it comes to her past. “You’re always saying that nothing’s wrong, that I’m just being dramatic,” I say. “And maybe I am. So what does it matter? You obviously shouldn’t never wanted to don’t want to be here, so let’s just go, okay?”

She stands up and I move toward the door, but again, she holds me back. She pulls me to her and says in a strained voice, “We’re not leaving.”

I start to protest, but she shakes her head. “You’re right. I’ve called bullshit on you multiple times,” she says, “because every time you talk about your pain, it reminds me of mine, of what I lost. And you’re not supposed to do that. You’re supposed to make me forget. I love you because you make me forget.”

“I thought you loved me for me.”

“I don’t know what’s wrong with you—I don’t even know if I believe anything’s wrong—but I can’t stand to hear your pain anymore. I can’t do it, baby. I can’t. So we’re staying here, and we’re not leaving until we figure this out.”

She’s looking at me with such hurt love pleading in her eyes, her hands hopelessly desperately clinging to mine. She looks so weak broken severed distressed so—I don’t even know, and I don’t understand because she’s not supposed to be this way I’ve never seen her like this. And it’s all too much, and it’s enough to swell my stomach and crack me open and—

A scream.

The boy across from us who had been so calm before bursts into piercing wails as a stream of blood runs from the wound he’d been picking on his arm. At the sight of the blood, the boy’s mother goes faint. The toddler on the mother’s lap somehow manages to outscream the boy, its face turning an alarming shade of red. The teenage girl on my right is sent into a tearful panic as she tries and fails to keep her snotty-nosed little brother calm, his tortured cries ringing with a shrill fear of impending certainty.

My partner just opened up to me, and now the blood and tears of children are spilling onto the waiting room floor. My grandmother would tell me this is a sign from God himself, and if she had an evil bone in her body, she would curse me for not following it. My partner would tell me this is all just a coincidence, two unrelated timelines that just so happened to simultaneously climax and collide. And if it were any other day, she would’ve seen the panic and pain on my face as all the tension in the room shredded through my core. She would’ve seen me and immediately done something to comfort me. But today she looks at me and cries. Her tears fall silently among the chaos.

I think my grandmother would’ve been right.

“Gabby?”

She drops my hand and wipes her eyes, angry at herself for crying. “I can’t do this anymore,” she says.

“I know,” I say. “Let’s go home.” I reach out for her hand, but she takes a step back from me.

“I can’t.”

“We have to get you out of here. Let’s go home.”

“I can’t do this, Hannah.”

I hold out my hand to her again. “Let’s just go home. Please.”

She looks at me and I swear I can feel the lining of my stomach shedding. She says, “I can’t be with you anymore.”

Her sweet, beautiful face, usually so full of life and love for me is so empty that I feel like I tripped over my own feet and fell into a black hole, and suddenly I’m so cold, and if I look at her for another second I think I might shatter into eternity. So I focus on the screaming children around her. I watch the blood drip from the boy’s wound as she tells me that she loves me in one sentence, then that she can’t love me in the next.

“Are you even listening to me?” she asks.

A nurse finally comes through the double doors at the end of the room, a janitor trailing behind her. The janitor begins cleaning up the mess as the nurse tends to the boy’s wound. His cries grow quiet as the nurse soothes him and gently wipes the blood from his arm.

“Look at me,” she (my partner) says.

His arm bandaged, the boy sniffles and smiles at the nurse in thanks. The nurse moves on to his mother, who’s just woken up from her fainting spell. The boy jumps out of his chair and runs around the waiting room, showing off his Spiderman band-aid to all the other children, their tears subsiding to laughter as they rave about their favorite superheroes.

“Hannah.” She moves to stand directly in front of me so I can’t look anywhere but at her. She then says something I can’t ignore: “Do you believe in God?”

“Yes.” An automatic response.

I’m sure she’s known all along, but judging by the look on her face, hearing me say it out loud for the first time does something to her that I can’t explain.

“You believe in this all-powerful being who loves you,” she says, “and yet you’re so fucking scared to love yourself. And that’s okay, baby, it is. But instead of dealing with your shit, you force it all on me. You think I’m so strong because I’ve been through shit, that I’m somehow invincible. But I’m not. I hurt every fucking day.”

A pit of heat ignites in my core as if she someone filled me with gasoline and dropped a match down my throat. “Gabby, I—” I choke on my words.

“I know,” she says. “You didn’t know. And how could you? You’re so caught up in yourself. And I was so caught up in you.” She lets out a bitter laugh, and a flicker of love sparks in her eyes, but it’s gone in a blink. “You know, for a while there, you really did make everything better. I was trying so hard to help you with your pain that I forgot about mine. But now…”

The burning spreads to my chest, the smoke clogging my everything airways, and it’s getting harder and harder to breathe. I open my mouth to gasp for air, but a sob rips through me instead. Suddenly, I’m falling and I’m cold, and the pressure from the smoke in my body is threatening to shatter my core, and I find myself reaching out to her because I need her to hold me. She can’t love me anymore, but she holds my hand anyway because she does.

*          *          *

I never saw a doctor that day. After everything that happened, I couldn’t spend another minute in that room so I told my partner Gabby to take me home.

My partner.

It’s still weird that I can no longer say it.

Gabby would say that it’s funny that I only got used to the idea of our love after it was over, but I know now that she’d be lying. And if I had taken the time to get to know her instead of trying to find someone to save me, I fully believe I would have loved her, not the Heaven-sent angel I convinced myself God had specially handcrafted just for me, but her. I would have loved her. The girl who wasn’t much of an angel at all, but still had wings to lose anyway. The girl who had faith in me and everything and nothing at all. But devils and angels don’t need to have faith in anything. They only need to hold on long enough to conceive. Then let go. Move on.

My grandmother would say that Gabby was the reason for my suffering, that she (my grandmother) prayed hard enough to save my soul. But if my grandmother had just taken the time to get to know me instead of indoctrinating me, she would have seen that I am not the Heaven-sent angel she specially handcrafted me to be. I can be the cause of my own pain because I am nothing but the girl God made me to be. The girl who struggles to love because she never knew what to believe. Even now, I lay here in bed alone, awoken by a searing pain in my pelvis and my spine, and I swear that something inside me is always dying. Every month I bleed, but I can’t go to sleep without laying a hand over my core as if cradling some dying thing.

I don’t believe in past lives but I think in a past life something died in my womb.

Sometimes I think it was God.

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