The phone call came unexpectedly; a sharp interjection to a bright day in September. The caller ID read Sarah, but that couldn’t be right. We hadn’t spoken in nearly four years, but it seemed like an entire lifetime ago. She had called me a few months ago, and I answered on the first ring only to hear muffled voices, a soft buzzing, and finally silence. The hopefulness I had only a few minutes before deflated as I put the phone down, finally accepting that Sarah and I would never speak again.
The voice on the other end was deep and soft, a voice that didn’t belong to Sarah. He told me that it was Sam speaking, as if I was supposed to know who that was. As we spoke, he nervously cleared his throat every couple minutes, and I could hear the sound of anxious pacing on the other end of the phone. He gave directions to the hospital, and I tried to be polite by pretending to write it down, despite the fact that I already know how to get there.
Fourteen years earlier, I visited that same hospital when I broke my right arm attempting to play basketball. I vaguely remember crying and the bright white cast, but what I remember most was Sarah. When another boy in my class broke his arm, the other kids signed their names in colorful, looping letters. Mine, on the other hand, remained completely blank, as if announcing to the world that know one particularly cared. One day, I came home crying, partly because my cast was itchy and partly because Henry Fletcher had been relentlessly pelting me with erasers the entire day. Sarah sat next to me until I finally calmed down. She didn’t say much, but her presence was enough to make me feel better. Then, she grabbed a bright blue Sharpie marker from her backpack and drew all over my entire cast. Everything my older sister did was perfect to me, and I remember thinking that bright blue cast was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
Thinking about Sarah made my stomach twist, as I remembered all the times she quietly comforted me, while I only let her down time and time again. As I walked into the hospital, that twisting feeling in my stomach only intensified. All I wanted to do was turn around and run down the street, escaping the smell of antiseptic, sickness, and scented tissues. However, my feet remained determinedly planted to the ground.
* * *
I walked into the waiting room, searching for a familiar face, and finally realizing that Sam was nothing but a scratchy voice on the other end of a phone to me. I sat in an uncomfortable scratchy chair, drinking cups of crappy coffee, unsure of what exactly I was doing here.
I feel a soft tapping on my shoulder. “Henry? We spoke on the phone?” I turned around to see an uncomfortable, lanky man in his mid twenties staring down at me. I blinked at him for a moment, my words suddenly caught in my throat.
“I- I” He stuttered, “I didn’t know who to call. You’re still on Sarah’s speed dial and her mom wouldn’t-”
“It’s fine.” I interrupted him gruffly, suddenly annoyed by this man’s stuttering, nervous demeanor.
“You don’t have to stay. Sarah’s mom is flying in tomorrow-”
“She’s my mom too you know,” I interrupted him once again, fully aware that I’m being rude, and somehow not caring.
“Oh of course. I didn’t mean anything by it. I’m just exhausted that’s all. “ He was backing away from me now, as if I would reach out and hit him. I softened as I look at the deep shadows under his eyes, and his wrinkled clothes. I began to wonder who this man is to Sarah: maybe he was just the nearest person to her when it happened, or a close friend, or maybe even a boyfriend. I had no way of knowing.
“I know that you two aren’t very close,” He was rambling now, his face blotchy and anxious, “I talked to your mom and she explained the situation to me. I understand if you don’t feel comfortable staying.”
“The situation? What do you mean the situation?” I was yelling now, and everyone in the waiting room turned to stare at us, as if they have the right to judge. “What the hell are you looking at?” They kept looking, their eyes wide and owl- like. I didn’t even bother to turn to look at the expression on Sam’s face. I simply ran down the three flights of stairs, and through the too bright lobby.
* * *
Outside, the air felt fresh and cool on my skin, but somehow I was unable to breathe. I crouched on the ground, my arms pulled tightly around my chest. I could hear the soft whoosh of the door outside the hospital as it opened and closed, and the vibrations of foot steps. I didn’t even have to look up, but I could feel concerned stares and whispers, surrounding me and clinging to my skin. It was this feeling, the feeling of being watched, that motivated me to stand and walk shakily towards my car.
I drove around for a while, looping in circles around the tiny stores, matching houses, and minivans. I ended up at a CVS, standing in an aisle with cool frosty drinks on one side and stacks of paper, notebooks, and rainbow erasers. I bought a pack of ten differently colored Sharpie markers, a hundred sheets of white printer paper, and a pack of Cinnamon gum. I sat in my car for a while with the air conditioner on full blast so that I was shivering, and pulled an bright blue marker from the box of Sharpies. In that moment, the ink seemed to contain electricity as it twirled around the paper, creating a million shapes and stories.