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They let me sit in the waiting room. I was told that I could stay until they start closing up, which is still an hour away. So I just sit there, I barely move. I don’t talk to anyone else sitting around me. Every so often, this nurse will come by and check on me, offering a tissue or a hand on my shoulder, to prove that she’s as sorry about the situation as I am. But I know that’s her job. They pay her to come out here and tell people hollowed out with grief that it’s going to be okay, you will make it through this. It makes me sick, so sick that I just want to laugh and forget about everything else, but I hold it down. The five or six other people sitting in the waiting room already think I’m weird enough. I’ve been sitting here for almost an hour now, switching between choking down my anguish and tears, and just letting every single piece of emotional feeling flow out. After all, trying to hold back tears actually burns my throat. It makes me feel likes it’s swelling and about to close up, and when it gets to that point, I panic a little and cry harder than I would have had I just let it out sooner.
I look around the clinic. Its white painted walls make me shudder a little. I feel so low. Right now, I honestly still can’t believe that I’d just done something as revolting as this. And now what? Now I’m stuck sitting here in this uncomfortable metal chair. My thoughts are stuck between the last hour and the actions that went on during it and how the clinic couldn’t have anything more lavish than cold, fold up metal chairs to sit on. I’m completely drained of everything except pain.
I’m beginning to feel nauseated, my head is pounding. I sit quietly listening to the sound of the ceiling fan buzzing a little, a standard black rimmed wall clock ticking away, and my heart thudding in my chest. I swallow hard, but once again I can barely get the spit down. I feel as if I’m choking a bit and now I want to cry again. I want to so badly. I feel a little light-headed and I just want to get up and leave, but at the same time I’m not ready to go home yet, and I’m not willing to just walk around town for however long it would take to make me all set to go home. I’m stuck sitting here, my hands pressed under my thighs.
I’m practicing breathing methods. My thoughts now racing through my mind, piling up in a traffic jam, and crashing into one another. I try my breathing methods again, but they’re not helping to calm me down any bit. I can’t hold back anymore and I begin to cry. It’s hard, labored, and inconsiderately loud. Every so often I make a distressed hiccup kind of noise, a result of sucking in as much air as I can within seconds before resuming sound shattering cries. People begin to stare at me, their looks are those of cruel, impatient faces, whispering about how I shouldn’t be so unreasonable. I can tell they want to say something along the lines of, “Shut up, no one else here is making an idiot of themselves. No one else is being whiny about this. Why should you have the right to show any more emotion than the rest of us? Really, who do you think you are?”
At this point my lungs are taking in less oxygen, my breathing is becoming much shorter and more painful. The sound of my heart mercilessly beating against my ribcage fills my head with a painful thumping sound, and everything, the white walls of the clinic, the standard black ticking clock, the nurse sitting behind her little organized desk with her brown hair tightly pulled back into a neat bun, every single person sitting straight up and glaring at me, it’s all going out of focus, becoming blurry puddles of dark, merging smudges. I feel someone pulling on my arm, tugging me along. After a few seconds my breathing slowly becomes normal again, the sound of my heart is low, almost inaudible, and my vision quickly returns. I’m now in the hallway right before the waiting room; I look over inside the door frame to see the nurse still sitting there behind her desk reading something, either a book or a magazine. Then I look over to see who’d pulled me into the hallway, a different nurse. A sick feeling washes over me and floods my stomach. I don’t want to have to deal with anyone trying to hand me their fake sympathetic words.
“You were worrying me. I thought maybe being in the waiting room was making you a little sick.” She smiles softly at me, “I just figured you’d like it better in the hallway, so you could calm down if you needed to.” She seemed unlike the first nurse I’d encountered. She was a young girl, I’m guessing in her mid-twenties. She had a delicate, soft face covered in a light blush around the apples of her cheeks. In my opinion she was pretty cute. Her long black curls were tied back in a loose, messy ponytail and her bangs fell neatly just above her left eye. Her bright blue eyes were staring straight at me. Her mouth was opened very slightly, as if she was preparing to say something to me, though no words slipped out.
