They tell me I need to get over it. Let the pain go. It’s holding me back, they say. It’s keeping you from moving forward with your life. But I’d beg to disagree. What if it’s not holding me back, but, in reality, helping me move forward?
After all, who could ever forget something like that? Pretend like those two years didn’t exist at all. Those feelings, those moments. They weren’t all bad. Some were precious—the best memories I can recall—little pictures frozen in time. So like I said, how could I put it all behind me? And more importantly, why would I want to leave it in the past?
I still remember the smell of the coffee that morning. It was a hazelnut blend, and I hated it. I remember the local news being on the television in the top corner of the ceiling. I remember thinking I didn’t understand why they’d turn the volume all the way down so you couldn’t hear it. Didn’t that defeat the purpose? Wasn’t news meant to be heard? But I guess in a place like that, it made sense. It made sense because nobody was really watching it anyway, and we all knew that.
They handed out chocolate chip cookies in the waiting room—a nice family, they were. They had been waiting since before our whole caravan even got there that morning. I didn’t ask for whom they were waiting. I didn’t have it in me. But she looked sad. She rested her head on her husband’s shoulder. She cried tears that only a mother could cry—warm, silent tears. They fell from her cheeks and landed on the rosary she had in her hand. I knew it was one of her own children in the operating room. The way she cried, the way she tried to be brave for her husband and son—it was only a love a mother could have. I found out later it was her son behind those doors.
She offered me one of the cookies, and I remember declining politely. I wanted to throw up, and I knew I couldn’t hold anything in my stomach. But somehow she knowingly understood. But, like I said…
We were on the 24th floor, and people kept filing in by the hour—aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, etc. Lauren sat in the corner with her feet up on the chair. Her head was buried in between her knees. She fiddled with the engagement ring on her left finger, turning it over and over with the other hand. I knew how I was feeling, and I didn’t want to imagine how she felt.
I’ve never seen my dad cry, and I don’t know how he held it together that day. It’s something I’ll never forget. His oldest son, the child who bore his name, was having brain surgery a few doors down, and my dad made almost as little as a peep. He held my mom in his arms, and he closed his eyes, but only for a few seconds at a time. Every time the double doors swung open, he’d open them as quickly as he could. But no sign of him yet. Five more hours of surgery to go—if he makes it that long.
Do you know what it’s like to have the ground ripped out from under you? Everything you thought you knew had vanished. Gone. Taken out by the tide in its grand retreat. And knowing you have no control over taking it back. Relying on faith and miracles alone. But maybe sometimes that’s enough. That is enough, right?
I sat in my chair and turned around to face the window behind me. It was a big window, and I had a perfect view of the Empire State Building in front of me. I wondered how many people were up there at that moment, who put a quarter in the microscope to see the view of New York City. Could they see me?
I envied those people. I hated them for being in my city, the city that I loved, for no other reason than to enjoy it. I hated that they’d spend an hour up there, then go about their days eating hotdogs and roasted nuts from corner vending machines, walking through the Central Park Zoo and taking horse and carriage rides around the city. Going to see Strawberry Fields. Shopping at Macy’s. Walking around Times Square. Broadway. I wanted to be doing that.
Why couldn’t my family be doing that? Why did we have to be here, in this hospital room, with the cold, white walls, and the dulling noise of the machines? And the beds rolling around and the doctors dressed in scrubs and the faces of those who waited desperately to hear good news and the shortness of breath we’d all take whenever we heard the door open and close.
I imagined the people walking around below me on the streets. Where were they going? What were they doing? Was it important? Do they ever stop to think about what’s important? Were they meeting people at the airport, reuniting for the first time in a while? Or were they hurrying to work after stopping at Starbucks for a coffee. I wish I could have a coffee. My body craved the caffeine. But my stomach was impossible. I couldn’t hold anything down. Why couldn’t I hold anything down?
I thought about how things used to be before he got sick. Back when our lives were normal. I thought about the times he’d come home from college, and I’d wait around all day to hear the beep of the Blazer when he parked in the driveway. I thought about the times he’d tell me stories. The times I used to sit him down on the couch and make him listen to me sing and put on shows. I thought about how he showed up out of the blue one day, driving four hours, to make it to my first softball game, and how he even let me pitch to him beforehand.
I remember the day we sat with our backs down on the trampoline, looking up at the sky.
“Bill, why is the sky blue?” I’d ask.
“Do you want the scientific answer, or the creative one?”
“Bill, just tell me why the sky’s blue,” I’d say again.
That was a good day. I had 12 strike-outs that game.
I think of those days whenever I look at her now—that beautiful baby girl. How I get to watch her grow up, and how I get to watch her learn. Watch her explore. Watch her discover. Watch her learn to walk and learn to talk. She’s taught me so much in her short span of life. How special time is, and how you should never take things for granted. How there’s always room for improvement, always time for learning. And there’s always time to laugh. That’s what I love the most—how much she laughs. She never stops.
I think of how different my life would have turned out of she had never been born. If my brother never emerged from behind those double doors that dreadful day in September. How I wouldn’t get to hold her for the first time. How I wouldn’t feel her tiny hands grab mine when I took her for walks around the corner. How she screamed and laughed when she saw the birds by the feeder. How she’d cower and hide behind my legs when she’d see a dog walk down the sidewalk.
I think of how big she’s getting. She grows more and more every day. I hate the thought that I won’t be here forever to watch her grow every day. How soon she won’t even want me around, for I’ll be the un-cool, old aunt whom she calls her godmother.
But then I think back to that day in the waiting room. I think of never seeing her. I think of never seeing him. Because I see him in her every day. Her face. Her eyes. Her expressions. Her personality. And it makes me think that all that pain was worth it. Maybe sometimes in life, you have to go through that pain to get to better things. Things beyond what you ever expected. Things that are worth far more than two years of constant worry. For from those two years, grows a whole lifetime of happiness. Of joy. Of laughter.
So yes, forgetting would be a whole lot easier. Forgetting would allow me to bury the past and get on with my life. But maybe holding on helps me to appreciate the little things more, like my family, and my friends, a cup of coffee, a good book, an episode of “Caillou” with my niece. The little things I never want to take for granted. The little things I never thought were possible.