Once a year I pull the short straw and I take all six of you to the doctor’s office for flu shots. This year, we ran into a sweet older woman in the public restroom while everyone emptied their bladders full of procrastination.
“I’m not sure how it happened,” she said grabbing her cane.
And I replied: “Did you fall?”
And she said, “Oh, I don’t mean my cane. I mean time. One day I was you with my own children, and the next day I woke up and I’m here. How does that happen, do you think? How do you go to bed one day and then wake up the next morning and everything has changed?”
And it was in that moment as I was looking at her eyes that I could almost see the memories of her life thrown up into the air like a deck of cards and she was reliving all of her best and sacred moments as they fell in slow motion back to the ground.
We left the bathroom and as we walked down the hall I waved to the mother who was now sitting by herself, cane in hand, in the waiting room of the physical therapy office. She gave me a quick wink as we passed, but behind the wink seemed to be the smallest inkling of pain. You see, all of our best memories are always tinged with the sadness of not being able to get them back. Life is so rare and beautiful, time is so precious and fleeting, memories are both exquisite and piercing.
We got our flu shots and I stopped to get donuts like I promised. And while I was waiting for the two dozen of mostly double chocolate and lots of rainbow sprinkled goodness, I looked at the clock and it was 11:00 and I’m thinking about how I was once 16 and I have my first driver’s license, first big love, first best friends, first basketball games, football games, track practices. I hear Mr. Scott screaming “you cheat now, you’ll cheat when you’re married!” I’m thinking about my first time running 6 miles and hating/loving it and then doing it again every day for cross country practice in August, September, and October. I’m remembering that first mixed CD from songs downloaded from napster, it’s Lifehouse, Coldplay, and Dashboard Confessional. It’s my first horse, my first job at the barn, first time arguing with my parents about not wanting to go to college so I could just keep on riding horses and telling them I’d be okay living in a barn forever.
And as I’m pulling off the exit to our road and our farmhouse in the county its 11:30 and it’s my first year away at college in Pittsburgh. It’s Southside, Oakland, and it’s Mount Washington. It’s Pirate games and Penguin games and definitely Steeler games. It’s my first and last time at a really bad and really dirty frat party. It’s Imag. Lit. and Crit. Writing 101, and then one year later it’s anatomy labs and lectures, it’s chem and bio, and it’s nursing school and studying in the library with crackers and coffee. It’s the first time in a hospital with new best friends all scared to death to go into that room and take that poor man’s blood pressure. It’s every summer spent in a bathing suit lifeguarding where the only care in the world is who is stopping to get chai tea’s in the morning from Starbucks and making sure there is an Ipod connected to the pool loudspeaker playing Jack Johnson on repeat. It’s praying for rain so you get a day off. It’s listening to Steve Moakler strum his guitar in the breezeway, and it’s washing bathrooms with chlorine at 10 pm and then heading to one of his shows at a local bar afterwards. It’s wearing 100 SPF all day every day, with a baseball cap, and still being the color of a coconut. It’s living this same summer for four years straight. It’s me on the podium looking out at all my classmates while I’m giving our commencement speech and thinking wow, we made it, but now what?
It’s 11:35 and I’m pulling into the driveway and stop to get the mail and it’s my first day as a new nurse in cardiovascular intensive care unit, young and newly married, fresh off the heels of a honeymoon and move into a small two bedroom apartment. It’s showing up in the “CVICU”and everyone just keeps looking at all of us new grads and they don’t look happy, they look annoyed at the yearly batch of newbies. We spent four years in nursing school and we have absolutely no idea how to save a life. There’s nothing but blood, wires, tubes, monitors and beeping, so much beeping. There are old doctors and new doctors, doctors straight out of med school who have no idea what they are doing either. It’s me stopping in the chapel of that big city big teaching hospital off of forbes avenue, praying for an assignment where someone isn’t dying. It’s finally realizing that every patient is there because they need to be saved. It’s the first time you see your patient roll down the hallway from the OR from a quadruple bypass surgery. It’s the first time you see this same patient, fresh out of surgery, “code” and now the doctor is cracking open his chest right there in the room and grabbing his heart in his own hands, trying to infuse life into death. It’s fumbling over meds and drugs, crash carts and people. So many people, all trying to save a life.
It’s the first time you see that patient die anyway and a doctor throw his gloves on the floor in disgust for this battered and broken heart on the table. It’s cleaning up the mess on the floor. It’s explaining this all to the family in the waiting room.
It’s crying every day you leave work for the first week, the first month, the first year because this so much harder than it looks on Grey’s Anatomy.
It’s 11:45 and I’m cleaning up donuts and rainbow sprinkles off the kitchen table and I’m thinking about me at 23 and I’m holding an acceptance letter to the University of Pittsburgh anesthesia program in one hand, and a pregnancy test in the other. It’s realizing that there really isn’t a choice, just the peace of following a path that degrees and money can’t pave.
It’s going part time at the hospital right when I finally have confidence in assignments even when the patients are dying. It’s knowing more than the first year med students all crowded in the corner. It’s a whole new batch of newbie nurses and now I’m the preceptor.
It’s losing two babies. It’s being stuck in the darkness afterwards and then crawling out of that darkness inch by desperate inch.
It’s 4 more babies in our 4 bedroom home in the same suburbs I grew up in. It’s going “casual” at the hospital by working a few evenings and weekends. It’s Mike moving up in the company and now he’s traveling and working late evenings. It’s leaving nursing all together.
It’s having a silly dream of living in the country. It’s having no idea what that really means. It’s everyone saying “ you are crazy, what is there for you in the country?” It’s doing it anyway and hoping it’s not a mistake, it’s the moving truck coming and a sold sign in the driveway of our home in a neighborhood you could trick or treat in.
It’s losing Starbucks for gas stations that close at 9pm. It’s honking geese and screaming coyotes. It’s small towns and camouflage, sometimes on clothes and sometimes on crockpots at Walmart.
It’s new friends and really amazing neighbors, it’s a small town with small churches and small little league baseball teams. It’s gaining respect for all the country folk and holy cow these people know everything and how are they so smart. It’s an old house, old used car cars, old attics and basements, old creeks to be wadded through, old woods to be walked in. It’s old fields to be cut and old mowers to be fixed. And everything is so, so new.
It’s 11:55 and I’m scooping up babies to put in cribs for naps to be taken. I’m listening to Pandora Radio and hear a voice so vaguely familiar. I look down to see the name: Steve Moakler.
The young lifeguard who was once 15 and strumming his guitar in the breezeway of that public pool is now on Pandora radio in my kitchen. I look him up on Instagram, see him standing next to Tim Mcgraw and Faith Hill and send him a quick message to say:
“Steve I’m listening to you now on Pandora, you MADE it!.”
It’s 12:00 and I’m thinking about the woman from the bathroom today and what she said. I’m thinking about how moments turn into memories, how days turn into years, and how time is just the great and unforgiving denominator between us all.
It’s 12:05 and I’m closing the door to your room, little Emmy Joe and Faustin Grace, and I’m thinking of that sweet older lady in the bathroom today and how nothing seems to change until everything is different.
Today I took our photo in a public restroom to try and freeze time if only for a instant in an effort to always remember that there was day when we all chased the pain of 6 flu shots down with the sugar of 24 sprinkled donuts and in that moment, I really was living my dream.
Song of the day: “Love was my Alibi” by Kristoffer Fogelmark and “Steel Town” by Steve Moakler
This article was originally published on the author’s website, Farmhouse Files.