He lays there, somewhere out of my reach, away from the sound of my voice, breathing shallow breaths. I search his face, his hands, the rise and fall of his chest, for any sign that he is returning back to me. That he has left the mysterious place where the dying go before they breathe their final breaths that signals the beginning of their judgement.
I wish my touch could find those tiny nerve endings embedded within his skin so as to allow his brain knowledge of my existence.
Just twenty-four hours prior to this I was sitting beside his bed and looking into his eyes. Just a full day ago, I was asking him if he knew who I was and feeling my heart soar with relief as he slowly nodded yes. Today, however, his eyes are closed. He no longer belongs to this world. His world is that of a waiting room. One that he sits patiently in as he counts down the minutes til his heart stops beating and it is his time to stand judgement.
I wonder about this Waiting Room with grey walls and beige chairs. I think about the out of date magazines lining the shelves and coffee tables, the vending machines with their stale wheat crackers that lack any taste that would be pleasing to the pallet, and the dim light that makes seeing a little uncomfortable. I imagine the music that could be heard over head is instrumental, probably reflective of some long ago time that no one can recall.
And all the while, I imagine him sitting there, quite content within himself. He thinks thoughts that he never really cared to share with anyone else. He's happy in his own mind. He's safe there. He trusts his thoughts for he has complete control over them. They keep him company as he waits for his name to be called.
I imagine there are others sitting in the slightly uncomfortable chairs of The Waiting Room. I don't believe the dying would be divided up by something silly like age, race, gender, or even religion. I think it is a place we all find ourselves when our soul arrives at the occasion where it needs to wait for its body to die. For whatever it is that ties us to this world when we are clearly no longer for it. Whether it be breathing tubes or the sheer power of a loved one, our soul must wait somewhere before it is to be judged.
I watch him as he sleeps. The rest of the world falls away easily. He opens his eyes briefly and then closes them. I don't have to wonder if he sees me. He knew of my existence before he closed his eyes. Before he left for The Waiting Room, I was able to look into his eyes and tell him all the things he needed to hear.
I imagine him in The Waiting Room quite bored. He'd have his head lean back against the wall. It's probably quiet in the space that holds each soul. The ticking of the clock, signaling time, insignificant, to anyone reading it, would be the only sound. Maybe a clearing of the throat here and there. But, he would not pay any slight noise any attention. He would wait patiently for his turn, entertained by the images in his own mind.
Do the dying dream? Is it all colors and flashes of light that illuminates the different portions of their life? Are they allowed to view the road less traveled to see if it actually would've made all the difference? Do the neurotransmitters continue to fire as each cell slowly dies? What happens within his body as his soul waits around to be released?
His mother comes in and fusses all around him. I watch this display of affection with awe and jealously. I'm in awe because the strength this woman display is beyond my understanding or grasp. Jealous for I do not receive the same type of affection from my own mother.
I fight against yelling into his ear. I have no need to wake him from his dying slumber, but an overwhelming urge to see if he hears me where he's at. Over there. Away from me. I want to test the boundaries between us. To see if I can reach out to him one last time to say what has already been said. More for my benefit than his.
I doubt they offer coffee in The Waiting Room. If they did, I'm sure it would be room temperature and bland. I can see the coffee pot, stained from never being washed out, giving off an aroma, that while not unpleasant to the senses, does nothing to entice them either. I can see all of this from my perch beside his bed.
Before leaving the room, his mother encourages me to speak to him. I nod, silent in my refusal. I said everything that should've been said when his eyes were still open and he knew of my presence. I am content in holding his hand. Besides, I reason within my own mind, it was never my words that he longed for. Rather, it was the feel of my fingers as they interlocked around his that he hadn't known he's been missing. And it was the soft kisses across his brow that brought a smile to his face. My words to him were few and far between. It was our silence that bonded us. The silence of the dying and the broken hearted.
Days before the twenty-four hours before he closed his eyes, he spoke of secrets and regrets. I wonder, as he sits there in The Waiting Room, if those same secrets cross his mind. In my world, this world, he worried over them. He feared I would judge him harshly for the sins he'd committed across his lifespan. Sins. We spend our whole lives focused on them. We're either committing them, running from them, or begging to be forgiven of them. We're never truly free.
It feels like time has ceased to exist as I sit here by his bed. When my attention was focused elsewhere, his breathing became rapid. Any movements are involuntarily. Nervous impulses running along his body. I stand to summon his father, but once I do, he seems to calm down. I am quickly reminded of something he once said in the hospital. The memory is so vivid that I have to look twice to make sure he did not actually speak out loud. I want to cry. But, I don't. I return to my seat to watch him breathe.
I doubt there's much talking in The Waiting Room. I imagine each person there is trying to recall every sin they've ever committed. After all, isn't that what judgement is all about? Making us answer for our crimes? We all have something to be shameful of. The thing is not to panic when the nice lady comes to The Waiting Room and calls your name. Don't back away and try to run when she tells you it's your turn. There's nowhere to run to.
I've gotten close to him over the past couple of months. I have shared stories of my life as he's shared his. As I come back to the hard wooden chair that is now my rightful place at his side, I tell him about my daily activities. I keep my eye on the rise and fall of his chest as my voice trails off. Nothing seems important anymore. So, I repeat what I was able to tell him before, when his eyes were open. Then I say nothing else. There is no any indication that he's heard any of what I've said. I didn't expect there to be. You see, some may still pray for what they consider to be a miracle. Him opening his eyes. Calling out for his mother. To me, that is just pushing back the inevitable. The miracle has already occurred. God brought us together. Bonded us together within a few short months so he would know that someone loved him. And, as he was dying, right before he closed his eyes to me, I actually was able to make him laugh.
His mother arrives after I finish speaking softy in his ear. She fusses over me as if I were her own flesh and blood. I fight the urge to turn from this sweet woman. Rather, I close my eyes and indulge in one of the few pleasure that I rarely experience. A mother's love. I am never touched. No one holds my hand. Few people hold me. And no one...no one...does what this precious being is doing at this very moment. Plays in my hair. She is not doing it for my comfort. Rather, it is her way to express her gratitude for what I am doing. She has difficult expressing exactly how much my presence means to her. I say something to make her laugh. The brevity of the moment gives her a chance to let out a breath she has been holding for quite some time.
I keep imagining him in The Waiting Room. But, there is nothing that I can add or subtract from the scene to warrant any re-visitation. He, like the rest of us, must remain patient until his name is called.
This whole experience has restored faith that I didn't know I'd lost. While he laid in the hospital, long before the twenty-four hours prior to the closing of his eyes, we were able to say so much to each other. I let him direct the conversation any which way he wanted. When nurses came in and asked him who I was, he would respond with, "She's beautiful." Most of the time we would hold hands and relax in our silence.
During the twenty-four hours prior to the closing of his eyes, I said to him three things everyone should hear. Three small sentences, when spoken from the heart, can change a person's existence.
"I love you. You've made my life better. I think of you when we're not together."
He had smiled through his tears. The next day, he'd closed his eyes.
I imagine when the nice lady opened the plain white door to call him to come into The Judgement Room, he didn't stand immediately when he heard her. No, he didn't jump to his feet at all. I'm sure he must have been a little nervous. We all would be. But, as he followed the older lady down the long corridor to the small office, he wasn't too terribly apprehensive. After all, he had already asked for forgiveness.
I know. I was there when he did it.