Purgatory, stationed next to a children’s oncology center in a seven-floor medical building, is a retina specialist’s office, where a sample set of humanity sits waiting at full capacity in twenty chairs: it is where I am sitting. I am not the youngest person here but certainly not the eldest either. An old woman and I strike up a conversation while my father’s seeing the eye doctor about his synthetic cornea, which replaced the ones he’d lost to cataracts.
Our backs ache from sitting too long over the weekend, and we talk about our trips this past Memorial Day – she more than I – and I listen as she tells me about how her husband has given their RV camper to their son because her husband fought cancer but now he has macular degeneration, and when I finally see him, I can see the shadow of the man that he used to be – it compels me to open the door for him to leave but I make him feel rushed as he stops by the water cooler for a drink. Previously, as his wife and I are talking, the room is emptying, patients coming and going and I am still waiting.
The Mexican woman with her mother entering after my father and exiting before. The grumpy old Gus sitting quiet with his cane crossed over his knee and his son who comes out of the back with a cane that he’s carrying: he wears a New York Rangers cap and talks with a Long Island accent and goes to pay quickly and loudly and seemingly a little angry, “Okay, yeah; see you in five weeks,” and leaves in a huff telling his father that he’ll treat him to a McDonald’s hamburger as the door hydraulics shut by its arm behind them with a hiss. Now there is only a sleeping Filipino woman, dreaming in Tagalog and family barbecues and her grandfather’s roast pork even though she doesn’t really like pork or ham or bacon besides when he made it.
An old woman and her daughter and her son-in-law enter: they do not wait long before going in too, and they talk about the tragedy that happened over the weekend, another shooting: in California this time. I have heard pieces of this story but it is too morbid to investigate, but the mother-in-law insists that the gunman did it for fame, to get his name in the news, to be in infamy. I decide that it is better than to leave the madman in obscurity and scrutinize the pictures of nature on the wall – it pulls me back to my weekend, surrounded by hills and sand and red red rock, then traveling up a mountain to be confronted by trees and birds and bees and the thin air at nine-thousand feet.
It is a beautiful image, and a beautiful memory, as I stand alone waiting still. The sleeping girl has woken when her boyfriend exits the back office wearing an eye patch and they amble out together, talking in a tongue intimate to them but foreign to me, as the three take refuge and their conversation on calamity to the examination room. I am waiting still and will be a while yet, a ghost in the waiting room, eternal as the pictures on the wall.