“Please excuse me, I’m not making sense, it must just be stress, but I likely shouldn’t be here, I’m such a mess, I never really ever know what to say, when I let my emotions get in the way, and I’m just trying to get us on the same page, I always get it better right afterwards, when all my wrong impressions are said and heard, how come I can never find the right words to say.”
–The Listening, LIGHTS
I don’t even know how to describe this last day. Just another Tuesday spent volunteering at the children’s hospital, one of the few times I actually get out of the house.
The bus ride there is nothing special. I have a paper scrap left in my bag from the last origami rose I made, and I neatly tear off a square to fold a origami sea urchin in order to pass the time. Once I get off the bus and start walking to the volunteer office, I leave my creation on one of the light posts sticking up from the sidewalk where the wet grass is being cut, in hopes of finding it there the next day or having someone take it. It’s something I can control in this hectic world, so even if it’s insignificant, I take control.
I spend my morning telling people “Good morning” next to the elevators whether people wanted to hear it or not, and smiling to the point that my cheeks hurt afterwards. A task of greeting strangers with generic words and demanding a response from them. Perhaps I should forgive those who don’t respond due to more pressing issues on their mind, or those who are just socially awkward (I know what it feels like, personal experience.) However, Rose, the young, heavily styled and charismatic Hispanic lady with us at the information desk tells me about her personal experience as a greeter, as we are called.
When Rose first started her job, she was to “greet people, and not worry if they didn’t respond.” She ignored the latter half. Whenever someone didn’t return her “Good morning,” she would snap back and say “Excuse me, I said ‘Good morning'” One day, a man responded to her retort with, “I’m sorry, I had a lot on my mind. I should say ‘Good morning’ more often.” Everyone around her was silent. As the man walked into the elevator and the doors closed, someone nudged her and asked, “Do you know who that was?” to which she replied, “No.” Turns out, he was the president of the entire hospital. And Rose just spoke to him with an attitude. Not good.
The next day, when he walked past, she quietly flushed and apologized to the man now known to be the president. Instead of being mad at Rose though, he thanked her, telling her that it really was his problem and that he needed to be returning peoples’ “Good morning”‘s and saying it himself more often. Just some food for thought.
Upon hearing this story, I have the urge to release some of my own sass, yet I know I don’t have the nerve to. Instead, I press some of the non-responders with a louder, more demanding “Good morning,” to which most people would respond. If not, Rose quickly follows up with a brighter greeting, and reminds me again to yell in order to be heard. Obviously, I don’t listen to her, but I try projecting my voice without sounding too harsh, interrupting peoples’ conversations, and distracting the multitudes of people walking past with their smartphones poised in front of them. I doubt I have a real impact on anyone’s day, and I’m sure people are responding to me with a certain degree of pity, but hey, there is a niceness in smiling at people for an entire morning, cheek muscle pain aside.
At the end of my shift, I silently walk to the elevator with the other girl at the information desk. We don’t hate each other or anything; we just don’t have anything to talk about. Here I spent an entire morning mindlessly striking up mini-conversations with people I had little in common with, yet I had nothing to say to someone roughly my age. Oh the ironies of life.
As we approach the volunteer office to sign out, she keeps the door open a slight second longer for me and looks back, a small show of friendliness. I lightly whisper a “Thanks” and step into the office to grab my lunch and sign out.
My first stop is McDonalds, which despite having brought my own lunch, I still go by in order to grab a free drink, a small perk of volunteering. The atmosphere is disorganized as usual, with hypothetical lines moving forward as cashiers yell orders and scribble names on receipts.
However, I’m also here for another reason. Our hospital shares this McDonalds with a connecting hospital, and I know some people who volunteer there. At risk of looking like a stalker, I figure my best chances of eating lunch with them is to accidentally on purpose meet them at McDonalds and walk over to where they eat.
