My eyes flicker open.
I can see.
No, not see like I did before. When the ceiling was blurry and my groping fingers couldn’t find the contacts. Not when I had to squint to view the stick figures on the construction paper cards. Not when I groped along the hospital floor, towards the square of light in the doorway. The doorway he had stood in.
I looked up, into the mirror above the desk.
My eyes are hazel, the brighter shade that sometimes looks like dark blue and other times like a dirty brown-green color–like the Atlantic ocean.
I can look at them now, and smile.
My fingers run along the edge of the desk, positioned near the window in the office. The trees outside are stripped of leaves, the lawn mower has long been pushed into the garage, and the heater is turned on. I move my sock-clad feet–one black, one neon pink–over the vent, feeling the rush of 74 degree air, and sigh with delight.
“Ma’am.” The receptionist pokes her head around the glass door. “Your client is waiting.”
“My client?” I chuckled a little, smoothing my flyaway hair back into place. At her quizzical look, I wave my hand to dismiss the comment. “Sorry…took a little nap there. The meds make me tired.”
“Gotcha.” She nods, slowly. “Well anyway, your person is here. In the auditorium.”
“Why in there?”
The receptionist shrugs, and I follow her out the door, down the hallway, and onto the stage. Only the first ring of spotlights is on. I can see the shadowy balcony above, an open door near the sound booth, and the first twelve or so rows out from the stage before the rest fades into the backdrop.
In the first row, right at the end, sits a little girl.
She pulls her knees up to her waist. Both legs are clad in poodle pajama bottoms, and there is a green too-big T-shirt hanging around her shoulders. She is thin…fragile…her light brown cheeks are hollow while her eyes bulge out. They are dark…dark eyes. Like the nurse’s used to–….I pause to correct myself…like my mother’s used to be…
“Are you the…pastor?”
Her voice has more depth than I imagined.
“Haha, nooo. I’m the old pastor’s daughter.”
“Oh.” She runs her hands up and down her legs and stares up at the podium. As if it were the gateway into heaven. I can see her eyes dancing around the room curiously. Her fingers move up and down on her pant legs. Nervous.
“Your daddy died, didn’t he?”
“Almost a year ago.” I nod. “Him and my mom. At the same time.”
“Oh.” She says again. Her fingers move faster over the fleece.
“Do you think,” she interrupted, “that he went….went to the kingdom?”
“The one he was always talking about. You know…your dad? He…he said the kingdom was coming…”
A scene entered my mind. The nurse, who I later learned was my own mother, was killed by the vengeful hand of a man I never knew was watching me. I didn’t know their whole story, or why he felt the need to plan a hospital massacre that almost included me. Heck, I don’t even know why neither one of them were a conscious part of my life. I never cared much about knowing my parents, but as I saw them on the white tiles that day, bleeding…my mom from the gun wound, and my dad from the security officer’s well-aimed bullet…at that moment I wished I would have cared more.
The little girl’s eyes follow me. “I want to go there. To the kingdom. Right now. I’m sick you know.”
I remember the day the “Make a Wish” people came to my room…what I told them. My dream.
Stepping carefully down from the stage, I walk across the carpet and kneel in front of her chair, taking her cold hand in mine. “Look at me. What do you see?”
“You look sad.”
“Uhmmmm. No. I was sad for a long, long time because I was sick like you….and I…” My voice catches, and I can hear the old raspiness returning. “I wanted to die.”
“You have pretty eyes.” She tilts her head to the side. Her T-shirt sags in the direction of her movement, sliding down to reveal bare shoulder. “I wanna draw them.” She pulls a folder from the next chair and opens it up. Construction Paper. Crayons. A black pen to outline with.
My eyes blur with tears.
“I like drawing.” She remarks. A straight line, then two attached diagonal lines, pointing down, then two more diagonals, pointing up. A stick figure. She moves her hand around, and a couple strokes later, there is another stick figure. The black pen seems to glow against the yellow paper. She picks up a blue crayon and starts coloring in blue jeans on me, then grasps a pink one to represent her poodle pants. “When your mommy and dad died, did you wanna go see them?”
