Below the depth of Reflections
Reluctantly he entered the elevator. He turned to face the button panel and pressed 5. His rigid stance, broad shoulders, and thick 19 inch neck projected strength but belied how he truly felt. If he could, he would have hit “doors open” and walked out. Leaving what was ahead of him behind. I have to do this he thought to himself.
Alone ascending to the 5th floor, he mentally repeated the room number 5442. “5442”. The doors parted and he stepped forward. Rooms 5400-5425 to the right. Rooms 5426-5450 to the left. He forced one foot in front of the other. The air was unusually cold. It was November outside but could have easily been January inside these walls. The indiscriminate and hurried taps of footsteps pulled his attention. Hushed conversations were all around. Dings, beeps, and chirps of machines served as disconnected metronomes for the cacophony. His senses were heightened. The prospect of death tends to have that effect. Even if the demise isn't one's own.
5442. The door was open. The last few steps proved to be the most difficult. Mentally he moved into the room but in reality his body hadn't cooperated. Fear and apprehension was a cocktail that stopped him in his tracks. “Please come in. Your father is resting comfortably” “Hunh?” He was confused. “I apologize. I'm nurse Smith. You're a spitting image of Mr. Ray”. Her soft voice and warm tone cut through the air. He was out of his trance. “Oh yes. I am his son. How is he”, “He's ok. The procedure went well. The doctor will give you more information. Good thing he came in when he did”. She was reassuring. “Thank you”, “Sure thing. He will be groggy for awhile. He needs to lie still and flat for some hours. Ring me if you need anything,” he nodded. She pulled the door close as she exited.
The positive assessment did nothing to put him at ease. He couldn't bring his eyes to look at the old man. He scanned the room. First he focused on the monitors. SpO2 97%. BPM 76. BP:118/77. Next the patient whiteboard at the front of the room. Rm: 5442. Patient: Mr. Carlos Ray. DOB: 9/25/1945. RN: J.Smith. Dr. Birdy. Aspirin 75mg. Clopidogrel 75mg. He made his way over to the window. The city landscape was crisp and clear. The frigid winter air gave the city an appearance of being alive. Steam from the sewers and billowing smoke from chimneys were like exhalation from the belly of a concrete beast. “The world is cold in more ways than one”, he whispered to no one in particular.
Knowing there was a time limit to how long he could stare out of the window, or look at the floor, or look at the brown chair, or the blank TV, he turned to his father. The sight was macabre. How can a person look so peaceful with a mask over their face, with tubes and IVs protruding in all directions. Standing there peering at a face that was very familiar and simultaneously distant, he could feel a rush of emotions coming over him. The pulsating line stretching from his temple to his jaw was the physical manifestation of anger, resentment, and feelings of abandonment accumulated over time. He hadn't felt like this in years. Embarrassed that the man lying in repose could elicit an emotional response, he closed his eyes. It was then he realized the fallacy of time healing all wounds. Hours, days, or years do nothing to cure the unseen injuries running deep next to the core of who you are. The continuum of his life only blunted the sharpness of the pain. It was there nonetheless.
He closed his eyes. The back of his eyelids served as a screen projecting a memory from his childhood. He was maybe 6 or 7 years old. He had been asleep but something woke him during the witching hours. Half asleep he noticed light coming from the back of the small apartment. He stumbled to the dining room. Light bulbs with wattage too low for the size of the room cast a beige hue over the scene. Off center in the eat in area was an inexpensive small Oak colored wood laminate table. Four light brown vinyl chairs resting on chrome painted legs that were one piece of metal bent to form the base rested under the table. He saw his mother sitting in one of the chairs.
At the table, she was surrounded by papers covered with scribbled formulas and strokes of highlighters. Notebooks and ledgers add to the intimidating array of information. There were large glossy books with foreign words like Statistics and Accounting printed on the front. Her eyes were propped up by coffee, jet black. Nerves soothed by a stick of smoldering Kool 100s. These types of nights seemed to be on repeat. Getting her G.E.D. later in life was tough but this adventure of getting her associates degree could be her undoing. She is fully engaged in the pursuit of the American dream but her spirit is tempered by the realities of long days in her rear view and many more to come around the bend.
Her rollered and scarved head raised from the task at hand as she looked at her youngest son, “What are you doing up baby”, he shrugged his diminutive shoulders. “You should be in the bed”. She turned back to the whirlwind of notes and numbers. There would be no escort back to bed with a cup of warm milk. No lullabies sang to aid him with his slumber like on those Hollywood TV family shows. This is real life of which they are wholly entangled. As real and as Americana as any Norman Rockwell relief.
On a micro level, all of her energy was focused on that 4’x4’ table. Macro, her focus was on improving everything about their lives. This had to work. She, they, needed this win. The miniature him was too young to mentally understand the importance of her endeavor. To feel the weight and gravity of the situation, he was plenty old enough. The pressure of the moment forced him to lean against the wall. The pressure forced her to double down and work harder. Quietly he watched his mother.
He opened his eyes. Being transported back in time was too much. Tears started to form but he bit down and clenched his teeth to stem the tide. “I can't believe you've made me feel like that lonely little boy again”. Gazing upon a face that resembled his own, it was hard for him to conceptualize how this figure that should have been a father figure, figured so little in the equation of his son's life. While his mother was and remained his moral compass, his life had stormy periods. Without a father to be his guiding light, navigating the pitfalls of life was sometimes left to sheer chance. Or learning from other young men. They weren't always in the same boat but they paddled up the same creek.
Going down memory lane and reliving some of his emotional pain, he had forgotten to breath. He exhaled. Internal conflicts threatened to knock him off his feet. He wanted to be angry. He deserved to be bitter. Wasn't his father on the verge of leaving him again? Just when they were developing a rapport. Not on a father-son level but on a level where men can come together and gain understanding. He reminded himself to breath.
“Forgiveness is not for the forgiven but for the benefit of the forgiver”. He heard the words as a whisper from way back when. A family friend, mentor, and all around good guy told him that in his teenage years. His breathing normalized. With that, he pulled the chair closer to the bed. Finally he removed his Homburg hat and topcoat. He sat down. Without thinking he grabbed his father's hand. Was it the little boy reaching out, or the man letting his father know he was there to support him? He couldn't be sure and at this point it was unimportant. He picked up the remote to turn the TV on. “OK old man, let's see what Judge Judy is talking about”.