Plan goes well. I find a pair of twins wearing purple shirts with whom I ate lunch last week, and I follow them to an open eating area with tall glass windows overlooking the medical center. The large table they occupy typically has been claimed already, so we take a seat at a small 4 person table. While we start eating, the twins obsess over a giveaway that McDonalds is hosting, pulling tabs off of food containers and placing them on a miniature Monopoly board, trying to winx a prize. The only victory is a free breakfast sandwich, a tab which is carefully saved. I eat my sandwich silently, dropping crumbs everywhere, but that’s not really a surprise.
After a few surprisingly unawkward moments, another guy I know walks in, a “friend” in my grade, all sarcasm and quotation marks intended. Nevertheless, I still talk to him regularly, and he joins us at our mini table. After a little talk over where everyone went during lunch from both our hospitals, the topic somehow drifts to math and math club. One of the twins genuinely seems interested, while the other twin’s impression of math club is based off of Mean Girls . However, once I start getting into the details of how the club actually works and the difficulty of the problems (because I can only remember the questions I can’t solve) , they kind of lose interest. Not their fault.
Then I realize that I overstayed my lunch break because the other volunteers have half an hour longer. I immediately leave in the middle of the conversation and try finding my way back into familiar territory. As I step in the elevator though, another person follows me.
Since anyone reading this either knows me really well or doesn’t know me at all, let’s call this person James. I assume that he’s going to his shift as well, until he tells me that he’s following me to mine since “They aren’t expecting me until [20 minutes later]”
Let me put this straight. A guy. Following me. I was a teenage girl. I was feeling slightly crazed.
Anyways, after walking past the hospital’s famous and elaborate train set, going past a gift shop window with chubby and adorable and spherical stuffed animals, climbing 6 flights of stairs, because the elevators were too crowded, checking out a carousal horse next to the elevators we were supposed to take, and warning James multiple times that he probably wasn’t welcome at a clinic waiting room, (“I’m just a visitor who dresses in purple polos and khakis. There’s nothing wrong with that.”) we arrived at my shift location.
I decided to act like nothing was wrong and went to the back to prepare my initial round of passing out coloring sheets, making sure to stock up on crayons and designs for both girls and boys. I take the long way around the waiting room to distribute the pages and then stop by James and as a joke, offer him a girly coloring sheet, insisting that all guys like Hello Kitty. Surprisingly, he takes it, along with a pack of four crayons, and starts coloring. I continue with my shift, bringing out a few games and attempt to start a game of Memory with a little boy but end up giving him a generic coloring sheet instead.
Checking up on James, I see that he is actually coloring the lovely Sanrio symbol, although he made the feline’s skin tone yellow. I guess there aren’t too many choices when there’s only red, yellow, green, and blue crayons, but still. Hello Kitty is WHITE. Aside from that, he’s actually coloring inside the lines. Not something I see often.
I continue giving out coloring pages and offering to play games with little kids, although I’m mentally wondering why the heck James is even here. Then I see that he finished his lovely artwork and was holding up his iPhone to take a picture with it. This act makes me crack up, considering that James is generally known for having a monotonic and dry personality. Taking selfies with Hello Kitty doesn’t seem to fit that mold.
At this point I was trying to engage two brothers in a game of Memory or pick up sticks, and James comes over to hand me his finished coloring sheet. I insist that he take it, while he insists that I take it. In the end, I end up putting it at the bottom of my coloring sheet stack, making a mental note not to give it to another kid.
With nothing else to do, James awkwardly leaves, leaving me to do what I’m actually supposed to be doing– keeping kids occupied in a waiting room. The rest of the afternoon is a normal blur, with me making a mess organizing a paper snowflake activity, playing a few games with kids, and giving high fives to kids who don’t know any better. For the kids who aren’t even old enough to return a high five, I just offer the parents a coloring sheet and leave, feeling ridiculously helpless.
When I restock on coloring sheets later, I take a better look at James’ coloring. I saw earlier that he had adorned the kitty with round glasses, but after spotting a lightning bolt drawn on the forehead, I realize that this was Harry Potter. I’m not sure if this was a reference to the fact that I hadn’t finished the Harry Potter series or just a spontaneous decision. Anyways, I keep it with me as I go around the waiting room.
