“I’m nearby and thought I’d come visit you tonight – ” she warbled, “unless, of course, it’s not a good time.”
I looked around my hospital room. Butterfly balloons dangled in the corner. The collage I’d brought from home for inspiration just opposite me, taped to the closet door. Medical supplies left here and there by a hurried nurse. The smell of loneliness is lost in hospitals, amidst more pervasive aromas.
Adam was going to come by later, but somehow I felt that whomever wanted to visit should come. It took such effort and desire for someone to make the trip, park, find the room…. I appreciated it. I stacked up visits against possible future loneliness. Though I really didn’t know her so well. “Sure, come Rosalia! I’d love to have you! Adam will be here later too but the more the merrier.”
The wound from my surgery ached as I lay as still as possible under the bedding. I was bored, but my body was definitely living at a different pace than my mind.
“O.K!” she said with a breathy intensity, “I’ll be there soon. I want to pick up some things for you to eat. Do you like gaspacho?”
She bustled into the room carrying the largest bouquet of flowers one could imagine. It was a very expensive kind of flower, lilies with spots. I didn’t know the name of them.
“How beautiful —-” I began.
“Let me put this stuff down somewhere!” she interrupted, flowing across the room, in and around me and Adam. (We’d been waiting for an hour, trying to decide when to take my eagerly-anticipated wheel down to the lobby to hear Adam play piano for a while.)
“Here, I’ll move this,” said Adam, taking a pile of books off a chair, “And this.” He shoved a pile of soap bottles into a corner, clearing the window sill. Rosalia dropped two shopping bags onto the chair and leaned into the window sill to sit.
“I want to arrange these,” she said, gesturing at the flowers she’d set in the sink. She’d brought a high glass vase with the flowers. “You can keep the vase!” she assured me.
Finally, divesting herself of her burdens, she reached out to hug me.
“You know Adam?” I said.
“No – but nice to meet you,” she said looking at my best friend with a smile.
She never stopped moving or talking. I’d forgotten how much energy and space she took up. She was someone I didn’t know well. And yet, she was here. Who knows the reasons certain people cross your path at crucial moments? Out of all the things she could have done that night, she’d come to visit me. I was touched.
Rosalia began emptying the shopping bags. “Do you like chocolate? Here are two kinds, ginger and bittersweet and milk chocolate with orange peel. Whichever you don’t want, I’ll take. Now gaspacho, there were several types, so I got you both.”
There were more treasures to unbag. I crooned over each appreciatively. Some of Rosalia’s choices were rather odd for one hospital-bound. Very gourmet though! Adam, love that he is, kept making more room for things. He tends to be quiet anyway. Except when he plays. How deeply and thoughtfully he expresses then.
Rosalia’s gloriously arranged lilies reached across the room and met my collage in a voyage of color.
Later, with difficulty I got out of the bed and into the wheelchair and pushed my way down the hall with my friends. “Why don’t you let me help push you?” Rosalia asked.
“I could use a little exercise,” I answered. “The halls are so flat here. It’s really not too hard.”
She seemed a little disappointed. She wanted to give with both hands all the time.
I remembered how poor she’d been a few years ago, not being able to find a job for almost a year. Now she was extravagant. Warm blood rushed to my heart. Her touch on my shoulder.
The lobby of the hospital was sealed off with yellow tape except for one narrow pathway which we took. It was Sunday night and they were cleaning. Mops and Hispanic men. Those metal squeeze buckets. Here and there a lilt of Spanish and someone laughing. Mostly though it was quiet in the great hall which generally billowed with the commerce of life and death.
The piano stood in a nook waiting for us patiently. It had recently been donated to the hospital to enhance the atmosphere. Every now and then, a patient would come and play it. Rosalia stood on one side of Adam and I sat in my chair on his other side. There was a book of hymns on the music holder.
“Convenient huh?” I said, “How about we sing a hymn?”
“I love hymns!” exhorted Rosalia. “Do you know Amazing Grace?” Adam had learned Amazing Grace with his mother’s milk. But “sure,” said Adam easily, and played it as if it were the first time. We sang together. We sang Amazing Grace plus How Great thou Art, For the Beauty of the Earth, On the Wings of a Snow White Dove and Day by Day.. At first Rosalia’s voice was quite sweet and in-tune. But as we went along, she warmed up. Clearly, she loved to sing. Her voice grew as loud as her personality. And the louder she sang, the more out of tune she was. Her voice grated abrasively. And the happier she looked.
Adam glanced at me with a small smile. We’d sung together for years and a harmonious sound was so important to both of us. I knew how much we both were sticklers for intonation. But he played right along. I’m sure he felt as I did — that all bets were off –on a Sunday night, the week after surgery, in an empty hospital lobby with no one but the mops and brooms as audience. Rosalia’s unabashed pleasure, her pinking cheeks, her swishing tunic, her generous heart filled the emptiness of the hall. Old men whispering amongst themselves on their breaks turned towards the sound. Night folded over us like a blanket.
Day by day, day by day,
Oh dear Lord, three things I pray.
See thee more clearly,
Love thee more dearly,
Follow Thee more nearly day by day…