Her father sleeps on the impossibly narrow emergency gurney they squeezed into the room. Her mother has gone home to shower and gather supplies for yet another night captive in this tiny emergency room triage bay that isn’t meant for sleepovers but has become one regardless.
I sit quietly with this girl I’ve come to love, on the end of the standard hospital bed made up now with her own special fuzzy blanket, special pillows, and assorted stuffed companions. It will be her second night here. A board game is between us and she studies it with intense thought. We don’t talk about why she is here, but I know we are both thinking about it. We don’t talk about what worries and struggles she is facing, has faced, has tried so valiently to manage, but we are both thinking about them.
I also think about her parents. The man I love, and the woman who used to be his wife. Both gentle, kind, smart, loving, dedicated parents – both distraught and broken as they watch their youngest child, their one girl cross legged and small in this emergency room, on hold and waiting endless hours to be moved to a different place entirely. I don’t know what to do for any of them except to be here. To sit and watch and wait with them, to let them sleep and shower and escape however briefly they can, and to watch over this girl for them. I love her too, and I think of my own children so far away from me and the chronic worry I have over them and vow to give this one girl all that I can while her momma is away and hope that somewhere, in some other time, someone may do the same for my children.
When her mother comes back, looking no more rested or refreshed, our girl breaks a little and a flood of worries erupts from her. The three of us encircle her, answering the questions we can and reassuring her about the ones we can’t yet answer. The light from the bathroom dimly lights the far side of the room and her bed is in shadows but her eyes peirce through that darkness anyway. Can she see us the way we see her? We encourage her, shore up her bravery, reframe her fears for her, we get her to laughing, we are laughing. This girl laughing is the sound of life – a life we are all struggling to ensure remains with us.
I wonder what fears and worries her momma will battle through the night while her daughter sleeps. No, I don’t wonder, I know them all too well. She is not my girl, but I love her too. I lie awake most of that night thinking about all of them for myself while her father sleeps beside me, his hand still clutching mine like I am his anchor in this storm. He has often been my anchor in my own storm and if I can hold his hand while he sleeps and I can take on the task of worrying for him, it’s the very least I can do. I love his girl too.