The rest of my shift goes normally. Failing to get kids to color or even acknowledge me, having kids leave in the middle of half-finished crafts, skipping around from table to table, constantly running to the back to fill up on supplies, and occasionally having a kid stay long enough to finish up their craft.
As usual, I’m not aware of when my shift is supposed to end, and I don’t even bother asking for the time when I realize that the people at the front desk have left, and the custodian has started cleaning up. I quickly finish folding a ninja star I was making with a kid who had to leave and then take a look at the mess I made. I make multiple trips to the trash can to throw away paper scraps and half scribbled-on coloring sheets, marveling at how much paper I used and trying to ignore the fact that the hospital doesn’t recycle due to patient confidentiality issues. The custodian has already cleaned up the mess I left on the other side of the waiting room, making me feel guilty and quickly apologize for the disaster I made her clean.
All during this time, one thought races through my head: the coloring sheet, the coloring. Sure, it was just some colored wax smeared on patterned paper, but it’s the type of thing you’re supposed to keep. And besides, I LIKED IT, despite not being a Harry Potter fan. Now where was it?
I remember leaving my stack of coloring sheets on a table…on the other side of the waiting room…where the custodian already cleaned up. Oh no. As soon as I dump the last pile of paper into the trash, I quickly go over to that table, and boom. It’s spotless, the mini-table and chairs all neatly in their place. Back to the back of the waiting room. Shuffling through the stacks of coloring sheets to see it got lost in there somewhere. No luck.
From this point, my mood drastically shifts to something I can only describe as fragile. Not that it shows. I solemnly shuffle over to the elevators, placing the ninja star on the carousal horse in hopes that a kid will find it. On my way back, I smile to fewer people than normal, but aside from that, I stride normally. (I mean, how many ways can you walk?) I notice a few people who act similarly to me, and I wonder if they’re in a similar condition as me. Today’s not the day to worry about that though. I need to sort out my feelings first.
As I walk to the volunteer office again, another emotion mixes in with my current state: dread. Once my shift is over, I have to go home, where there’s nothing to do. I’d rather stay fragile at the hospital forever than feel worthless at home. While I wait for the bus to come, I contemplate stopping by Starbucks for no reason, (free wifi?) but decide against it because I’m still in uniform and because it’s just delaying the inevitable.
On the bus ride back, I still have some paper left from the morning to fold with. Good thing about starting with a sheet of printer paper– there will rarely be a perfect fit for the paper. I start folding along the line to trim off a square, but then I have an urge to fold a heart– a model which requires a half-square shaped sheet of paper (or two squares, depending on how you look at it.)
The paper is pretty small, and I struggle with some of the finer folds, but I end up with a decent quarter-sized pink heart. The familiar folds slightly ease my fragility, and after I finish, I contemplate what to do with it. Generally, I would leave any creation I make on the seat when I get off the bus, but this heart seems too small to be noticed. Instead, I want to place it somewhere where it looks intentionally placed. Luckily for me, the seats all have a crack on top parallel to the back of the chair, and this heart fits snugly, with just a corner hidden from sight. I place the heart slightly at an angle, and in my mind, it almost looks like a scene that belongs on Tumblr– a close up shot of an askew origami heart placed on a busy environment, highlighting a small piece of beauty in a lopsided world. I attempt to take a picture with my phone, but I literally have the worst smartphone ever designed, so the picture turns out blurry and the shaky bus doesn’t help. Worse, my phone makes a loud shutter noise that can be heard even over the roar of the bus, drawing attention to me and my narcissistic origami ways.
By this time, I’m preparing to get off the bus, feeling slightly solaced by the little pink heart I left atop the seat, but still wondering about James and the coloring sheet. I don’t want to call it a crush, but I kind of did miss him, the same way you miss a funny conversation with a friend. I hadn’t met anyone I knew well often during the summer, and knowing that I had an hour with people I liked was something to look forward to, even if the person was short and had absolutely no facial expressions whatsoever.
Call me in denial–I’M NOT.
If you actually got in and made it this far, thank you for reading, but I’m not finished yet. This post is already over 2750 words, and I really want to finish it soon