WHAT TO THINK WHEN SOMEONE MIGHT BE DYING

Waiting rooms are all the same, but the better ones have good furniture.

I am sitting on a pretty decent couch, by institutional standards. I was just sleeping. My head was on my jean jacket. I have brought my computer, a book, and several magazines. We were here yesterday for three to five hours. I can’t remember. Today we are just supposed to be here for an hour but waiting rooms and facilities have a way of holding on to you longer than you expected.

I got married last year, six months ago yesterday. My wife and I have gone to California, to see her—our—family. One of them, who I won’t describe, is approaching the end of a life and death health crisis. My wife and I were at home in Seattle when it happened. My wife feels terribly that she was not here. I feel a vague concern, but mostly for her. Her family has not been my family for that long.

The ones who have been family for a long time are tired. They have spent a good deal of time in the waiting room. The woman who works at the reception desk—a pretty young Black woman, who is nice, and watches TV not too loud—knows their faces but does not say their names, even though everyone in the family, three people in particular, have been in here every day for the last three weeks.

The woman at reception sees this all the time. I wonder if she does not say their names because of confidentiality rules. Her Chicano colleague, handsome, has come to ask her what she wants for take out dinner. They flirt halfheartedly, talk about the food.

I have not spent much time in waiting rooms. My (side of the?) family is small and healthy. It will stay small, but the health will go one day. After all, death is a part of marriage. I have joined a family that knows too much about waiting rooms and death. My wife’s mom died from cancer when my wife was 21. She was in hospice for more than a month. Everyone visited in shifts. Didn’t work, didn’t go to school. Their waiting room game is strong. They all seem calm.

People go up for visiting hours, two at a time. I don’t go up. I am here, mostly, to say I was here: I have no expectation of saving anyone’s day. I want to care for people, but they are caring pretty well for themselves. I want to be here in solidarity, to justify my place in the family, the hospitality and love everyone always shows me when I am here.

I am also here to be on my wife’s side, if there are sides to be had about anything. She is the oldest sister, and has always taken on a lot, and since her mother died I think she took on more. I don’t really know, though. I never knew my wife’s mother. All I know is the absence of her in their house, and at Thanksgiving. I always feel it, every time I go through the front door.

Yesterday I came with a few people, so I was talking to whoever about the usual boyfriend stuff: work, my band, the house we bought. I wonder when I will not feel like the boyfriend. But it is not about me, and I do not mind.

I am still trying to find out what the deepest feeling of marriage is. I worry that it will be deep anguish, and I will find it in a waiting room when I have just woken up on the institutional couch.


Also published on Medium.