Spent the morning in a clinic waiting room–no, not for me, I’m fine. Offering moral support. (Though, as always, I’m not so sure how good I am at being moral.) A waiting room is full of raw material. You see so much–the harried mother with five children, the elderly couple who alternate reading newspaper articles to each other, the man who leans away from the woman he’s with when her name is called. The receptionist who brings coffee and a thick medical textbook, the delivery people with their various envelopes, releases, boxes, biohazard containers…
Well, there’s never any shortage of stories in any public space, really. As a writer, one is constantly watching. Filling the hungry well with experiences.
Near the end of the waiting, I walked a few blocks to bring back coffee and breakfast–when you have to drink radioactive goop, they don’t want you having brekkie–and along the way, watched the panorama of traffic. Sometimes I think being a writer means constantly accepting a place outside–the perennial observer, merely noting. It all floods into that dark hole, so that when you drop a pebble in a story will ripple up the stone throat.
Summer. Sunshine. Idiot catcalls from some of the passing cars. The young man and the old in the coffee shop, their heads–one white-haired, one dreadlocked–bent over a chessboard. The smiling girl at the counter with a lilt to her voice and a fresh hickey on the side of her neck and a looseness to her hips. The woman in a charcoal suit and skirt, with fresh-polished shoes, her tip a whole dime after she spent minutes dithering about if she wanted sugar-free caramel syrup or regular. The middle-aged man, so thick he looked square from the back, who almost pushed me off the sidewalk because he “didn’t notice” I was walking there too. (Certainly not a gentleman.)
Turning off the main street to walk to the clinic, breathing a sigh of relief, arriving just as she comes out hungry and irritable. Freeing the coffee from the drink container, seeing how pale and trembling she is as she claws a cigarette free of the pack, taking the paper sheath from the straw so she doesn’t have to worry about it. Outside the same sunshine, gleaming on cars parked in serried rows as a woman almost-shouts into her cell “–but what about SCHOOL, you don’t understand, what about SCHOOL?” Bees drowsy in a bank of flowers still damp from the morning’s sprinkler-washing.
Quiet conversation. The terror of diagnosis. Knowing what you’re fighting is almost always better than not knowing.
Hugs. “I love you.” Other errands to run that morning, quickly, so I don’t think. Home, in my office with the cedars outside the window and the dogs, worn out by the change in routine–I left the house before we’re usually awake, and while they like the idea of early breakfast they do NOT enjoy the alpha being gone–snoring in their accustomed spaces.
The whirl of color and sunshine goes into the well. The stories, half-formed or just tiny bright bits, fall in too. Everything, large or small, falls into that deep darkness I’ll mine later for the right words, the certain slant of light, stringing together the beads on language-cord.
Everything except the fear, and the dry rock in my throat. To care is to risk, and seeing the biopsy scar on the body of someone you love, someone you cannot imagine being without, is not a story now. That rock will not fall into the well. It sits in my chest, and the only thing worse is thinking of how awful it must be for the person you love.
It’s not a story to them either.
We fight for those we love. None of my usual weapons will do. I’ll find new ones. I will hope that someday, this dry, dry rock can be dropped into the well, and I will turn to my friend and say, “Remember that morning when…”
And she will be alive to smile, or grimace, or just shake her head, and say “You know, I do.” Or, “No, it’s all just a blur.”
Either will be fine.