Every last one of them was old.
Every last one of them needed help.
Every last one of them stared at me when I walked in.
My head was down and my hood was up when I walked through the door that day. My brain was tired and my body ached as I marched one foot in front of the other. I had been walking through that door regularly for 6 months now. I was back for a checkup and recognized nearly all of the frailness staring back at me.
I was third in line to check in. First and second were both in wheelchairs, one in a bathrobe. When I sat down I had to navigate past a walker and an oxygen tank. Every person in the waiting room had someone there to assist them. I had impatience and pity.
The woman next to me started to make the usual cancer conversation. How is your skin holding up from radiation? Is your hair growing back yet? My skin peeled I said, and my hair is growing back black. It’s someone else’s hair on my head, I told her. She laughed and patted my chubby hand with her spindly one.
She had to have been 80 years old, I thought. She told me she was 71 and she recognized me. Heck, we all recognized each other, I thought. We recognized the look of helplessness and exhaustion and fear. Sometimes we recognized flashes of hope. And sometimes we recognized the taxing but obligatory face of a positive attitude. We had stopped counting how many times we had been told to just be positive.
There wasn’t much positivity in the waiting room that day. There was a whole lot of struggle going on. Nobody smiled. I felt sorry for every last one of them.
The woman next to me asked me what I was looking at. It’s kind of depressing in here today, I said. I feel sorry for everyone. She grinned. She patted my hand again. Oh, but honey, she said, it’s quite the opposite.
We all feel sorry for you.
I was stopped cold and turned toward her. Yes, she said. You’re the youngest. You’re always the youngest when you walk in here. We’ve all noticed and we’re glad we didn’t get cancer at your age. You probably still have kids at home, don’t you honey?
I tried not to cry at the truth. The tears were in their usual spot, right under the surface, handy if needed. I looked up and scanned the waiting room again. This time I saw people. This time, I saw lives still being lived. This time I saw people I envied. Most were decades older than me. They had years of memories in their heads and in their hearts. They were full of life. I wanted to be just like them someday.
The nurse called a name. It was the lady next to me. She patted my hand again and stood up slowly. Don’t worry honey, she said. It’s all going to be ok. We just have to stay positive…right? And with that she winked at me, turned toward her walker and said hello to the nurse.