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Learning to Live MAG
Sitting in the fuzzy blue chair in the Intensive Care Unit waiting room, head in her hands, Eve closes her eyes and wonders if a person who has spent her life among the dying can ever really learn to live. Images of oxygen tanks and tubes swirl before her lids in a distorted surrealism and the sterile smells of antibacterial soap and urine burn her nostrils.
The nurses often tease that she has grown up in the hospital, yet Eve can remember the first time she ventured through its foreboding doors and into the world of the ill. She had pestered her mom forever, desiring to accompany the fair-haired lady in pale green scrubs to work. But when she begged, Mom set her jaw, causing her mouth to form the thin line that meant the topic was closed to discussion.
Then when Eve was five years old, Mom dressed her in a brand-new jumpsuit and put her in their gold, peeling Volvo. As they headed toward the hospital, the young girl decided that she was undeniably grown up. This was not the only time she was wrong.
Once inside, Eve’s mom told her to follow quietly and not touch anything. Perhaps it was the bloody stump of the man with the amputated leg or the woman with a surgical camera inserted down her throat that made the child vomit. Or maybe it was the stench of the overcooked liver casserole combined with the smell of the unbathed lady with the deficient bladder. Either way, Mom simply smiled wryly at her daughter’s mess, cleaned it up and said, “You’ll get used to it, kid.” And she did. Later, Mom explained there was a certain numbness required to work in medicine, and if Eve could gain this without losing her sympathy, she would make a great doctor.
With a start, Eve, still slouched in the blue chair, opens her eyes. She is now aware of two teenagers giggling over magazines beside her. She listens for a moment to their discussion about a family picnic, and watches them through her curtain of blond hair.
Footsteps echo from the corridor outside the waiting room, and a powerful-looking woman with good posture strides by wearing gloves. The woman reminds her of Mom, but it can’t be. Eve thinks of her mother, who is at home packing, and will probably be on her way soon.
Smoothing her candy-striper uniform, Eve brushes past the cheerful adolescents and out the door. As she wanders the halls, she takes in the pictures on the walls, the marble floor, the stagnant air, the familiar names of the doctors being paged. She wonders how much of this she will miss and how much she’ll remember.
She passes a clock. It’s almost time to leave. Eve can feel her tuna salad churning within her. There must be someone she forgot to say good-bye to.
Maybe her father will be angry that Eve is leaving, and that he is the last to know. Or maybe he will be glad that he gets to spend more time with his latest girlfriend, Suzanne, the redhead who likes to cluck her tongue at Eve through her fuchsia lipstick as she
pretends she is Eve’s mother. Eve knows her father’s reaction will depend on how much he has had to drink. As Mom says, “He is two
It doesn’t really matter. Her departure means leaving behind her lifelong dream of being a doctor. She already knows her father will refuse to pay for college if she abandons him. Perhaps he will be sad she is gone.
Outside it is sunny, and Eve hears the Supremes blaring from Mom’s radio. When she climbs into the dilapidated convertible, she notices that the hot, leather seats are crammed with overflowing duffel bags.
Looking at the sky, Eve sees a cluster of gray clouds she had not seen before. She then watches the large hospital until it is out of sight, and a bitter taste forms in her mouth.
Mom is saying something about Chinese food for dinner, and how Eve must watch the maps and direct her to California. As if she knew the way. Eve had never been out of the state, much less halfway across the country. The determined look in Mom’s eyes tells Eve not to bring
Eve rests her head against the seat, and, for some reason, pictures an old lady who died in the hospital years ago. The woman is handing her a large sunflower. She grasps it, then runs through a meadow. Where is she going?
Eve is surprised when the car stops at home. She looks at her mother, who commands impatiently, “Go write your father a note.”
When she walks across the lawn to her cheerful yellow house, Eve realizes that the clump of clouds has gotten darker, and larger.
Inside, she sits at the kitchen table with a notebook and thick marker, and stares at the lines on the paper. She will never be a doctor. The lines seem to jut out at her, and she feels hot and dizzy. She holds her head and rocks back and forth in the wicker chair.
She is still rocking when her mom comes in, smelling like coconut lotion, with leopard-print sunglasses perched on her head. “Come on,” Mom says.
“Not yet … I didn’t write a note.”
“Don’t worry. We’ll call him from the road,” Mom makes a quick movement with her left hand. “Let’s go.”
“No … I’m not ready … I forgot something … I didn’t finish the note.”
Mom is pulling on Eve’s sleeve. “Come on.”
The rocking stops, and Eve looks up at her mother. Her mouth, for the first time, is set in the same line as the woman standing above her. “No.”
Her mother takes a few steps backward. “No?” She is confused. She steps back again, and is pressed against the window. This is when Eve sees the rain, pouring from the sky in bursts, into the convertible with the top down.
Her mother runs outside, closes the car and removes her daughter’s luggage, all the while giving instructions about this and that.
Eve stands in the rain on the front stoop of the cheerful yellow house she and her father share. She observes her mother scampering about, but is not really listening to her. Then, in a cloud of coconut lotion, the Supremes and a wet, green convertible, her mother is gone. And Eve is standing in the rain.