I sit in the waiting room, and fiddle with my phone. The battery is low, but I hadn’t planned on going anywhere for long, so I obsess over the battery bar, fiddle with phone settings.
The Professor messages me, but all I have are a few dull facts: I’m in a waiting room, waiting.
For all the size of the waiting area and all the activity passing through, it’s remarkably quiet. I hadn’t planned on going anywhere, so I have nothing to do except sit, and watch, and from time to time, check my phone, then shut it off quickly to conserve power.
A man gets off the elevator, and strides purposefully through the lobby, then sits nearby. He checks his phone and makes several calls, mostly about work; they are not interesting enough to listen to, or loud enough to be annoying, so I lose interest, and don’t notice when he leaves or where he goes.
I wish I had charged my phone, but I don’t know what I’d do with it, even if the battery was full: I don’t feel like talking to anyone; I don’t want to play games.
I leaf through the People magazines lying nearby, then get up in search of other magazines, finding none but losing my spot on the sofa in the process. I settle in a chair, which isn’t as comfortable.
Music fills the lobby, briefly: someone in a wheelchair near the window plays a song I don’t recognize on a brass instrument I can’t identify. The door opens, and the music stops as the wheelchair is pushed outside.
Mid-afternoon. Several hours have passed, and nobody has said anything to me. There’s a new nurse at the front desk, so I inquire about The Child, Where is she? How is she?
The social worker is busy with someone else. She hasn’t been seen yet.
I ask where I can get a cup of coffee, and she directs me up the hall, to a little stand that is closing down for the day. I’m don’t really want anything, but the walk breaks up the waiting. I buy two things: a big cookie with pink frosting, and a cup of coffee. When The Child was three, every trip to the coffee shop involved a Big Pink Cookie; she was so entranced by them that I found a Christmas ornament with a pink cookie and an angelic elf and gave it to her to hang each year, the start of her own collection, for the tree of her own that she’d have someday.
I put the pink cookie in my bag, and return to the lobby. No one has called my name, but there’s space on the sofa again, and someone has left a newspaper.
A woman walks by with a dog, then more dogs appear, and finally a photographer. They clear the area to my left, apologizing for disturbing me, but I don’t mind, and I watch as three labs and a sheltie are carefully posed and photographed with hospital staff. Then everyone is done, and I’m alone in the lobby again.
I do the crossword puzzle, and the other crossword puzzle, and the jumble, and the word hunt. I try to read the cartoons but most of them aren’t familiar, and the ones that are familiar aren’t funny. I try to read the news but can’t muster any outrage or even interest in the express lane tolling fiasco that seems to be at the forefront of everyone else’s mind.
I check in with the new nurse at the front desk. The Child has still not been seen by anyone, so I ask if I can see her and they send me back.
She’s in a room with a glass wall, with a nurse stationed outside and a nurses’ station nearby. She’s in hospital garb, and her clothing, as well as her phone, have been confiscated. I ask what she’s been doing and she says, waiting. I offer her the pink cookie; she takes it and seems pleased. She asks me to bring her a book from home.
Five hours after we arrived together, I leave, alone. At home, I walk the dogs, then eat dinner with them, standing in the kitchen with leftover shawarma. Then I put the foster dog back into his crate and drive back to the hospital.
I bring her the book she requested, and resume waiting in the lobby, where I discover a phone charging station, so I charge my phone even though I can’t call The Child on it and can’t really think of anyone else I want to talk to. Eventually I move to a sofa, where I’m able to stretch out, and nobody seems to notice when I fall asleep.
Ten or more hours after we first arrived, a social worker wakes me up. I’m ushered into a small, empty room, where I tell this woman I’ve never met about months of arguing, poor grades, tantrums and threats and isolation. Though I am expected to talk, she is not obligated to tell me what has been said, and doesn’t, simply saying what I already know: suicide threats were made and considered credible. She offers me three options, all of them involving a psychiatric facility: The Child can go voluntarily, I can choose to send her, or if we both say no, the social worker can overrule us and send her.
She seems ready to discuss each option, but I cut her short: If The Child chooses to go, then she goes. If The Child chooses not to go, then I choose to send her.
She seems satisfied with the conversation, as I am: It is the only control I seem to have at the moment, so I exercise it. Then I go home, don’t sleep, and get up again in the morning.