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We pulled into the parking deck shortly before three o’clock, just as I started stuffing my mp3 player back into my backpack. We pulled into a spot, and I slowly crawled out of the car, savoring every moment I had left before the unavoidable happened, and I was to be forced into doing something I had feared for nearly a week. I slammed the door, and the sound reverberated off the walls. I could hear my parents ushering my brother off his videogame, and other car doors slamming, but at that moment, none of it mattered. The world was dead to me; I was in my own little universe formed and governed by the constant dread and fear that had stayed with me for almost a week, eating at me, gnawing away at my subconscious, that was now settled into my soul, and had kept me awake all night, as I sat up in bed, thinking, wondering, fearing.
I sleepwalked my way into the hospital with my parents, wandering the halls with them, not even sure of what I was doing. Apparently, we were lost, because we hailed a worker and asked for directions. The worker pointed down a hallway, then launched into a five minute monologue involving bathrooms, a reception desk, a hallway parallel to the intensive care unit, and a left turn. I’m glad I wasn’t navigating, because for all I know, she could have been speaking Chinese, and I would have only gotten us even more lost. Evidently, we had to go up, because we soon boarded an elevator.
“Did you grow those?” a voice snapped be back into reality. My daydream quickly receded, like an army under enemy fire.
“Yes,” my mom said.
“I could tell,” a man in a red t-shirt, blue jeans, and a leather jacket said in reply. He was staring at the yellow sunflower in my mom’s hands. There was a buzzing noise, and the elevator doors slowly but surely diverged. My parents exited, and I forced myself to follow. A woman brushed passed me.
“I know, isn’t it amazing? He was in the hospice practically a week ago. Yeah. Uh, huh. Look, I’ll call you back. Love you. Mm, hmm. You too. Bye,” she had said into her silver blackberry as she entered the elevator I had just deserted. Funny, I thought the phone only came in black. I guess not.
If anyone ever tells you that hospitals are not always white, they’re lying. Everything in that hospital was white. Have you ever gone outside after a snowstorm. You know how the snow is all sparkly and white? How brightly the light reflected off of it, burning into your eyes? Well that was what the hospital was like. So white it hurt.
We continued onward for quite some time, walking down hallway after hallway in complete silence. I started to wonder if they bleached their patients to match the walls. Either way, there was a whole lot of pasty white people wearing pasty white hospital gowns, lying on pasty white cots. And, to top it all off, there was a whole lot of pictures of Jesus to boot.
After a while, we must have been lost, because we stopped another worker. This one had a thick Spanish accent that I couldn’t understand to save my life. But apparently my parents understood, because within minutes we were at the right room.
I felt myself go numb. My great-grandfather was in there, hooked up to countless tubes. I didn’t have any kind of great relationship or special connection with him, but when someone has been around for all of the twelve years you’ve lived on earth so far, you love them just the same. I forced my legs to carry my apprehensive body into the room along with my family.
“Hey,” I said as cheerfully as I could manage, although the effort it took to muster the single word was evident in my voice. I then stood there in total silence, staring at anything but my great-grandfather. Finally, my mom spoke up.
“You can take Josh to the lounge now,” she said. I glanced up, nodded, and said, “Alright, thanks. C’mon, Josh, let’s go.”
I grabbed my brother’s arm and yanked him outside the room with me. Down at the far end of the hallway was a little room with one glass wall, sea foam carpets, white (Of course) walls, and two cream colored loveseats. A enormous statue of Jesus sat in the upper left corner of the room, and at least a dozen pictures of him covered the wall. I may not be Christian, but hey, at that point anything beat white. Me and Josh plopped down on one of the loveseats, exchanged a glance, and sighed.
A lot of people came and went in the lounge. One guy was talking on his phone. He kept coming in and out of the lounge, which was somewhat odd. But I thought nothing of it and continued on with whatever I was doing.
“Yeah, he scares my kids. Like, this one time he bought a huge bag of eminems, and he just sat there and ate them in front of them, and he yelled at them when they asked for some. Yeah. Right. Mm. I’m glad he’s getting help. No. No, I can’t pronounce it. It’s real long and hard to pronounce. Uh, huh. What? Huh? Oh, alright. I’m gonna let you go now. Okay, see you soon. Uh, huh. You to. Ew, no! You dork! I oughta go. Bye,” he had said. After he left, two women came in, arguing over what color to paint their living room. The only color that came to my mind- you guessed it- white. They came and left, and so did two men- one of which looked like my math teacher- discussing their favorite football team, the Jets. Funny, they were my great-grandfather’s favorite team. But at the time I couldn’t have cared less.
Eventually, my mom appeared at the entrance and told us it was time to go. I was overjoyed we would finally leave, but at the same time I was anxious, because I would have to go back into the room. So we walked the hallway’s length back to the room to say our goodbyes, which ended up being our final goodbyes. We got that over with fairly quickly, then exited. I expected the monitor to flatline, like it always does on TV, after family and friends bid their dramatic and over exaggerated farewells. It didn’t, lucky for me. So we left, happy and cheerful.
“See ya,” I turned to face my great-grandfather for the first time that day. I smiled, and he smiled back. That’s it. “See ya.” Not “I love you,” or even “Goodbye.”
Nearly a week later, on October eighth, 2011, to be exact, he died. And that Monday, I was faced with a new and emotionally stressful challenge- his funeral. All through the car ride, I asked myself why I didn’t tell him I loved him. We arrived after a long, grueling car ride to Pennsylvania.
I picked up the shovel and dug it into the pot, scooping out a large chunk of dirt. Tears ran down my cheeks in an endless, salty stream. Tell him you love him, my brain screamed as I stared at the plain pine coffin, already with a small mound of dirt on it. I chucked the dirt onto his coffin, and whispered so quietly that only my great-grandfather, up above me in the heavens, could hear.