I glance across the room for the fourth or fifth time, my gaze now well-versed in navigating the handful of plain faces to find the plain clock set against the plain wall. Another 2 minutes have passed since my last journey across the room, which leaves about 1-30 minutes to go, or maybe more. I'm not early; I never would have gotten here early on purpose. If I had, I would have waited in my car where I can somewhat relax. I actually arrived six minutes late, but it didn't matter because there was a complication with the appointment before mine, who had also been late, and I would simply have to wait indefinitely, sorry, according to the slightly ill-tempered man, woman, or otherwise sitting at the desk to my left in what seems a comfortable office chair. The smell of latex and hand sanitizer fills the air, not very strong but not terribly subtle, either.
I left my phone at home, accidentally, and so I am currently occupying myself by flipping a quarter between my knuckles, a trick I practice at times like these. My eyes start to meander around this purgatory without me telling them to, avoiding the plain faces and quickly settling on a potted plant. The plant is in a medium clay pot on a small white table, half brown and half green and half transparent. I don't recognize the species, but I've never made much of an effort to differentiate flora. I can't decide if the unknown plant looks hopeful or depressed; perhaps this room is its purgatory as well, stuck in a limbo between life and death. That's not what purgatory actually is, but the same sentiment applies. I smile to myself, shaking my head imperceptibly; I know what I'm doing. My mind must be working overtime to distract me from what this room means. And I will gladly let it. Having considered all there is to contemplate about the plant's existence, I move on to higher organisms.
There is a girl sitting next to me. A girl can mean so many beautiful, terrible things, but in this case it means innocence. An innocent occupies the chair to my right, identical to mine with the exception of a small tear in the sparsely upholstered arm. She must be here for her parent. The child has five or seven years under her narrow decorative belt, sewn too high on her lavender dress. Her dedication to widening the rip has caught my attention, a true artist lost in her work. The child meticulously separates each faded blue thread from their partners, pulling them back one at a time in either direction. Vertical, horizontal, vertical, horizontal... her process is mesmerizing for a moment or four. Her mother or father or guardian, settled in the chair on the girl's right, notices my interest, and mistaking it for annoyance or judgment, they reprimand the girl. Compliant but unphased, the child directs her powerful attention towards matters confidential to me, and I direct mine back to the clock.
Another five minutes have passed, an accurate term. They're dead and gone. Annoyed again, I wonder for the billionth time why I have to be here when it won't do anyone an iota of good. All of this time and money completely wasted on an unnecessary procedure, especially to an adult. I could be at work, instead of having hours of my day and dollars of my paycheck cut out of my life like... nevermind. I wince, then look around to make sure no one saw. That little everyday word doesn't usually make me so uncomfortable anymore, but these things are amplified in a room like this. I think the child saw my momentary lapse in facade; she seems observant without a task at hand. She says nothing, but I understand her gaze, curious and concerned. I smile, pointing to a paper-induced wound I happened to have on my thumb, and hand her the quarter I had grown tired of fidgeting with. She beams in gratitude, and I can't help letting a more genuine, though more wistful smile loose in response. I try to remember the last time I had smiled like the child just did, so full of unfiltered joy she didn't mind sharing it, unaware that the world wouldn't return the favor. There must have been a time when I was that innocent and happy, but I can't even remember remembering it.
I look at the blank white wall, a canvas for my memories. I see a girl stumble in. A girl can mean so many beautiful, terrible things but in this case it means broken. To anyone else, the hand glued to her stained shirt might suggest she had been shot or stabbed, but I know she has merely cried too hard. She makes her way over to the desk of a larger but identical room, glad to be 18 for the first time since her birthday. Her right hand clutches an early iphone and student ID; her left presses a small towel, once white, to her lower abdomen. The employee on the night shift doesn't waste time with her right hand, but calls a doctor for her left and what it must mean. I close my eyes as she is rushed out of purgatory and into the hell of having to explain why she doesn't need surgery, only stitches. I remember, painfully, that she had lost her virginity that evening, to a boy, because it had become too conspicuous to have never had a boyfriend. I suppose a boy can mean many things, but in this case it means pretending. Once it was over and she was able to go home and be alone, she cried for about 12 minutes in the bathroom. She wept a lot in high school, and seldom from her face. I still can't help crying now, and maybe that's why I'm seeing this girl again. This girl who shed red tears from eyes placed where no one would notice, with tissues resembling band-aids. But this time, her tears were almost more purple than red and her tissue looked a lot like a small towel that went missing from her parents' house, thrown out at the ER they never knew she visited.
I sigh; my mind seems to have given up on distracting me.
I turn to the clock yet again, though counting the minutes is futile when you have no number to reach. I suppose it doesn't matter how many passed. Have died. Two of the plain faces appear to have left purgatory, although I doubt they feel that way about the room. It might be in my head, but that pervasive latex smell is nauseating. My chair has started to feel like an old roller coaster seat: uncomfortable, dangerous, and impossible to get out of until the ride is over. I want to go to the bathroom, or my car, or just step outside for a minute but the invisible bar stops me, trapping me in the way things are supposed to be. My heart beats faster and my hands shake slightly. I close my eyes, taking comfort in the darkness. I pinch the small muscle between my palm and thumb, a POW technique that focuses all pain to one point of the body. I feel like a prisoner again, but I need to remember things are different now. I have the independence and power over myself that come with age. I don't have to let the demon waiting behind one of those doors to the left control me anymore. The imperceptible panic attack has subsided, but a part of my mind tells me I will let the demon win like I always have, that I will let them ruin my life yet again. I shake my head, too perceptibly, attracting glances from the plain faces and the child. I try to ignore them despite their sting, my eyes trying to find a safe surface to land on. They settle on the blank white wall, and my mind starts to paint my memories again.
I see a girl sitting across from me. A girl can mean so many beautiful, terrible things, but in this case it means too many to sum up in any other word. No more than 13, the girl sits on the edge of a chair identical to mine with the exception of its body. She is so tense she may not be sitting at all, but poised a hair above the last few inches of the chair, a prisoner awaiting judgment. Sitting may be giving in, and she needs to stand against the hell behind the door of one of the rooms to the left, against the demon waiting to ruin her life because they don't understand, because no one understands and she will never be able to fully live so why is she trying. Why is she trying? She is so tired of standing and hiding her tears and herself from everyone and she is only 13. She has come so close to giving up, and she is only 13. I wish I could tell her that soon the people in her life now won't matter, soon she will move away, soon she will cry less, soon she will kiss a girl, soon she won't have to see her parents, soon she will find to people to care about, and soon she will be able to open up to them. But 6 or 10 years is not very soon to a 13-year-old, and high school is almost as bad as the hell behind the door. So bad that maybe I would tell her to give up now instead, to run out the door to the right and never go back to her parents' house. To jump or sink or cry her life out her wrists.
I close my eyes, appalled at the thoughts I still haven't gotten rid of. Appalled at how this girl is too young and too old. If she looked up at me, she would see everything; she would melt me down to nothing. But she isn't the type to meet people's gaze. She doesn't want anyone to look at her, because the attention could be negative and any more negative attention could kill her. And for some reason, so deep down she doesn't see it yet, she wants to live.
Tears well up in the eyes on my face, normal tears made of salt and water. I blink them away in a hurry, glancing around to make sure no one saw. No one did. No one ever really sees me. I am too many beautiful, terrible things.