It’s Friday. That’s when I join Tammy – the research assistant – in the waiting room. We work in the Yellow Clinic at the Zablocki VA Medical Center. When I arrive, she’s already set up – with the folding table, foam board sign and plastic bowl of mint Lifesavers.
The TV’s in the corner – on all the time. What’s on today? Cops? An HBO documentary about UFO sightings, a golf tournament? I think about Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s poem from the Beat era: I Am Waiting.
I am waiting/for my case to come up/I am waiting/for a rebirth of wonder
Everyone here is waiting – for lab results, a blood draw, for their appointment, a prescription…for pain relief… Spouses, sons and daughters wait too. There’s conversation. My wife always tells me to drink more water … I can relate! I nag Maurice about hydration constantly. Once our Labrador retriever stole chocolates from under the Christmas tree … I can relate… I know what an unsupervised Lab will eat.
A couple arrives – the husband on foot, his wife in a wheelchair. She wears a teal-colored wool coat. He goes to the desk to check in. She wants to get up, to use the ladies’ room, but finds that her coat’s gotten bunched up in the wheelchair somehow. Tammy and I study it. Tammy’s a nurse, with wheelchair skills. She figures out how to free her. She has the woman lift up, and we tug at the fabric. The woman thanks us. Smiles.
While she’s gone, Tammy sits by her husband to explain our project to him. The wife comes out, sits back down. She sees them talking and turns to me. Smiles… I can’t leave him alone for a minute. When he turns to her, she tells him about her small adventure with the stuck coat.
Eventually he’s called and they both go in. It’s a while before they come back out. She comes out ahead of him. She rolls up by us and Tammy asks if they were able to help her husband.
She tells us they took X-rays, will see what they can do. He’d been wheezing and not feeling well at all. She smiles at us, again, says: He forgets that he’s 93.
Meanwhile, he comes and stands behind her chair, holding her scarf and beret. Smiles over here at Tammy and I. He’s 93 years old? Just now, he could be a high school boy, who looks at his date and can’t believe how lucky he is!
He could say here’s your hat, hand it to her. But he drops it lightly, backwards onto her head, goofy and winking. I can hardly breathe! I think about Maurice. We have over 35 years behind us already. Yet – at 62 and 69 years old, we could be their children! What will two, three more decades bring? We already know how time will have its way with you. Those two must have seen plenty of losses by now. But affection that deep…that’s the stuff of poetry…
and I am perpetually waiting
for the fleeing lovers on the Grecian Urn
to catch each other up at last
and I am awaiting
perpetually and forever
a renaissance of wonder