“So, uh, you saw that out there?” I start up, “Sorry, it must have been pretty distracting for everyone.”
She smiles sympathetically at me, “I’ve never seen a young man cry like that before,” She leans in close to me. “But to be honest, you really don’t have much to worry about. Dr. Levine is very good at operations!”
I let a weak laugh slide out. “Actually, I put him to sleep today.” I stare down at the ground and try to coax myself into not crying again as the nurse apologizes for not knowing.
“It’s okay, it’s…it’s alright. He’d been sick for a couple of months now, almost a year actually, I don’t really understand too much of the disease. It was stage four lymphoma and I was told that it was starting to effect his liver and lymph nodes. I didn’t know what else I could do. I didn’t want him to be barely living, you know.”
My hands start shaking as I reach into my back pocket to retrieve my wallet. I slide out a picture and present it to the nurse proudly, “That’s him, Ambrose, like A.P. Hill, only because Hill was supposedly loveable.” I say pointing to the blue lacy in the matted picture, “God, he was wonderful. The best dog, I swear.” I reach for the picture and carefully hold it in my hands for a while, soaking up every glorious feature of his strong, proud structure. His fur was so beautiful then, shiny dark grey fur, I couldn’t tell you what I’d give to run my hands through the soft, sleek fur he was so prideful of.
I lean against the tiled wall of the hallway and slowly sink down to the cold concrete floor, my hands gently cradling my face as I remember little details about Ambrose. His bright, orange eyes were always so striking, we’d have staring contests sometimes and he’d lose all the time since there was always something else attracting his attention. He was loyal, well trained, and completely alert to everything going on, and for what it’s worth, he loved me with every ounce he had, and I’ll admit, at the beginning I really didn’t deserve it.
I start to think about him then, how he used to be. He was so active, if he didn’t go for at least a walk everyday he’d get a bit anxious. He’d even whine a bit, which was rare for him. He was pretty bold, but also ridiculously friendly. He’d get along with anyone, even other dogs. One thing in particular I always thought back on. He’d always mimic my mood. If I was antsy, he was antsy; If I was happy, he was happy; and if I was calm, he was calm. The only time when he didn’t do this was when I was upset. Then he’d be cheerful and that would always twist my mood around, and we’d both be cheerful, playful, schmucks.
After he started getting sick he changed completely. He’d never have the strength to go on even a short walk. He slept most of the time and barely ate. He wouldn’t approach people and didn’t want to play with other dogs either. What hit me the hardest was when he started getting depressed. I’d be happy and he’d be depressed. I’d be energetic and he’d be tired. The only thing that stayed the same was when I was upset, he’d be upset. Everything that gave Ambrose his pride was little by little fading out. His eyes didn’t carry the same sparkle, they didn’t catch the glow of the sunlight anymore. His coat lost its shine and was dull and unattractive. He knew he wasn’t as magnificent anymore, and I think that’s what really killed him.
Suddenly something hits me, like a ton of bricks I realize that if Ambrose did somehow mange to come back from being sick he would still never really be the same dog, just a pathetic shadow of his former self, and that was something I’d never make him live with, not with the significant amount of pride he’d held before any of this happened. I can’t fully decide whether or not I actually believe that he’d be miserable living like that, maybe I’m just saying it to defend the choice I made so I can start feeling better about it. Either way, I did in fact make the choice to put him to sleep and that’s something I’ll always live with. I faintly smile to myself after recognizing that this was an okay choice, and calmly stand up and brush off any dust from my pants, the nurse looks over at me and opens her mouth only slightly then says,
“I’ve got to get back to work, but I’m sorry about your dog, I bet he really was a good boy.”
She gives me one last little smile before walking down the dim hallway to the door where a glossy, rectangular, white sign reads employees only in bold, red, letters. I let a weak sigh slide out, I really didn’t feel like hanging around anymore anyway. I start casually walking back to the waiting room and grab my soft cotton jacket off the metal chair so I can leave, before stepping outside of the clinic I inhale a mouthful of air, then slowly exhale.