The Crying Room This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

January 12, 2012
November 17th changed everything for my friend, and for me, too. I knew things would never be the same.

I was working that day, enduring a typical Friday night of Christmas shoppers and crabby customers. I couldn’t wait to leave. My boyfriend had just gotten a job at the mall, and we were planning to meet for dinner at nine o’clock. It was snowing, and I watched the delicate flakes fall and cling to the mall’s glass double-doors. It was the first snow of the season, and I would have to adjust to driving home in winter weather.

I shuffled a stack of sale flyers at my register. It was really coming down now. The snowy roads would make driving difficult.

“Hello,” I chimed to an elderly lady with a plaid handkerchief tied around her head and a cane in hand. She smiled, making her wrinkled skin rise in what seemed a rare moment of happiness. I felt sorry for old people; it must be lonely growing old, considering the things you’ve done in life, the things you’ve missed. How short life is when a person really stops to think about it. I wish people never grew old. I had lost my great-grandma, and though I didn’t understand it at seven, I understood now and loathed the inevitable.

Suddenly, the ringing of my phone interrupted my thoughts.

“Hello, J. C. Penney. This is Cathy speaking.”



Uncontrollable sobbing blared from the other end.

“Who is this?” I asked, an awful feeling coming over me.

“This is Corrina,” an unstable voice stammered.

“Okay,” I began, trying to be calm. “Where are you, honey?”

“I’m at the hospital,” she stuttered, tension building in her voice. I knew she wouldn’t be able to hold it together much longer.

“Where in the hospital?” I asked.

“In the emergency room.” A cough and more crying followed the empty words. “My dad just died …”

I covered my mouth with one hand as I stood there hanging onto the counter with the other. I felt nauseated, hollow. As I regained my composure, I began to speak again.

“Okay, I’ll be right there – right there, okay?”

“Okay,” she sobbed.

I was shaking. I felt as if I should be doing five things at once.

Okay, first let Jan know you’re leaving, then just drive.

Thoughts ran rampant through my head as I prepared to leave work.

How could this have happened? He was fine two days ago.

I stormed out of the front doors and started for my car. The cold wind hit my face as I turned the key to open my ’93 Beretta. I slammed the door and turned the key in the ignition. It was so cold that my car sputtered.

Come on, start.

I turned the key again. The engine finally hummed as my hands gripped the icy steering wheel.

Don’t drive stupidly, Cathy. You’re not going to be any help if you don’t get there in one piece.

I pulled out of my parking space and drove toward the nearest exit.

Take a right.

I felt as if I should be driving an emergency vehicle.

Turn right again.

I was on the highway now. It wouldn’t be much longer before I reached the hospital.

There it is.

I turned into the emergency entrance.

Was she there alone? She had been too upset to dwell on details, and I had been too shocked to ask. All I could think of was getting to her as quickly as possible. She had called me, of all people. We had grown up together, she was the sister I never had. We had done everything together …

I moved to Gladstone when I was seven, a scared little girl with no friends. When I entered the first-grade classroom two weeks after the start of the year, every kid looked at me like I had transferred from another planet. I remember the teacher introducing me: “Class, this is Cathy. She just moved and will be going to school here.”

I smiled shyly and looked around the room. No one smiled back. They all looked down and began coloring again – no expression, no hello. I hung up my coat and took my seat.

I spent the next years going to school and spending summers watching cartoons and “swimming” in my Little Mermaid wading pool. There were no girls my age in the neighborhood, and Mom said the boys played too rough after I came home crying with a black eye from a baseball game. On occasion, I’d ride my “cool” purple ten-speed bicycle around the neighborhood. I could make it around the block no-handed – corners and everything – a great accomplishment for a ten-year-old.

One day I had just made it to the first stop sign of my loop when I saw another little girl riding behind me. I waited for her to catch up. Strange noises were coming from her bicycle; I looked down to see a playing card flapping in the spokes of her tire.

“Whachya got there?” I asked curiously, attempting conversation. “That thing in your tire. What’s it for?”

“It’s a card I found in the junk drawer at my house. You should see it! I bet you can find just about anything in there.”

“I’d like that,” I said, “but I’ll have to ask my mom first.”

I sped home as fast as my skinny chicken legs could take me. Mom said yes, and that was the beginning of my friendship with Corrina. From that day when I was ten and she was eight, we were inseparable. After a few years, I was thought of as another member of her family. I went on their vacations, ate most of my meals there and even slept there at least once a week. Her parents, Ellen and Roger, became my second mom and dad.

Now this news had struck out of nowhere and landed on our laps, an unreal night of cold, snow and death.

The parking lot was slippery; the ice itself could have hospitalized someone. I skated to the glass door. I had only been here once, two years before, when Dad had a pain in his arm. The doctors diagnosed him with a joint disease. His hands ached constantly. You could see it in his eyes as he reached to drink another mouthful of decaffeinated Maxwell House. Just gripping the mug handle caused his eyes to water. He saw many doctors, and they all had different answers.

He was doing better now, and the medication helped him do his day-to-day activities. I wanted to go home and hug him, tell him how much I love him. I had taken for granted the importance of a father until now.

Though I still had my real father, I felt like I had lost another. Roger, a man I also called Dad, would no longer be there for Saturday fishing trips, to tease me about my love life, or to take Corrina and me for ice cream.

I cautiously pushed open the doors. I could hear a baby crying. A man sat with his hand wrapped in a white cloth, trying to keep a small child from getting in the way of the swinging door I had entered. My presence was met with blank stares: people trying to see what was wrong with me, why I was there.

“Excuse me,” I said to a nurse, “could you tell me if the Spengler family is here?”

Her lip-glossed smile turned into the most serious expression I had ever seen.

“Oh, certainly, if you could just follow me.” I saw sympathy in her face.

I followed her through the white halls of the hospital. A man wheezed in one of the side rooms. The repetitive hacking made me cringe. It was the sound of death.

The nurse finally reached the door leading out of the never-ending maze of white walls. White was the color of spiritualism; these walls should have been painted black. This was the “crying room,” a place for those who had just lost a loved one. This room ensured they would be alone while they grieved and made the necessary phone calls. This was where they sent you to cry, to gather your thoughts. I wondered how many people had come here before us to compose themselves after traumatic news.

I cautiously entered. They sat, gathered around a table with a phone book and telephone in the middle of their circle. Corrina peeked out from behind the door. It was cramped in there. So many people made it hard to breathe. No words were exchanged between us. She began to cry again, and I hugged her tightly as she cried onto my collar. There was nothing I could say. I had never felt so worthless. I stood there and held her, shedding tears on the crying room’s floor.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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