The Appointment – Part Two
Overalls shielded me from the cold floor, my legs folded under me as I knelt before my toybox on the hard tile. The rectangular wooden storage chest was pushed up against a painted concrete wall under a window well that allowed a bit of ambient daylight to filter into the basement. The deep box was filled with wonders. Most frequently played-with items occupied the top layer of plastic and metal colors and shapes. A bit of noisy digging and rearranging revealed long lost favorites and some forgotten treasures beneath the bottom layer where the smallest parts settled.
There were whispers. Mom and Dad stuff. I was too young to consider asking about the topic of conversation. There were simply some things that were off limits to four year olds. Adult stuff. Things that might frighten me, or that I wouldn’t understand.
This had all happened before, and I began to withdraw in anticipation of the scary feeling, not unlike the daily abandonment when Dad left for work every morning, leaving me to wonder if he’d vanish for a long time again. I stayed close to Mom, who made sure that I was cared for until he walked back through the door at 5:57pm each evening. I noticed the time on the kitchen clock. The hands were almost straight up and down, and I felt better when we were all together again. My sister was always with her friends. She was impossibly old, a girl, and occupied by her own thoughts and fears. Five years made such a difference.
Earlier in my life there had been an uncomfortable period. Another time of whispers and strange meetings, one in the back room of a clinic where I was told to stare at the checkered floor while I was “hypnotized.” The memory is in black and white, fluorescent and dim. I sat in a hard chair while a man talked to my parents and everyone nervously stood around me, expecting an outburst or tears. I believe they may have been taking my vitals and a sample of blood. I imagined I was in a trance, staring at the contrasting light and dark squares on the floor, distracted to the point of not feeling the needle stick my little arm.
Around that time, Dad disappeared. We visited him at a large brick building with a playground. I played on a swingset waiting for him to come outside. My mother and sister were riddled with anxiety. I absorbed their feelings but didn’t understand, and ran to give Daddy a hug but was told to stop. He was there for three months, and in the end was declared free of tuberculosis. It was a mistake that ultimately led to his death. He swore he’d never go to a doctor again. A terrible stance for a man with bad kidneys and high blood pressure. Chest pains should be taken seriously.
Footsteps sounded at the top of the basement stairs. I turned briefly to see feet and ankles appear in the open framework of the staircase. As knees became visible I turned to face the wall.
“Honey, I’m going,” called my mom, her voice trembling.
“Don’t you want to come and say goodbye?” prodded my grandmother, a step or two behind her.
I said nothing. I didn’t turn. I didn’t feel.
They tried several times with words to bridge the emotional gulf between the stairs and the toybox, but never attempted the three strides it would have taken to cross the physical distance, to deliver a hug and a kiss, to shed tears and platitudes. The zone I occupied did not allow for fear or sadness or rage. Eventually they turned and went upstairs where my mother was driven to the hospital for a hysterectomy. She didn’t know if she’d ever see her little family again.