To Swim Away in Tears by Cafe-Fig
I stepped out of the hospital for a breath of fresh air. Anna strode out the door coolly,
as the warmth of the hospital to touched me.
She lit a cigarette and took a long drag, staring into my face.
“Oh, don’t look at me like that,” she said. “You can’t patronize me for coping.”
“With what?” I replied. “You hated Dad.”
“Of course I hate Dad – but it’s a little sad to see the fucker in such a pathetic state.”
I almost laughed, and then thought better of it.
I continued to check my phone, scrolling through my texts and missed calls. As if any of this should be my damn responsibility. I was crying, but not for me. I cried for him. I don’t think he ever even cries for him. Sometimes the warmth of my tears keeps me from freezing.
I walked over to Anna, seated in the waiting room, after shutting the door quietly.
“Any news?” she asked, glancing at the door.
“Nope,” I checked my phone. Anna leaned back. “But mom hasn’t stopped crying since last night.”
“Over what?” I began to rub my temples.
“Over what, you know?” she was irritated. We both were. I fiddled with the edge of my paper cup. “Why does she bother wasting her energy?”
“Anna,” I sighed. “She has a dying husband to ‘waste’ her energy on,” I said angrily. Anna looked at me with a deadpan expression.
“Does she? I’m starting to feel like she’s crying to cry. Like she feels obligated to.”
I said nothing. I wasn’t sure whether or not she actually believed her words. Somewhere in the hospital a sick infant cried.
I left the waiting room to make a call.
My phone must’ve rung as soon as I left my bedroom.
I returned immediately, realizing I didn’t have it with me in the bathroom.
With a lump in my throat, I called Josh back. I apologized.
“Where the hell were you?” he said, in a sharp tone more sharp than loud – worse than yelling.
“I-I was in the bathroom– ”
“Oh yeah, you were ‘in the bathroom’ for what, an hour?”
“What?” I started to feel my hands numb.
“I called you, like, five fucking times!” This was definitely yelling now.
“Oh, shit. No, Josh, I have shitty service in my room – I swear I was just sitting by my phone– ”
“That’s bullshit.” he quieted, sterner now. “You’re such a bitch, you know that? Why can’t you just fucking be there for me?”
“I know,” I responded. In my mind I cried, attempting to warm my thoughts. “I swear my phone didn’t ring.”
“If you cared at all, you’d have paid more attention.”
He hung up.
I called Josh again to tell him that I loved him – that I missed him. He told me to visit him so that he could hold me.
How long could this possibly last? I suppose if it were up to me, it’d last forever, but the idea of any of this being up to me was laughable.
I took a long exhale, stirring my coffee.
“So, how long is this gonna last?” I said to Anna, without facing her. She turned to look at me.
“Hm?” I avoided clarifying.
“How long is what going to last?”
I checked my watch.
“You know,” I swallowed. “This. Dad’s practically dead at this point. Let’s just pull the plug already.”
I felt heartless.
“Shit, you say it like he’s not your father,” she said, grimacing.
“You’re the one who said you hated him so much,” I said quietly.
“Hates. I hate him. He’s not dead yet.”
“Well, I guess we’ve all got something we’re waiting for.”
I checked my watch. It was late. There were too many people in the waiting room.
I inhaled and shut my eyes. Anna took my hand in hers.
“Stop crying,” he spat. “Crying makes you look weak.” I moved quickly, panicking. I’d had nightmares about this moment, his angry accusation piercing right through me. I don't remember what began the argument; it was something disrespectful that I said. Mental notes of my mistakes were made daily. However, I suppose calling this an “argument” would seem unfit.
I opened my eyes quickly. Anna’s eyes met mine.
“Yeah,” I said. “Just thinking.”
Sometimes I curse at myself for thinking it, but I wish he had a reason or an excuse. That way, I could tell myself, “He only acts this way when he’s been drinking!” Or, “His traumatic childhood affects the way he raises us.” Maybe I’d have been better off wishing him dead.
“You need more coffee?” Anna reached for my cup.
“Sure, thanks.” I handed it to her.
