My wife and I are on a tour of sorts. This one differs from tours in which one is transported from place to place. On this tour, we take our seats and go nowhere — for hours.
What makes it like a tour is that the people with whom we sit are taking in the same sights. Oh, I made a pun.
We are at the eye surgeon’s for the removal of a cataract from one of my wife’s eyes. By the time she leaves the waiting room, I know all I want to know about the other people on this bus to nowhere.
I know they have camps and the chances of those camps flooding. I’m up to the minute on marriages in the family, new babies, separations and divorces, what the person “under the knife” does for a living or is doing in retirement and how many operations and which kinds he or she has had.
When my wife hands me her bag and follows the nurse to be prepped, I move to the other side of the room. The people I’ve been eavesdropping on for four hours deserve their privacy and, really, they have little else to tell me.
The afternoon grows longer until I am the only civilian in the waiting room. My companion is Andre Dubus III’s “Townie,” and I must say to Andre, “You’re a good writer, and I liked ‘House of Sand and Fog’ enough to write you a fan letter.” Here it is. But the testosterone leaking from “Townie” has soaked a roll of paper towels, and I will be relieved to finish the book.
Through the afternoon, my thoughts have been with those “under the knife.” I know I’ve used “under the knife” twice already, but it is my favorite dramatic cliché, superior by far to “on the ground” and “in harm’s way.”
In the dreamy dreamland of forced slumber, we want only to wake up fixed so that we may return the favor to those waiting in the other room.
That is what we humans do. We strive to survive whatever’s dealt us so that we may sit in freezing cold, white rooms upon whose walls hang art of the Late Modern Motel School to hope or pray our loved ones through what’s being dealt them.
How much I admire single people who, not wanting to bother anyone, take a taxi to the eye-cutting place, sit by themselves, no one to nudge at the juicy parts of overheard conversation, walk to surgery with no one to squeeze (some nurses will allow a brief squeeze but not all) and, then, walk out of the place, climb inside a taxi and ride home to an empty house or apartment.
On the other hand, single people do not have to nurse anyone but themselves. They may complain to the cat or the thermostat in the hall, but they heal on their own.
We make it from one life event to the next, confident that someone else has had what we have.
Some of us pray, and some of us make deals:
“To whomever may be listening, get me through this ‘under-the-knife’ thing, and I will sit with someone in need in a white, freezing room, memorizing bad art. Honest.”