I stumble off an elevator 15 minutes late for a doctor’s appointment. Out of breath, I take my place in line wondering if I should craft an elaborate excuse for the woman at the check-in counter as to why I was late or if I should just be honest that it’s for no other reason than having miscalculated the time it would take to get there. A web-spun story could make me feel more responsible than the truth: that I just didn’t think it through all the way. I’d hate for her to think I just messed up.
I tell her I’m sorry I’m late and thankfully, there’s no opportunity to provide an excuse or reason, so the decision is made for me—I remain mysteriously late. She says it’s okay, that there was a cancelled appointment sometime after mine if I wouldn’t mind waiting. Of course I wouldn’t mind and thank you for not charging me the $50 fee for missing my originally scheduled appointment. I take a chair in the waiting room in the corner by the window, still out of breath with sweat rolling down my back. It’s winter in East Texas, but it’s still a humid swamp.
Usually, I grab my book on the way out the door but when I realized how wrong my calculations were, I simply grabbed my wallet and darted. As I wait, I scroll around through my phone: doom scroll, as it’s known. I had the audacity to open the news and the first, big headline: Another school shooting. In Michigan. Three kids are dead.
Wasn’t there one yesterday? Or was that the day before? Or maybe this is the same one with more information? I’m skimming the article becoming more upset that I can’t remember if this is one I’ve read about or not. That yesterday’s or last week’s or last month’s or last winter’s mass shooting is old news, blurred in my memory with all the others.
All the others.
I don’t even know how many there have been this month, let alone this year, let alone in total and although I’m sure I could open a new tab on my dumb phone and Google it, I’m honestly afraid to know. So I go back to the other headlines, skimming mindlessly and truth be told, I can’t tell you what else I consumed. I really can’t. I just scrolled.
It’s been 30 minutes and I haven’t been called back yet. I debate whether or not I should ask the receptionist if she has any idea how much longer it will be until my rescheduled appointment. I have a video conference scheduled in a little while and now that I’ve diligently calculated the travel times in my head, I know exactly the last minutes I have to leave here, commute home, and hop on that call; we’re not too far away from that time.
But see, she’s already accommodated me for my f*ck-up; I hate to ask her how long and seem impatient or ungrateful. I decide to wait a little while longer.
These doctor’s appointments are hard to reschedule—specialists always are and especially around the holidays. Plus, I’ve met my health insurance’s out-of-pocket max for the year so if I get rescheduled after the new year, it’ll cost so, so much more. This is going to be an important appointment, too. I’ve been through a host of new tests recently and we will go over those tests, talk options, and hopefully create a plan to manage this rare yet chronic illness I’ve succumbed to over the past several years.
I decide to wait. I’ll count to 100 by tapping each one of my fingers to my thumb and then I’ll do it again. And maybe again.
I click my phone back on again and the article about the school shooting pops up. “Sandy Hook should have been enough,” commented some guy on Twitter; I think about how some people don’t believe Sandy Hook happened.
This morning, I kissed the top of my young kiddo’s head as he bounced off to school with his bright green backpack and his little mask. His curls smell like his shampoo (and somehow still like they did the day he was born) and as the door closed behind him, he said, “I love you too, mom.”
The nurse calls me back, oh thank goodness. After taking my vitals, she says the doctor will be in shortly. I’m within 20 minutes now of having to leave in time to make this video call and I think, okay, worst case scenario, I can conference in from my car in the parking lot, assuming I have enough internet connection. I won’t have my notes, but I can manage.
But then 10 minutes pass and the doctor still hasn’t come in. I’m not upset with them—it was me who was late—I’m upset with me for screwing up my times. I have 10 minutes now. Do I send an email from my phone saying I might be a few minutes late? I’ve had to cancel / reschedule / show up late / leave meetings early in the past because of my health and it makes me feel unreliable and burdensome. Most of them know I have health issues but most of them don’t know the extent of it—hell, *I* don’t even know the extent of it.
I hate being a burden.
