Most of us expect to face illness in our lifetime, but too often it arrives when we are way too young for the pain and the places it takes us.
“Through humor, you can soften some of the worst blows that life delivers. And once you find laughter, no matter how painful your situation might be, you can survive it.” Bill Cosby
On Thursday, as I sat in the waiting room of my cardiologist’s office, I realized that I don’t know if I’m in a doctor’s office or at the Huxtable residence.
Flower printed Victorian style chairs in burgundy, beige and stale green line the pale yellow walls. Pictures of an empty café in Paris or Prague hang idly on the walls and brochures for better health tempt you with promises to a cure a disease you don’t even have. . . yet. Wilted silk flowers haphazardly placed in rusted iron vases attempt to spruce up the joint and a shiny coffee table covered in dated magazines serves as the distraction to the awkwardly quiet environment everyone here is trying to escape from.
All of it so simple–yet so overwhelming–for the newcomer or the regular. No matter how often you sit and wait in the room, you are not here because Bill Cosby wants to share his pudding pop with you and give you parenting advice. This is definitely not the Cosby show.
As I look around, I am clearly
the youngest person in the room
Aside from the bubbly but incompetent receptionist at the counter –who looks maybe about 19 on a bad day–everyone, including the African American lady who can’t see the forms she’s filling out–has a few grey strands Of hair.
Two ladies are asleep, heads nodding forward, but still able to clutch their purses for comfort. I scan the room some more and see a sea of loose skin, age spots, double saggy chins and necks and wonder what they think of me.
There are three men who are sitting, legs crossed, reading magazines. They sit the way I imagine they do every morning they wake up to another day of retirement or disability: upright and determined not to die. Only at home they read with a cup of coffee at their side and not the nagging sensation of impending doom.
I realize that everyone that enters and exits the room limps, hobbles, coughs, spatters, stutters or needs help.
Everyone but me.
I am young. I am limber. And despite my 5-night stay in the ICU 40 days ago, I still feel like I can conquer the world. Now, if only they knew how many meds it takes for me to feel this way.
You see, truthfully, I am jealous of the long lives they have already lived. I am envious of the fact that it’s taken them this long to get to the point I’m already at. I know that whether or not this is their first visit or their 100th, society’s standards of what is “normal” is that . . .
. . . for at least another 30 years. I don’t belong here.
The guy from across the room looks up from is iPad momentarily and makes eye contact with me. I know what he’s thinking. I know because he does a double-take when he notices my wrinkle-free face and full of head of hair. His eyes look alarmed and curious for just one moment and then he quickly returns to his distraction so that I can’t read his thoughts.
I catch him looking at me again as I write and I know he is completely confused. He is trying to make sense of why I’m there. Waiting on an older relative? Selling pharmaceuticals? Did I get lost on the way to the OBGYN? He pretends to scan the room but spends too much time sizing me up. I smile at him and keep writing.
I know that his thoughts and assumptions won’t matter two hours from now when I finally have my echo results or when I go home tonight and have to pop 5 more pills just to prevent the side effects of the 8 I took this morning.
What matters now is that –this—
this waiting room, these looks, the pills, the pain, the endless doctor’s visits, blood work and cancer causing procedures . . . are my normal.
And I know that even though I shouldn’t be sitting here for another 3 decades that I am. I know Bill Cosby isn’t going to walk through the door of the waiting room and cure me with a bowl of Jell-O and a laugh. And all of that precious knowledge is what makes the fake flowers and the gaudy green lounge chairs seem all the more ominous.
Ominous because my sitting here is not a choice, it is a necessity that is now my norm.
Yet behind the looming what ifs? and how comes? and why nots? I will choose to find laughter and joy.
I will choose to love. I will choose to put on an old sweater, cock my head to the side and in my best and most horrific Bill Cosby voice, offer you a pudding pop and a smile in exchange for one moment of peace and the hope of survival.
Jasminne Mendez is a performance poet, actress, teacher and published writer. She captivates audiences through the passion and energy of her words and voice. Her work covers topics ranging from living with scleroderma and other auto-immune diseases to what it was like growing up Afro-Latina in America. Mendez has been published both nationally and internationally and her first multi-genre memoir My Family, the Island & Me will be released by Floricanto Press later this year. Visit her web site here.