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Formaldehyde. The bed. The chairs. The couches reserved for mourners. They all smelled like formaldehyde. Outside the room’s only window, fresh air swirled the snow, sending it dancing before my eyes like millions of dimes bouncing off the pavement and crashing into unsuspecting people, ruining the world around them. The bright yellow walls that surrounded me, intended to lift the spirits of the child in the bed or the parents barely holding themselves together, were prison bars, locking me into a false sense of security.
“I’m sorry, could you repeat that?” I couldn’t bring myself to look at her, so I reached down for my daughter’s hand. It was ice.
The doctor repeated the words again. I looked into his eyes, but my penetrating gaze was only returned with an empty stare. He was just going through the motions, the daily grind. His well-practiced speech was trickling out of his mouth which hung open like a scaffold’s trapdoor. I caught few words as something reached into my stomach and tore all of my vital organs out by way of my mouth. I tasted blood.
“Hodgkin’s disease…Chemotherapy…lymphatic cancer.” Cancer.
I swallowed hard, and glanced at her, lying in the hospital bed, the bravest look she could muster plastered across her face. My eyes then darted back to the emotionless robot in front of me. He stiffly reached his hand out to pat my arm, but changed his mind half way through and adjusted his slate-colored tie instead, walking carelessly from the room, on his way to break another mother’s heart.
Mentally scraping my bloody organs off of the floor, I turned to my daughter, waiting for her reaction, waiting for her to scream and kick and curse, for wet tears to cascade down her cheeks. But she just looked deeply into my eyes seeing the pain I would not openly show. During these long moments, I listened to the machine’s whir, the one next to her bed monitoring her 9 year-old heart rate: a steady beat, the drum that I walked to, but might not hear a few weeks from now. Finally, she smiled the biggest smile I’d seen from her in days.
“You know what this means Mom.” Her smile grew, illuminating the room, bouncing light off of the depressing yellow walls, outshining the blue florescent light sprawled across the white tile floor.
“What?” I tried to smile back, only managing to slightly upturn the corners of my dry lips.
Giggles shook her tiny frame. “Now we get to have a slumber party here every night!”
My throat immediately ran dry, moisture accumulating at the corners of my eyes. Of all the things. “Of course.” I furiously blinked the hot wax from my vision and drew upon my fake smile once again, a little more convincing this time.
Trying my damnedest to fight off my impending tears, I gave her hand a little reassuring squeeze and prompted myself to heed her imaginary request for some ice chips. An earthquake erupted beneath my feet as soon as I rose from the chair, the room sliding in and out of my vision. I didn’t bother taking a moment to steady myself as I forced myself to calmly and evenly lengthen my stride to the door. I nearly made it into the hallway without openly showing any emotion, but a silent, scalding tear seared its’ way down my cheek, clearing the way for a flood of lava to rush down my face.
As soon as the heavy bathroom door clicked shut behind me, I slid to the ground in defeat- complete and utter defeat. I screamed and kicked and cursed as wet tears cascaded down my cheeks. I asked God, “Why? Why me? Why her? Why now?” I yelled at Him, “It’s not fair. It’s not fair You selfish Bastard! I’ve had so little time with her, and now you want to take her away!” My voice broke. “It’s not fair…” I pulled my knees to my chest and sobbed until I had nothing left. Then I pried my tear-stained face from the pool of moisture that had collected in my palms and shoved myself from the floor, knowing that someday soon I would have to grasp what my 9 year-old daughter had seemingly come to terms with.
I wiped my tears, squared my shoulders, and took a deep breath. Then I shoved the cold metal door open, pulling myself together just enough to face my daughter: at least for the next few hours.