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Learning How To Die

Waiting rooms were hell in white I swear to God. Everything about a hospital made me nauseated its white walls and white uniforms, and that smell of disinfectant mixed with death. I hated these goddamn places, but here I was, nonetheless, waiting on some doctor who'd rather be in some exotic island than telling me I'm sick with who knows what--because let's face it I already know I'm sick now between which cancer or another f*ed up disease that's the question. That's why I'm here. That's what bioxies are for. I'm not stupid and they send me to an oncologist out of all people. I'm not damn stupid. I know I'm dying.

I'd been here for an hour already and this woman she must have been just a couple of years younger than I was with straw like hair and long bangs that covered her eyes, but I could still see that she was casually looking at me then away.

"Can I help you?" I snapped at her, because today was not the day to stare at me. I hated people in my business its those people on the train peering over your notebook that drive me nuts.

"I guess not," she said but she wasn't snotty about it she was pensive. She turned her head, but then turned back her big blue eyes staring at me again. She was wearing a white dress full of red flowers. "I don't know. I guess I want to say something to put you at ease. Its never as bad as what the Doc's say. I promise you." She looked like she was from the country side and this time I smirked at her.

"How'd you know I was here for that?"

"Its a hospital you're not here to pick flowers," she said, and I gave her a small nod.

"What are you here for?" I asked.

"I'm crazy. Didn't you know there's a psycho ward here?" she said, examining me, and I stayed blank. Leave it to me to find a crazy girl. "Its a joke, kid," she said and I tightened my jaw. I was older than her surely she could see it. But maybe she was crazy I heard that's what crazy people do pretend they're sane just to get close enough to you to kill you. I eyed her skeptically and she started laughing making me feel even more on edge. She reminded me of a kid a really annoying kid who doesn't leave you alone. Or maybe a Chihuahua.

She became serious for a second and leaned forward looking at me her hands on her lap. "My kidneys are bad. I come three times a week here to get dialysis," she said this without a trace of sadness. It's like she said shed had pizza for dinner.

"Bad how?" I said shifting my feet uncomfortably and looking at the old lady across from me she looked like she was going to throw up for a while her face was green and blotchy. I looked back to the girl and she smiled shaking her head at me.

"Bad as in bad," she said and then clarified for me. "Dialysis... you know," she trails of and I guess I do know. I must have been staring because she tells me, "Don't look at me like that its not that bad. What's your name anyway?"

I tell her its Robert but no one calls me that they call me Rob and she tells me her names Mary-Beth but no one calls her that either it's always Mary or Beth and she tells me she wanted to be a doctor before she got sick and that now she's glad she isn't because she would have hated it. She gets up and sits next to me and I let her because I'm fascinated by her. By her energy, her life. I sit here listening to this girls tales all she wants out of life and its been half an hour and I feel like I've fallen in love with her because I've never known anyone like her. Or maybe I've just fallen in love with her love for life. I'm thirty and I have nothing to tell for it and here she is telling me all these grand things simple things but grand that's she's done for life. By the time she's done I'm jealous. Jealous of it all.

"Now I'm just talking to much. Rob tell me about your life," she says but I have nothing to say.

"I guess that's the problem. I'm in this shithole and I might not get out and I haven't lived half my life."

"Nonsense, everyone lives," she tells me but I know she doesn't believe it. She just feels sorry for me.

"I'm the guy who did was he was told all his life. Went to law school. Best law school in the country, had a shitty time, but went there anyway. Became a lawyer because it was my dad's dream," I shrugged because it wasn't worth it. None of it. "I hate god damn lawyers. You can't trust a lawyer," I said letting my head sag and I hear Mary-Beth laugh at me.

"I trust you. You don't seem so bad," she said elbowing me.

"What?" I asked upset and confused that she'd laugh at my disaster of a life.

"It doesn't seem so bad," she tells me, but it is. "I never knew my dad he left the house when I was about five. I'm from Minnesota you know small town. My mom became an alcoholic eventually she messed up her liver. She died," she tells me cutting all the parts in the middle of the story. "I wasn't even there to see her die. I left as soon as I could came to New York searching for something I never found because it was in Minnesota all along."

"What was that?" I ask her looking at her eyes that suddenly grow dim. All the energy all the life just gone with the mention of her mother.

"Happiness," she breaths out whipping her eye like suddenly it itches. "It's the simple things Rob," she says looking at me. "It's the days spend picking flowers or laying in the sun. The days where you had family dinner even though you burned the food. It's the basics Rob, that's happiness. It's having those moments."

"You're great you know that," I say suddenly and see her milky cheeks turn red. I grin at her and she puts her hands in front of her mouth to cover her smile.

"Maybe that's why you're here to learn to live," she says suddenly and I blink. What? I just tell her she's great and she's telling me I'm in a goddamn hospital to learn to live? I look around the waiting room. All these people sick I can see it on them the sickness lingering of their skin and into the white walls. It was everywhere you could hear the desperation of these people with the ticking of the clock. This wasn't learning to live it was accepting that life was ending. It was giving up.

Now I know she was just talking a load of crap. I was not there to learn to live I was there to learn how I was going to die. She took my hand startling me like she knew what I was thinking.

"You can do whatever you want whenever you want you don't need a doctor to tell you what to do."

"No I need a doctor to tell me how to goddamn die. That's what I need."

She tsked shaking her head like I didn't know any better like she was the older one. "Oh Rob you don't understand it yet but you will. You don't want to die no one does I don't care who claims they'll go to the other side cheerful. Its a lie you'll want to live especially someone like you who claims they've never lived."