As I waited for Anna, I noticed the others in the waiting room. One man and one woman; both white, both mid-thirties, both with light brown hair and blue eyes – almost certainly siblings. One tired looking middle-aged Asian woman, rubbing her fingers together anxiously. Anna returned with the fresh, watered down coffee. I thanked her and shut my eyes again.
Was this a blessing in disguise? The marks serve as proof. Maybe I’d have something to show for what once only touched my mind. But I knew what I would have done. Some kid I don’t know too well, but well enough to say hello to in the hallways, would ask me what happened to my arm. Nothing, I’d say. I’d say I didn’t remember.
I’d never tried to articulate the feeling of tears welling until now. It could nearly be described as a burning, tingling pain in your face and throat, pushing something metaphorical out of your mouth – pressure on your neck and your conscience; although I suppose that descriptor doesn’t roll off the tongue the way that “a lump in your throat” does.
I took a sip of my coffee, then winced, burning my tongue.
I changed my clothes, put on a coat, and I checked the time. It was late – or early. I gave the mirror one final look and walked out the door. I tripped on a bottle on the sidewalk. The air was cold and I could see my breath. My hands became more freezing with each of the seven minutes it took to reach the hospital.
The waiting room was on the second floor of the hospital. I saw mothers with their children and I saw old women in wheelchairs – some smiling, some not. I climbed the stairs to the second floor and saw Josh to my left with his head buried in his hands. Anna sat beside him with her eyes closed, but noticeably awake. I walked towards Josh quickly and carefully. He lifted his head and held me but I stayed shivering, even in my coat. Anna greeted me and I sat. After a few moments, I asked Josh if it would be appropriate to see his mother, and that I couldn’t imagine how she was feeling. He said fine.
I greeted her.
“Oh, hi Maddie.” She wiped her puffy eyes with a used tissue.
“How are you?” I said slowly.
“I’m not bad,” she responded.
“You don’t exactly look… ‘Not bad’.” I replied gently.
“I really am alright, sweetheart. Thank you for asking. I honestly don’t know why I’m crying.” She laughed pleasantly.
“That’s good to hear.”
I left the room and returned to the waiting room, sitting beside Anna while Josh napped two seats down.
“How was she doing? I haven’t had the chance to talk to her much.” Anna told me.
“Surprisingly well. She said she didn’t know why she was crying, which confused me.”
Anna rubbed her hands together.
“Surprising for you.” She laughed softly in the way that you would when something’s not actually funny.
“What does that mean?”
“I don’t think she’s all that sad. Dare I say she’s relieved? No one likes my dad all that much. I think she thought she loved him despite the terror and abuse, but she can’t deny being a little thankful.”
“Maybe she cried because she was warming herself after having been cold for so long,” I said, without thinking. Anna looked at me for a moment, and then almost smiled.
I woke up to Madeline tapping me, and myself being irritated.
“Madeline, I was sleeping for fuck’s sake,” I muttered, rubbing my eyes.
“I know. I was hoping we could talk,” she replied, almost inaudibly.
“I’ll talk to you if you speak up; I can barely hear you.”
“Yeah, sorry.” Her voice started to shake, and I sighed. I could tell Anna was listening in.
She began again, a little louder this time.
“I was talking to your mom earlier,” she said. “She said she was alright.”
I checked my watch.
“I also talked to Anna,” she said, even louder. She reached forward when she said it, as if she was worried I wouldn’t catch it.
“Alright. I can hear you.” I was irritated by her slowness.
“She said she wasn’t surprised about it – that your mother thought she loved your father through his mistreatment.”
“Yeah, he was a pretty mean guy. I still think she loved him though,” I was frustrated that she thought she knew more about my family than I did.
“Are you cold?” I reached for her hand, and she stayed still.
“Yeah, it’s cold in here.”
“Yeah, it is.”
“Yeah, it’s cold,” she paused. “And I can’t be with you anymore.”
Josh cried for the first time in a long time. His hands were so cold.
I walked home and realized it was light out. I sat on my bed as my tears filled the room, and I began to bathe in them. I saw inches, then feet. The tears were not warm anymore – they were cold. Freezing, in fact. The tears drained within a few hours and I dried myself with a towel. My hands were warm.