I sat in the stuffy room, drank another cup of bad coffee and threw a fleeting look towards the two women sitting at the table across from me as they continued to leaf through about a thousand greeting cards.
Strange: “Um, where do you want me to put this?”
Stranger: “Uh, that can go in the engagement pile.”
Strange: “Okay, what about this one?”
Stranger: “Well that can go in the get well pile.”
Strange: “But the card reads congratulations, why?”
Stranger: “Well, I was very, very, sick when I got it.”
I gathered from their conversation that these two women are related and attempting to put together a scrapbook of some sort which, on the surface, doesn’t sound very out of the ordinary. Doing so in the tiresome atmosphere of a hospital waiting room and being surrounded by luggage and shopping bags of food…well, the scene was interesting enough to warrant my full attention.
Strange: “Hmmm…and this one is written in Italian…it means best fortune, I think.”
Stranger: “Buono fortuna.”
Strange: “Where should it go?”
Stranger: “Put it in the romantic pile.”
I nudged my sister-in-law next to me and nodded towards the two women. She raised her eyebrows and we both sat there for the next few minutes and quietly observed as the two women continued clipping, pasting and reminiscing.
Strange: “I can’t believe you’ve kept every single one of these cards!”
Stranger: “Oh, look! Here’s the original paper my invitations came in.”
As she began to cut the gold tissue into a paper heart, I looked at my twin brother’s wife and silently formed the words in my mouth.
“What the frig are they doing?”
She shook her head and whispered back.
“I don’t know…but, doesn’t she know you shouldn’t tape pictures like that?”
As they continued to tear the yellowed photographs off of faded paper, the women bickered about birthday, anniversary and baby shower dates, while they deftly taped and labeled pages, with a permanent marker.
Strange: “Do you know what you’re going to do with all this?”
Stranger: “Nope. I won’t know until after the procedure and if he gets a room tonight.”
Strange: “So, they’ll take him tonight?”
That’s when I stopped listening.
“Excuse me; I’ll right back.”
I reached into the bathroom, flipped the switch and, as the fluorescent lights noisily flickered, I felt disorientated and quickly grabbed the sink with both hands to steady myself.
I thought I was going to be sick – thankfully, the feeling passed and I looked up at my reflection and cringed.
“Ugh, wonderful…another zit.”
The day had turned long and watching the two old ladies organize a lifetime of memories was enough to frighten me.
Nevertheless, it was the careful way she held them and the tender way in which she smiled, and moved her lips, as she silently read each one, that gave me the impression, that behind each and every sentiment, there was a story.
Not taking the moment for granted — though, I didn’t think it the appropriate time or place — I thought about the near to a dozen shoe boxes, overflowing with photographs and homemade greeting cards. How I managed to save nearly each and every note, picture and pretty my children have ever given me (or, my husband) and yet, haven’t managed to find the time (or, energy) to do anything more than stuff them into a closet.
Then, I thought about my sister-in-law — more specifically, how distant and uncomfortable our relationship had become — and how close we came to nearly losing the one person that held our two families together.
Strange, how all that didn’t seem to matter now.
I said a quick prayer, turned off the light and headed back to the seat next to my sister-in-law, careful to avoid the guy in the second row — he’d been staring at the two of us for the last half an hour — wondering if I was as tired and pathetic looking as my waiting room aficionados, sharing the same stuffy air and stale popcorn.
Although, they all seemed stranger than strange, we did have at least one thing in common; we were all there waiting…worrying …and thinking of someone…desperately loved.
“So, what’d I miss?”
My sister-in-law and I smiled at each other, as we sat together and quietly stared at the two women.
Strange: “There…that just about does it!”
Stranger: “Good, now I can start on my coupons!”
There’s a weird sort of anomie that comes when you’re feeling estranged amid the very people you love the most and it’s funny, now — although, not so much then — when I think back and realize how quickly we manage to put aside our differences and all come together, at the worst of times and when we’re needed the most.
My brother lost his kidney to cancer, but it’s been a year — yes, he’s better now — and his illness was a defining moment in our relationship, in many ways. Now, my sister-in-law is going through some health issues and (more importantly) I miss her.
So, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a phone call to make.