The doctor’s waiting room. Martha was sick to her stomach. These were supposed to be her golden years. But the “C” word had changed all that.
She was angry at the world. Angry at herself. And scared.
Doctors confirmed that it wasn’t serious. They operated. It was an outpatient procedure, she was cooking supper for her grandkids that same evening.
But she was anxious. The fear kept her from up at night. She couldn’t focus. She spent days, weeks, months feeling sorry for herself. It was hell on earth.
In the waiting room, a little girl sat beside her. She was the only one in the room with Martha.
The girl was reading a magazine, swinging her feet. She wore an Atlanta Braves ball cap. A brace on her leg.
Martha’s anxiety was bad, it almost swallowed her. She had to talk to someone. Anyone.
It was the usual kid-to-grown-up conversation. How old are you? How do you like school? Martha had spent a lifetime raising kids, she knew how to talk to them.
The girl was a conversationalist—which a rarity in a technological age. Martha asked where the girl lived.
“Used to live here, in the hospital,” the girl said. “But now I live at a foster home. I don’t got me no parents.”
The girl was small. Her joints were unusually big; her limbs were hickory switches. A thin tube ran from beneath her shirt into a hip pack.
“What grade are you in?” asked Martha.
The girl shrugged. “No grade. Can’t go to school because I’ve always been in a hospital.”
“Since I was eighteen months.”
“Wow, that’s a long time.”
The girl set her magazine down. “Hey, know what’s cool?” she said.
The girl held up five fingers. “I died five different times.”
“Yessum. Last time, I was dead for forty-nine seconds, I don’t remember it. All I saw was just white, bubbly stuff.”
Martha noticed the girl’s skin was white, it was almost translucent.
“You were actually dead?” Martha asked.
“Yessum. Forty-nine seconds is the longest I’ve been dead so far.”
How about that.
The girl told more stories. She used words that were above her age. Like: “resuscitation,” “trach tube,” and “ventilator.”
Martha changed the subject. She pointed to the girl’s shoes—they were lit up with blinking lights.
“I like your light-up shoes,” Martha remarked. “Those are nice.”
“Where’d you get those?”
“The church kids.”
“You go to church?”
“No ma’am, a church used to visit us in the hospital, they’d bring us presents and stuff. My friend, Tajima, got these shoes.”
“Tajima, that’s an interesting name.”
“Yeah, wanna know what WE called him?”
“I know. He loved that name. When he died he said he wanted me to have his shoes.”
The nurse appeared in a doorway. She called the girl’s name.
“Nice talking with you,” said the girl.
“You too. I’ll see you later.”
The girl stood on legs that were as skinny as number-two pencils. She hobbled to Martha and gave her a hug. The nurse told her to remove her cap. She gave the cap to Martha. The girl’s head was bald.
“How you doing today, Jo?” the nurse asked the girl.
“I’m doing super-awesome.”
They slapped hands.
“I love you,” said the nurse. “You super-awesome girl.”
The door shut. The child disappeared. Martha stared at a cap in her hands.
I don’t know where life finds you today.
But I hope you’re doing super-awesome.