By Annaliese B.
I couldn’t stand still anymore. I couldn’t stand in the small private waiting room any longer. It felt like the grey walls were trapping me, the silence between my notoriously loud family making me anxious. I had to get out.
I went to find my mother, fully aware that my father had far too much on his plate to deal with me at that moment. I found her at the end of the ICU hallway. She looked out the large window, which viewed the parking deck. I stood quietly behind her, looking at the outdoors. When we left that morning, it was sunny. When I went out to lunch, it was sunny.
But the minute my mother called me that afternoon, the world suddenly turned grey. It began raining and the sky was dark. I could feel my legs shake with every step I took. It was almost like the world knew what was going to happen.
I quietly asked my mother if I could go for a walk. I told her I needed to get some fresh air. I couldn’t breathe in the stuffy hospital air for any longer. She told me that would be fine; we always understood each other in a rather reserved way.
I took my earbuds and walked out of the hospital.
It was October in Chicago, so the air was chilly. I wrapped myself in my yellow sweater and closed my eyes as the rain hit my face. I stood in the grass across the lawn and took a deep breath. I plugged my earbuds in and began to walk across the wet hospital lawn until someone called my name.
I turned and saw my cousin driving a beige station wagon I didn’t recognize towards the parking deck I found my mother staring at just moments ago. He’d driven up from West Lafayette in less than two and a half hours when the drive was usually three hours.
Before he could open his mouth, I answered the question he was going to ask. “They’re upstairs. Third floor. You’ll see them,” I told him.
He gave me a quick nod. “Where are you going?” He asked me. I shrugged, but I knew exactly where I was going. I just didn’t want him to know. “Be safe, okay?” He said to me.
He and I stared at each other for a moment. I don’t want to lose someone else today, his eyes seemed to say.
I gave him a small nod and swallowed hard. Neither one of us wanted to talk about what was going to happen until we had to. “I will,” I told him. “I promise.” He rolled up the window and drove into the parking deck. I left the hospital grounds and began walking down the street.
I blasted music through my earbuds as I walked. I remembered expressing to my father that no one would talk to me on the first day of school so I put earbuds in, and he suggested that maybe no one would talk to me on the first day of school because I had earbuds in. It was the universal sign that someone didn’t want to be bothered, and that day I didn’t want to be bothered.
I shook my head at the memory. I’d been a junior in high school for hardly a month, and my absences were piling up. My absences were never anything serious, for example I once missed class due to being attacked by a bee hive and I missed class on another more-normal occasion because of a doctor’s appointment. I knew this would add more absences, but this time I didn’t care about the work I would have to catch up.
My pace quickened as I continued down the street. I wanted to get away from that hospital as fast as I could.
I was always confused as to why people wouldn’t be allowed to see a loved one in their last moments. I thought you should be able to see them until their last breath- to be with them as long as you can.
But that day, I finally realized why people wouldn’t want to do that. I couldn’t get the image of her out of my head. She laid still. Her hands were cold. Her chest rose and fell but her eyes stayed shut. The vital monitor was the only noise in the room. It’s sounds slowed with each rise and fall of her chest. I knew what would happen when the room would go silent.
My father tried to get me to talk to her, but I couldn’t find the words to say. I just held her hand in mine. Her nails were done the way she liked; I remembered her getting them done right before the surgery. I suppose she was preparing for the worst. I thought about how cold her hand was against my skin. I thought about how when I looked back at my father I could see tears in his eyes.
I continued walking down the street, away from the hospital. It was beginning to rain, and all I had on was a measly yellow cardigan with black combat boots to protect me from the rain. I kept walking. The rain wasn’t terrible. It felt refreshing against my face.
My feet led me around the corner of the street. I twisted the cord from my earbuds around my index finger; it was a nervous tick of mine. I continued walking until I reached it.
I could feel my anxious heartbeat beginning to slow down once my eyes landed on the beige building. I looked up and felt the tension leave my shoulders. I was home.
I hadn’t lived in that apartment for very long. I was too young to remember it too, but I always felt like I was at home there. Fleeting thoughts of my early childhood ran through my brain as I stared up at the bay window that belonged to the apartment where I first lived.
Suddenly my legs were giving out. I felt weak.
I took a seat on the curb and began to cry. I held my head in my hands, my tears soaking the sleeves of my cardigan. The thought of that apartment being the first place I lived broke me. I was born in that hospital- the same one I’d been running from- and came back to the first place I went after being in that hospital years ago.
I continued to cry on the curb. My tears fell from my eyes the same way the rain was falling from the sky. The very place I had been given life was the very place my grandmother’s life was being taken. And that was too much to handle.
Whenever it was just my grandmother and I walking somewhere together, she would tell me the story of how she walked through the hospital with me when my mother went into labor with the person who would become my younger brother. He was born in the same hospital that I was born in. We were both born in the same hospital where my grandmother would pass away.
Eventually I found the strength to get up and go back to the hospital. When I returned, I went back into the room where my grandmother was. I held her hand and found the words I couldn’t earlier.
I told my grandmother that I never saw this happening. I never thought the very place where my life began would be the very place where hers ended. I thought it was unfair how oxymoronic it was that life and death were opposites but resided on the same linear line.
I told her how I always figured she’d be around to remind me about my lack of a boyfriend or how lucky I was that my eyelashes were so long or how she walked down those very hallways almost fifteen years ago when my brother was brought into the world. I supposed life carried on, but I had no clue how to carry on without her.
I thanked her for supporting all my artistic endeavors even when it seemed like no one else did. I thanked her for pushing me to pursue my passions, my hopes, and my dreams, even in the face of adversity.
I recalled the time she told me that I reminded her of her younger self. I remembered how she said she was ambitious and passionate about all that she did. I remembered how she said she didn’t want me to make the same mistakes she had, and I told her that I wished I could have told her that it was okay to make those mistakes.
I told her I admired her. She was nothing but authentic. Even then, lying in that hospital bed, she was nothing but herself. I told her that I wanted to be just like her in that way: unapologetically myself.
I promised her that I would be more open. I promised her that I wouldn’t live in fear. I promised her that I would do everything in my power to make my dreams a reality.
I promised her that I wouldn’t give up, because she never did.