I bite my lip. “Yes.”
“Why didn’t you do it?”
I sigh. She knows too much already. This is why her poor worried mother set up an appointment for her….the nine year old is talking suicide here. I let her continue drawing for a few more minutes, trying to collect my thoughts, trying to remember why I never killed myself…
I pick up the pen and twirl it between my fingers. “Because of them.”
“Your mommy and dad?”
“You know what? I’m going to show you.”
“Here they are.”
She stands in the middle of the office, looking at the wall across from the desk, wide-eyed. “Wow.”
Everywhere, covering almost every portion of the white paint, are pictures. There is one of my dad and my mom, his green eyes matching her brown ones as they smile at each other while laying in the grass. A picture of me that the nurse took…bald…hooked up to an IV machine…pale. A couple of the construction paper cards, stained at the edges with vomit. A doodle of an eye on a sticky note. A signed page from the dedication to my dad’s book.
“I don’t have pictures like this,” she says. “Does that mean that I don’t have THEM?” Her fingers tap against her pant legs again.
I sit on the floor. I rub my stocking feet across the carpet. She sits beside me and leans against the desk for support.
I sigh. “Everyone has them. Everyone has pictures like these. Maybe not printed out, like mine are. But inside, they’re there. All the things I’m afraid of. All the things I don’t want to remember. I keep them here, as ugly as they are, because they remind me that the kingdom isn’t here. I mean, there’s more to life than these things.” I look at her, feeling like I am making no sense at all. She listens intently, brown eyes trained on my face. “Alot of people don’t want to see this part of me. But when you get close to me, you can see those things.” I wave at the pictures. “When you get close, you can see them.”
The girl smiles and leans closer to me, her dark brown eyes dancing with warmth. “Like this close?” I smile. She scrunches her nose up, fascinated, and leans in more. “Like this close?”
She laughs outright and pressed her brown nose against my white one. “Like this close?”
I sigh. “No.” I pull her into an embrace, and she rests her head on my shoulder. “Like this close.”
I hold her there, for a couple moments. Listening to the wind outside. Listening to the secretary’s heels in the hallway. Listening to her breathe.
“Can you see my pictures when you look at me?” Her voice is muffled, mouth buried in my sweater.
“Yeah, yeah I can.” I pat the sparse hair on her head.
“I don’t think I want to die.”
I let out an unintentional gasp and squeeze her closer. Her shoulders heave against mine, and tears sprinkle my neck. And as she sobs, uncontrollably, I remember what her mother told me. A year to live….a year to live…a year to live in despair? Or a year to live with hope of something better? I think she has chosen the latter…
“Hey.” I pull her away from me.
“I wanna see my mommy.” She says.
“Ok.” I nod and hand-in-hand, we walk toward the door. She opens the knob, slips through the crack, but before she is all the way out, she stops. Reaches back her hand. A yellow piece of construction paper. “Here, it’s for you.”
I swallow. Barely manage to mouth a thank you before the door closes and me and them are in the room alone once more.
There are two stick figures on the paper. I flip it over. Two more?
I close my eyes, feeling the weight of realization. On one side…my parents…on the other side…me and the little girl.
I look at the figure that symbolizes me. She has brown hair, and an explosion of crayon from the side of her head that symbolizes my ponytail. She has blue jeans and a navy sweater. I move my finger across the paper, feeling its sandpaper-like texture, until I reach my character’s blank face. The girl hadn’t taken time to draw the eyes after all.
But I do now.
After I’m done, I turn around, trying to find a space for the portrait on my wall. But which side should I present? My parents… or me and my little friend?
Which reminder of them?
I really don’t know.
I set the paper back on the desk, and as I do, I catch a glimpse of my face in the mirror.
My eyes, hazel colored.
My eyes, wet with tears.
My eyes, no longer blind.
And I smile.
After all, that’s where they are.
That’s where my demons hide….