What Kind of Times Are These
Thank you, Ms. Rich.
She is smiling for the camera. A reflex? A habit born of countless imploring commands? You could think she’s been caught by surprise as she steps into the kitchen during a party or as she turns at just the right moment so we can see the joy of company, the wake of a good laugh making her eyes dance, the anticipation of more fun to follow.
Perhaps it is a relief, this tapering in her life. Look at his picture and it is easy to imagine his hard edges; what must it be like to navigate those every day?
Still, she is smiling for the camera. There is no fear in her eyes and no shame and you can’t help but think she looks like someone you would probably like to have coffee with.
They bring you into a windowless room for this. You sit at a table with the surgeon you've never met, the social worker who was waiting for you in the ER, some other doctor. You're waiting to hear how long it's going to take for her to recover from this because that's the best thing you can imagine. You fold your hands, feel the smooth cool table begin to slick with your sweat as you begin to understand what they are asking of you.
Your own heart shatters yet keeps on beating.
This is when you understand the lack of windows: no prying eyes, but also no world beyond this room, no way to place this moment in any kind of natural context. The social worker sits beside you and you realize you should have known when she touched the back of your chair—she was measuring the distance.
After you say this you will never be able to speak again. What more will there be to say?
The paperwork is stunning. The other doctor is the lawyer, of course; he flips pages, points to tagged signature lines. The surgeon is a fidgeter; her chair arcs as she waits for the last crossed “t,” dotted “i,” and she does not watch.
When you are done, the social worker asks if you want the hospital chaplain.