I wanted to drop the basket of goodies into a trash bin. But that might be noticeable. Especially at a hospital, which would seem to make the gesture all the more heinous, when such a kind gift could bring a much-needed smile to any number of people here. I decided to hold onto it, even though it felt heavier as the moments passed. I did, however, make a thin slice of an opening which allowed me to extract and indulge in some sweet treats. And why not? I was hungry and needed something to do. After being involuntarily volunteered to deliver it as one of the last few people present, there wasn’t time to grab dinner on my way here after work before visiting hours ended, and I was sitting out in the hallway waiting for them to leave.
Henry’s family was still in the room. Some of them. I didn't know their direct relations. Just that I would have felt rude interrupting. Taking away their time. However much of it they may or may not have left.
My teeth were wrestling a particularly sticky piece of caramel when I noticed the visitors exiting the room. They didn’t look downtrodden or deflated. They didn’t appear hopeful either. There was no baggage of the past or assumption of the future in their posture. There was just gratitude for the present. A thankfulness for the moment they experienced. A flash in time they will recall with appreciation. The ding of the elevator and the sliding doors welcomed them with open arms to transport them back to their presumably happy lives.
I finished chomping the chewy caramel, and grazed my tongue around my teeth to clear all evidence. A light tug on the plastic wrapping of the goodie basket helped to conceal the small tear I had made. I shifted its position in order to show it had been properly cared for while in my possession, and brushed away some spots of water that clung to the plastic from the rain. These actions were an intentional delay, giving me time to ensure no other visitors would arrive. Once I was confident there weren’t more to come, I rose and approached to take my turn.
Henry was delighted to see me, and the gift basket. I was barely able to find an open space for it among the other gifts that crowded the room. Flowers, balloons, cards. So much color occupied the otherwise bland, institutionalized chamber that was typically devoid of it. I marveled how one person could arouse such a generous outpouring of care and love. But it wasn’t much of a mystery to unravel. Spending a few minutes in a room with Henry was enough to recognize what a pleasant, welcoming, good-humored person he was. Even to someone he didn’t know well. Even someone who worked on the same floor as him but to whom he hardly spoke. Even when surrounded by the machines and the IV drip signaling the ever-present dread of modern medicine flanking the very bed in which he was supposed to find sweet sleep and respite each night. Henry still had a smile and demeanor that would make you believe he was there to cheer you up instead. Yet you were the one who could walk out of there at will.
I explained that the basket was from yet another team at work. As if he needed another basket in here. We chatted briefly about the office and the upcoming milestones on the radar. But Henry waved it off, disinterested in any of that. Which was unfortunate for me, not knowing anything else to talk about. I desperately hoped to God that he didn’t start asking about sports or food or movies, or any of the other things I assumed that friends and generally anybody with social lives discussed. I could talk about pets. Maybe. After all, I often went to the pet rescue place, precariously on the verge of picking out a puppy to take home. Except I always backed out at the last moment. I didn’t need something whining or yelping and distracting me from stuff. Like trying to paint or whatever, or attempting to.
Oh—Henry actually asked for more detail about that. I didn’t realize how much I was saying out loud. Darn that disarming presence of his. Yeah, sure, I do like to paint. But I’m terrible at it. I try to follow these Bob Ross videos online because he seems so peaceful and happy when he does it. So if I can capture a fraction of that, great. I want to be happy like him. I want to be happy like the inanimate objects and landscapes in his paintings. Sure, they don’t have faces, but just a glance at any finished canvas of Bob’s and they all seem to be smiling at you.
Did I say all that out loud again? Yeah, I guess I did.
Henry smiled. But not derisively. He enjoyed listening to me.
So this is Henry. This is the guy who causes so much buzz at the office. This is the guy whose team frequently hovers at the top of the leaderboard. This is the guy who turns a hollow hospital room into a sanctuary of color and hopeful visitors. I had not formally met him before, nothing more than a hello, anyway. And here this guy who had a whole world of things to worry about, besides entertaining a visit from some undistinguished neophyte in his office, seemed genuinely pleased to meet me. I couldn’t remember the last time I talked to someone who was. Even his goodbye felt like a slingshot to my soul that beckoned me to boomerang my way back for another visit soon. And bring one of my paintings so maybe I could show him. Maybe follow a video lesson with him. Did he honestly say that?
The rain fell hard that night. It pelted pavement, rattled windows, and sluiced through the streets. I thought it would be nice to be painting in my apartment and looking out the window. A serene scene where the amber glow of a streetlamp is surrounded by a mist of heaven’s tears. Sure, the rain was heavy. But not in a scary kind of way. More like an oasis in the desert, relief from the drought, we-really-need-this kind of way.
I wasn’t at home to paint it, though. I was still in my car. Sitting in the parking lot outside the hospital. Hearing the heavy pattern of rainfall pelt my car like a hundred hands knocking to be let in from the deluge. Rivers of rainwater swished through the lot, creating pockets and ponds that blasted forth liquid explosions when a car smashed through them. All I could see was water, as streams fell fast from skies and eyes.
I was thinking about my visit with Henry. I felt like I was still standing in the room with him, surrounded by his gifts of love. Somehow simultaneously I felt I was standing in my empty living room trying to manifest a lonely little lake from a paintbrush. While also sitting at my desk looking at the coworkers and cohorts around me, who only knew me in accordance with the location of my cubicle. These are all the different places my mind was floating at that point in time. Which is why my mind wasn’t in the one place it should have been—driving—as my car hydroplaned down the boulevard, shattering through one of those freshly formed ponds and making a bigger splash than any I had seen that night, knocking all those different places out of my head and rolling me into a state of nothingness as the blackout took over.
The shifted weight at the end of my bed stirred my eyes slowly open. Henry’s grin beamed down to me like a faint lighthouse in the distance. One hand rested on his IV stand which he had rolled with him into my room. I appreciated these visits from him, even though it probably hurt for him to trek over here each time. I’m not sure he was supposed to do that, but I bet he can charm any staff nurse through whatever leeway he asks for. My room hardly attracted as many colors as his. But at least I was given the courtesy of my own goodie basket from work. Henry enjoyed telling me that he removed some items from it that he had discovered were suspiciously missing from his own. That wink of his was surely his hypnotic weapon that he used to entrance everyone. But more than the righteously stolen candy, he enjoyed telling my few work visitors that I liked to paint. Something I thought was my own dumb embarrassing secret became a highlight that finally gave them an identity to attach me with. Something to ask me about. Something to cheer me on in my recovery so that I could get back to doing it, and have something in my life that makes me a person to these people instead of another crunched number in the office. And to think that’s all it would have taken. Just a bit of sharing. Not this drastic, desperate moment of self-induced chaos in the hopes that I would discover if anyone truly cared enough about me to visit with a gift basket and add some color to my life.
I cried enough rivers at that moment to rival the fierce flow of the rainstorm that brought me here. At least, I felt better blaming my situation on the outdoor waterworks, as I avoided facing the darker truth.
Henry cried, too. As much as I thought I wanted to be where Henry was, he needed me there more. It turns out I had something else for him that I was holding onto, better than any gift basket. My unadventurous life seldom opened the door to doctor or hospital visits, so I guess it takes a serious accident to discover your rare blood type is exactly the kind of match some hospital residents are hopeful for. He owes me a gargantuan gift basket now. Sometimes things are discovered at the worst, most perfect time.
I know as soon as I can get home, I am going to paint one hell of a radiant rainstorm. It might be ugly. It might be messy. But sometimes that’s all we have. If we endure the rain, we’ll get our green landscape. And it will be glorious.