A hospital waiting room. My wife sits to my right, waiting on a routine visit. Nothing major. Run-of-the-mill stuff. Welcome to the land of medical care. There will be a co-pay.
And at the moment my wife is hypnotized by the corner television—which is tuned to a home improvement show.
The TV host, a hip guy in a tool-belt, is about to create vaulted ceilings in an average residential bathroom using only his ingenuity, a sledgehammer, and an off-camera 260-man contractor crew. My wife asks if I think our bathroom needs vaulted ceilings.
I do not.
To my left I see a couple, mid-30s. He looks like he works hard for a living—scuffed jeans and boots, weathered skin. The woman beside him, a strawberry blonde, bites her fingernails.
“It’s cold in here,” she’s saying.
“Yep,” he answers with a blank face.
She pets his hand then holds it. And while he stares straight ahead, she measures her tiny hand against his big one. One of Monet’s water lilies hangs behind them.
“Are you scared?” she asks.
He shrugs, eyes on the television.
On TV they’re now using subway tiles for a kitchen backsplash instead of, I don’t know, non-subway tiles. The TV host is quite excited about this. These subway tiles are apparently a big deal to TV Guy. I get the feeling TV Guy wakes up in the morning and showers with his tool belt on.
My wife taps my shoulder. “I want one of those backsplashes.”
The woman in the waiting room leans her head on the man’s shoulder. He’s gazing at the television, deep in thought. Maybe he wants a subway-tile backsplash, too.
The woman says, “I’ve been praying that the doctor can cut it all out while he’s in there, I mean, every last bit.”
“Yeah,” says the unblinking man, letting out a sigh. He’s in no mood to chat about whatever cutting he is about to undergo. He is unemotional. I’ve worked alongside men like him my whole life. To show fear before the gentler sex is a grievous sin.
So the young woman tucks herself under his arm and watches the blaring television.
The TV host is now discussing the utmost importance of color schemes for attaining true spiritual happiness and existential enlightenment.
The host is talking a lot about the psychology of wall color. TV Guy claims that red makes people feel empowered, purple imparts ambition, and yellow is for complete idiots. My favorite color is yellow.
Then the nurse calls the young man’s name.
He stands, removes his ballcap. His hair is a mess. He hands the hat to the woman beside him and takes a deep breath. His hands are trembling. “Gotta go, baby.”
She nods. “Okay.”
When they embrace she doesn’t see how tight he is closing his eyes, but I do. He looks like a boy when he holds her. His features become softer.
As an observer, I can tell that she is his best girl. She is his whole life. Every man has a reason for the things he does in this world, a motivating purpose behind each hammer swing. She is his.
He removes a silver band from his finger and a wristwatch, then hands them to her.
Then he walks through the double doors. When he’s gone, she collapses in her chair, presses his filthy hat against her face, and smells it.
“Area rugs,” says the clinically insane, loud-voiced TV host. “The most important thing when defining any space is using area rugs, I’m obsessed with my area rugs…”
The young woman has had all she can take. She stands and turns off the television.
Everyone in the room looks at each other awkwardly. Is she allowed to do that? Suddenly the waiting room is quiet and it takes everything within me not to applaud the woman.
The woman paces nervously. She is now placing the ratty cap over her head, pulling it tightly over her eyes. Then she walks outside, face in her hands.
I can see her shoulders heave up and down. She wipes her face with her sleeve so many times that her face must be chaffed pink.
I bow my head. My words don’t mean much. But I use them just the same.
God. Let that doctor cut it all out while he’s in there. Every last bit of it.