"Do you want to live then?" I asked her watching as her blue eyes closed she had a splash of freckles and hay colored hair. I would never have given her a second look if I were in my right mind. She was part of a different world. I looked at what I was wearing a blue stripped button down slacks and black pointy shoes. I looked professional. She looked naive. Like a girl who'd come to the city looking for a dream she could never find. I'm surprised she still has that naive look after everything she's been though.

"Of course, but you already knew that." I nodded because I did. Then a nurse called her name and she got up slowly, showing how weak she actually was and I was compelled to grab, her throw her over my back, and run away with her. What a crazy thing? Runaway with someone you didn't even know. How crazy was I? What meds had they slipped into my water?

"Bye Robert," she called to me waving and then I heard an echo.


Robert Romanstern?" A nurse asks. I look down at the nurse unsure of what to answer. I could leave right now screw the doctors. Screw it all. "The doctor is ready to see you," she tells me gesturing to the door. She held it open and I could see the long narrow hallway. I know if there's a hell that's how it looks like. Just like a damn hospital. It was time to see the Doc. It was time to learn to die, but I wasn't ready and I let impulse take over me. Who gives a damn right? If I'm gonna die might as well be by some car crash somewhere have a goddamn lightning bolt hit me or even in my sleep one night when I'm ninety but I wouldn't sit here with some guy who couldn't care less and have him tell me I'm dying. Mary- Beth was watching me waiting for me to go see the doctor and I smiled at her taking her hand and kissing it.

"Don't do that," she tells me and I curse myself. Of course she doesn't want a stranger kissing her hand. Then she adds. "Don't do what your thinking. Running away from what you have isn't the answer either."

"Then what is the answer?" I ask her and she looks at me kindly.

"Fight it," she says and turns to walk away, but I stop her.

"Why'd you tell me all those stories about your life, about your mother. We don't know each other."

"Maybe that's the point," she said flushing and I grinned. They say our lives are made up of moments of impact moments where we meet someone or bump into something. Moments when we realize who we are. Here was a girl who I didn't even know telling me things I'd never heard before and for some bizarre instance she changed me. I take a look around the people sitting looking in agony and I shake my head because they don't see it yet, but I already have...I'm going to fight this thing no matter what the doctor says I promise a good fight.

"Mr. Romanstern," the nurse said again her eyebrows knitting together. She probably thought I belonged in the psych ward myself.

"I'm ready," I said picking up my jacket. The nurse led me through a hallway that was playing some overly annoying classical music. Whoever said classical music was calming had it all wrong I swear.

"The doctor will be right in to see you," the nurse said once I was inside the room and I rolled my eyes. Typical for a doctor to leave me waiting even more. I looked around the room it was furnished nicely with degrees and even a rug. I was surprised the hospital was doing pretty good for itself. I sat down in one of the chairs. Definitely leather, I thought to myself and then I waited.

"Mr. Romanstern," a voice boomed and I turned to see the face of my doctor. He was a middle aged man with slick black hair. He looked like a giant and I stood up to shake his hand and saw that he had to be at least six foot five. I sat back down after giving him my clammy hand and whipped it on my pants.

"So as we all know last week your doctor was concerned about a mysterious mass in your lung," he said and my legs started shaking. This is it I'm having a seizure right here. "Do you smoke Robert? I can call you Robert right?" he asked and I stared blankly at him.

"I don't smoke," I mumble and the doctor's face gets real serious.

"You have a mass in your lung. You have cancer," he says and keeps talking about the stage of the disease and my options and all this unnecessary s*** because he knows I'm not listening. I feel myself sweat through my shirt and suddenly it gets hard to breath every word the damn doctor is saying echoes through me, but I can't tell what he's saying. Cancer? I knew though I knew it when I got here. You're not here to pick flowers... Mary-Beth's voice echoes through my head.

"What the f*** are you saying?" I said to the doctor cutting his speech short. He stares blankly at me. He does this sort of thing all the time. He's immune.

"I'm very sorry..." he starts to say, but even that doesn't make sense.

"I have to go," I mumble opening the room and he calls after me getting up and taking my arm.

"No!" I scream. "Do not touch me damn it," I say shaking him off and leave the hospital I collapsed on the floor outside of the hospital and lean my head against the wall sobbing. I knew I was sick deep down. I knew things were bad, but you never really believe it. You still have this false sense of hope, but that was over. I had cancer. Life is a real mess. You hear all these stories about everything bad happening to everyone else, but s*** like that just doesn't happen to you. You think you're invincible. I thought I was invincible. I pull my head back letting it hit the wall. I wanted to feel something, pain anything but the numbness of death lurking.

"Kid you're going to have to get stitches if you don't stop," says a voice and I turn to Mary-Beth who's rolling herself in a wheelchair to me.

"What are you doing?" I ask her.

"They had me in their waiting for the dialysis and I saw you walk out like a lunatic. I came to check on you so I rolled over here. Isn't it stupid that they have me in a wheelchair every time I do those dialysis like you're not messing up my legs people I can walk," she says with a smile touching my hair and I put my head on her lap sobbing like I'm a little boy.

"It's cancer," I blurt out.

"It's okay," she says shushing me and stroking my hair. "Everything's going to be fine," she says and I want to believe it.

"What do I do now?" I ask her.

"You fight Rob. That's what you do," she says and I guess that's all you really can do. Fight. Screw learning how to die. I had to learn how to fight to live.



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