Something has suddenly gone very wrong in your life. You fear it might be your fault and you hope. You hope: Just let things go back to the way they were. If not forever, then just for a little while longer.
She was only 8 or 9 when I met her. I never learned her name.
She was sitting alone in the hospital waiting room when I walked in. She looked up at me with very sad eyes and I knew things were not going well for her. I smiled and said hello and sat across from her.
The television was on, as televisions are on in every waiting room. I was not interested in the talk show, so I picked up a 3-month old magazine and began flipping through it.
I had come to the hospital with my friends Rick and Phyllis. Rick’s sister had just given birth to a baby boy and we stopped by for a short visit. As there was a limit of two visitors at a time, Phyllis and I went in first. Then, I excused myself so that Rick could spend some time with his sister and new nephew. I told them to take their time and that I’d be in the waiting room.
That is how I came to find the sad girl.
She walked over to the water cooler for a drink and, as I read the magazine, sat down next to me.
“Who are you waiting for?” I asked her.
“My Mom. She’s visiting my grandma and I’m not allowed in.”
“That doesn’t seem fair, does it? I’m sure your grandmother would love it if you visited,” I said.
She looked down at her lap. “My grandma’s very sick.”
“Oh, that’s so scary,” I said.
She pulled on the hem of her T-shirt. “I know,” she said softly, “and my mom’s really sad. I heard her crying last night.”
I couldn’t tell her something inane like I was sure her grandmother would be all right because I didn’t know that at all. I did understand the girl’s fear, though, because I recognized it from my own childhood. Something has suddenly gone very wrong in your life. You fear it might be your fault and you hope, you hope: Just let things go back to the way they were. If not forever, then just for a little while longer.
Visiting hours ended and soon Rick and Phyllis came by to collect me. I looked at Phyllis and nodded slightly towards the girl.
“Would you mind waiting here a little while longer?” I asked her. “We’re waiting for her mom to come back.” Phyllis looked at the girl and understood. She sat down, giving Rick her I’ll-explain-when-we-get-to-the-car look.
When the girl’s mother arrived, she scanned the room for her daughter. “Ready, honey?” she asked.
“Uh-huh,” the girl said, giving me a shy, sideways look, which caused her mother to look at me for the first time. I read the exhaustion in her face.
“We were just keeping her company until you came back,” I explained.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
I never saw them again. The girl would be a gown woman now, maybe 45 years old. I think of her occasionally and wonder if when she sees fear and sadness on a young girl’s face, does she recognize the look? Does she understand?
I like to think that she does.