We glanced at one another from opposite sides of the fluorescent-lit hallway. Upward glances from chins burrowed into our chests with worry, brief eye contact full of questions and empathy. I wanted to bring her a consoling cup of coffee and ask who she was here for-- what misfortune had clouded her life in that way that only those sitting in hospital hallways understand. Instead I just sat with my eyes glued to the white tile of the floor, picking at my cuticles until they bled.
It's a very particular kind of grief that looms here; the kind that induces grey hair in twenty-somethings, the kind that keeps you sleeping restlessly in uncomfortable chairs with puce-green vinyl upholstery, the kind that puts your life on hold for death. People caught million-mile red eye flights at a moment's notice for this grief-- for what? To sit in these uncomfortable chairs in these uncomfortable hallways, helplessly waiting for something to happen. Once you entered these sanitary sanctuaries, nothing was in your hands anymore but a styrofoam cup full of swamp water the cafeteria called coffee... and indefinite amounts of time passing, slow and excruciating.
I looked up again at the woman across the hall. She dug through her purse, pulled out a dollar, and stood up. Walking past me with her eyes intent on the toes of her shoes, the loud, largo clicks of her heels sounded down the hallway, ricocheting from wall to whitewashed wall, echoing like insomnia and a dry throat. Was it a father, a husband, a child, I wondered... but I knew I wouldn't ask. It's one of those unspoken rules; you just don't do that in a hallway like this. It was too sterile. Comfort was only the absence of a reverberating flatline from a familiar room. It was uncertainty that kept us here in uncomfortable chairs, stifled in the distant claustrophobic silence.