March 5, 2012
I left the hotel shortly after I arrived in New York. I left my luggage, wrapped a purple scarf around my neck and headed out to find coffee. I was on York Avenue, walking north against traffic, strolling with purpose, but what purpose?
The thought crossed my mind, I’m heading for Sloan-Kettering, and then I knew. I had to go, before anything else. Eighteen years had passed since I left there the night Jeremy died, carrying bags of his clothes, while he lay pale and quiet; his struggle over.
I walked up to the doors as a woman wheeled out her bald daughter. I took a deep breath and went in.
The same escalator moved ever upward. I stepped on and was whisked into the lobby. A woman slept on a chair; a man nearby ate lunch. The usual.
I felt like a sleepwalker in another world. Why was I here?
The elevators were in the same place. I pushed the button and waited. A group of white-clothed doctors got on as I pressed the eighth floor button. They talked about someone’s case. When I used to come here, I didn’t pay attention. I was intent on getting to Jeremy. Now I had nothing but time.
At the eighth floor, I followed the others onto the floor. “Excuse me, is this Pediatrics?”
“No,” the nurse said, “that’s one floor up on nine.”
When I got off, I saw glass doors barring my way and a colorful mural of animals and kids playing. Right floor, but I couldn’t open the door. I fumbled around looking for a way in. I wanted to turn away. Why was I even here? Someone came by and pushed a button I hadn’t seen and the doors slid open. I was assaulted with the familiar hospital smells of chemicals and ammonia. Nothing looked as I remembered it. I stood there, not sure of what to do. I wanted to see the room he left from but that was on the floor below.
I headed down the white hall past the nurses station. They looked busy; maybe they wouldn’t notice me.
“Excuse me, where are you going?” I turned and confronted a young nurse leaning over the counter.
I walked up to her. “My son was a patient here. I wanted to come back.” I came closer. “He died here.”
“What was his name,” she asked. I told her. “Just a minute.” She walked back to the nurses’ room. I could see them sitting around having lunch.
A nurse came out and walked over to me. “I remember your son. Was he around nineteen?”
“Yes,” I said.
“My name is Shelley,” she said. “Ann, will you take her on a tour of the floor?”
I had thought of this place for years. Now it seemed smaller and more crowded. We passed a series of closed doors with signs that said Bone Marrow Transplant. Even the other rooms had closed doors. Other dramas were taking place here. Mine was long over. I realized that I couldn’t linger here so I thanked Ann and let myself out into the elevator bay.
I had visited the scene of Jeremy’s last day, a place I feared and dreamed about. I remembered well how it felt to be tethered to that life, those final hopes. Did I expect to find myself still wandering the halls going to fetch food from the communal refrigerator?
I had come back from another life in a southern city so I could stop pivoting around this memory and move on like my son had.