I don’t know the times of day this happens, but I know that my child’s class lines up and switches buildings a few times a day: to go to gym, to recess, to art, to lunch, to the library, etc. It’s those times their little line is bobbing along the covered sidewalks that I worry the most about shooters. In a classroom, teachers these days are versed in how to barricade doors, but what about when they’re in little lines in the hallway or out in the open? Or on the playground? And how do you explain to a child that there are people in the world who could show up with a gun and shoot them for no real reason? What to do if you see it? When I was in school, it was tornadoes we worried about and practiced drills for and as my mom tells me when it was her age, they practiced drills for nuclear holocaust. At least tornadoes don’t do it on purpose.
I begin to draft an email on my phone that I’ll be late and be calling in from my car.
They’ll be going to lunch soon. I know this because I’ve had to pick him up at lunch time before. He’s asked me a few times to come have lunch with him now that parents are allowed to (if they wear masks and if they sit at a different table) and I keep telling him I will. I want to, it just hasn’t worked out yet.
I open Gmail.
“I’m so sorry, but I have a doctor’s appointment that’s running longer than expected, so I will probably be late for this call and calling in from my car…”
I look at this drafted email for a while and reword it a few times.
What if while they’re walking to the cafeteria, a copy-cat shooter is waiting for them? What if my kid somehow heard about yesterdays (or todays? Or the day before’s?) shooting and he’s scared? Or what if because of that, they’re doing another shooter drill at school today and that unnerves him?
All I can think about is how I want to hug my kid and smell his curls and tell him that I love him.
I can hear the doctor talking to another patient in the hall—I suspect the one he’s been with because I hear “follow-up” and “prescription” but it’s too late. The time to leave passed several minutes ago and I’m still sitting here with my thumb hovering over this drafted email where I’m apologizing.
I’m always apologizing.
I delete the whole thing and start over.
“Unfortunately, I am unable to make this call today. Please let me know when you’re able to reschedule and I will update the calendar.”
I slide my phone into my pocket as the doctor knocks on the door and steps in with my big file. I scoot forward in my chair, anxious but also…okay.
After this appointment, I’m going to go surprise my son and have lunch with him. Calls can wait. Today, I feel like I can’t wait to see him.
you are A welcome gift, Jessica. Thank you for sharing your gift of conversation/empathy/description/self/hitting so many nails on the head for us…
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Thank you, Connie ❤️ I just feel like the last couple years have pulled back the curtain on what we’ve all been doing to ourselves for so long (or forced to) — that impulse to do everything all the time and perfectly runs deep and I think I’m just trying to rewire that part of myself so that I can operate in moderation and in healthy ways not just for myself, but for my family.
Beautiful, and relatable, and tragic. And you did, in the end, what matters most. Being with the one you love.
Thank you for putting it into words.
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Thank you, Lauren. Finding balance is really, really difficult and I’m finding the more I try to ignore the balance, the more I find myself in increasingly tense moments that force me to. I feel good about my choice. Seeing the surprise and joy on my child’s face when I arrived at his school was worth more than anything. I cried the whole way home. ❤️
My favorite part of this story is the way you reworded your email. So proud of my girl.
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No more apologies for our needs!!
Reblogged this on A Donkumentary and commented:
I posted this blog one year ago about a small moment (which became quite big), in which I keyed my words more clearly and authoritatively than I’m used to. Being an over-achieving people pleaser has its abrupt stops, especially when it concerns your child and their safety or just your own, desperate, parental need to squeeze them as hard as you can while you know you can.
I’ll never regret spending too much time with my small son who’s not so small anymore, the more I look at him.
He told me last night I was a “cool mom” because I play video games with him. Little does he know that it’s *I* who thinks *he is* cool for playing video games with me, his silly, anxious mom.
All I can think is how much I love him. While the world burns everywhere, the love I have for him is a certain, tangible tether that keeps me anchored. I try, so hard, to be the same for him.
Our colleagues, clients, and bosses should always understand this. I’m grateful that my small day job is comprised of people who seem to. I know we’re not all so lucky. But perhaps the more we normalize little moments like this, the more we’ll spread understanding that there is nothing more important than protecting those you love, even if it’s from something you’ve fabricated in your head because of the deluge of stories that would have you fear the worst in a world that seems to keep experiencing her worsts.
A tale from a doctor’s office: “Can’t Wait” – by me.
Simply beautiful! 🙂
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Wow, thank you ❤️