I close the door behind me with a soft click, and look around, searching for my mom. My phone buzzes in my pocket, and I check the screen. It’s from my mom. Meet me in the car, it reads.
A roll of thunder rumbles outside, and as I pass the window, the world outside is dark; ominous. I turn my head back towards the orderly white halls, and the smell of sanitizer and discomfort. Many people dislike hospitals, but to me, they are are almost calming. I love the organization, the order, the predictable patterns of rooms and tiles.
I press the button to the elevator, and wait. The metallic doors slide open, and I walk in.
There are five other people already inside, all pressed towards the edges, leaning against the four walls. Nobody looks up as I enter, and I can feel the heavy silence settle within the elevator.
Seconds feel cruelly elongated.
The elevator glides smoothly downwards, toward the lobby.
And then there is the sharp jerk; the abrupt stopping; the creaking of chains straining to stop the heavy weight of the elevator.
The lights flicker, and then decide on darkness.
“Fuck,” someone says.
“Just wait,” another answers. “The power went out. The generator will come on soon,”
I hear ragged breathing, and soon, I realize it becomes more exaggerated.
“Help,” she whispers. “I’m claustrophobic.”
For a moment, no one answers.
“It’s ok. Here, to take your mind off things we can all say a few things about ourselves,” I hear myself say. “I guess I’ll start. My name is Anne, and I’m in highschool.” Did I really just give away personal information to strangers in an elevator? I almost choke on my disbelief. I feel my self-hatred burn in the pit of my stomach.
“My name is Pete, and I’m in my first year of college. Sorry for swearing earlier,” Pete says.
“My name is Rachel, and I’m a mom. I’m a little older than you guys,” she giggles apprehensively.
“My name is Frank. Still in middle school,” a gruff voice from the corner says.
“My name is Sarah, and I’m in college too,” gasps the claustrophobic girl.
“My name is Carl, and I’m an older man. Been alive for a while,” Carl rasps.
In the blanket of darkness, I should feel doubt, doubt for the truth that lies in what these people say. But for some odd reason, I feel safe, reassured.
Minutes pass by, and I can feel Sarah’s shudders in the walls of the elevator. I hear muffled sobs form where, I guess, Sarah is resting.
“Help! Help! I can’t take this, oh my god. It’s so dark and so small. I can’t do this…” Her voice trails off into louder sobs.
“Come here, honey. Come here,” Rachel says. Her voice is soothing and soft. “I want each one of you to tell Sarah about your life, who you are, some important things about you and so on…” says Rachel.
No one says anything.
“Please,” Rachel begs.
Pete goes first. “I don’t know if any you guys saw, but I’m a black man. And I’m proud of who I am. Throughout my childhood, my mama an’ pop was always hiding me, hiding who I am. They knew I was real smart, and capable of great things, but they knew my color would be the downfall of me. They always sent me to them colored schools, and never to them real good schools, where I shoulda been. I was acing each and every one of them colored school tests with no problem, an’ I wanted something harder. So I ran away from my parents, the only people that loved me on this earth. I lived with my friend from the next town over. I applied to all them white schools, and got rejected each time ‘cause of my color. I was so sad I started up on all them crazy ass drugs that eat your brain away slowly but surely over time. I got so addicted, I spent all my money there. I stole from my friend, and eventually he kicked me outta his house. So I lived on the streets for a while, pickpocketing money for food and heroin. One april night I shot too much heroin, and passed out on the street. A girl picked me up and bring me here. I recovered, thank god, and since I ain’t been doing no heroin. I started dating that girl, the one who saved my life. We got married last year. I be here today for my check-up, making sure I recovered fully from that overdose. See, life now is real good compared to what it was like back then. An’ I worked for it. An’ now look where I am,”
I smile in the darkness. This guy amazes me. I can’t believe what he’s been through, and yet he’s still alive and well.
One person starts to clap, and then we all join in. Soon we’re whooping and patting Pete on the back, somehow in the darkness. Pete protests, but soon accepts the kind gestures.
“Ok, Ok,” he finally says. “Rachel, how ‘bout you go next?”
“Well, as you all know I’m a mom. I have two sons at home, and I live for them. I love them so much, and I don’t know where I’d be without them. My husband died two years ago, in a fire. He was a fireman. I miss him so badly, every little part of my burns with grief. He was an amazing man and I really, really wish my sons could have gotten to known him better. They’re only toddlers now. But life goes on, with or without my Danny. And I still had to take care of my sons in the following months without the love of my life. So I pushed through, because I love my sons so much. And here I am today, because my Dad had major heart surgery. Right before I came into this elevator, I found out the surgery went well, and he was going to be fine. It’s such a great feeling knowing he’s going to be alright,”
We all murmur our sympathies for losing her husband, and our happier comments and best wishes for her father. Sarah’s whimpers are much quieter now, and I can feel everybody starting to relax more.
“Well, I guess I better go next. As you all know, my name is Carl. I am a contractor, and I love my job. But, as I get older, it gets harder and harder for me to do my job easily. Anyway, I’m here today because…” his voice breaks. “Because...my wife, Rosa, was sick with kidney cancer. She died this morning,” At this point, I hear him cry out in agony and grief, and I feel struck by his emotions. A lone tear rolls down my cheek, and I hear other sniffles too. “Anyway, that’s enough about me. Someone else should go,” Carl says. I feel myself get and move towards his voice. I find his old, weathered body and embrace him. The others do this too, like it’s necessary to keep the sad bones of this man together.
Frank goes next. “I was sent here by my parents. They think there is something wrong with me, even though there isn’t anything wrong with me. I’m gay. And they think that means something inside of me is horribly wrong, but it isn’t. They don’t understand that I’m just a fucking boy, like the rest of them. I’m human, and I don’t understand why they can’t accept me for who I am. I get that it’s against their religion, but shouldn’t their son come before some fucking religious beliefs? I have a boyfriend from school, and he’s the best thing that ever happened to me. He takes care of me when I’m too broken to work, and he pumps me up even more when I’m happy. I really do love him, and they just can’t understand that. You can’t pray the gay out of me. It’s a part of who I am, and no intensive therapy will fix that. You can’t fix what’s not broken,”
“Amen, man. Preach it,” says Pete.
“Your parents don’t deserve such a strong kid like you. You’ve really got something, son,” says Carl.
“Sorry for ranting. Sometimes I just get carried away with the amount of anger inside of me,” Frank says.
Sarah’s weak voice rises from her place next to Rachel. “Well, as you’ve all probably figured out, I’m claustrophobic,” says Sarah. “I’m here today because my twin brother is having a huge brain surgery, and I have to be here for him. As kids, we had no parents to care for us. We don’t know anything about them, at all. So we travelled from foster home to foster home. And through all the tough times, we always had each other. I couldn’t imagine going through the foster system alone. Anyway, a month ago he was hit by a drunk driver. He seriously injured his head, and since then he’s had multiple surgeries to minimize the damage that’s been done. He’s been doing a lot better. He got his speech back, which is great. I love him, and I couldn’t live without him.”
“That’s really amazing that you two care about each other so much,” Rachel says.
“Thanks,” Sarah whispers. Only in the elevator, the sound echoes.
“I guess it’s my turn,” I say. “Please don’t freak out when I say this, or treat me like I’m some maniac or freak. But two weeks ago I tried to kill myself. I tried overdosing on sleep medication, but my mom found me passed out on the bathroom floor with a suicide note in my hand. I was immediately rushed to this hospital and put on medication which reverses the effect sleep medication has. I barely survived. My parents had no idea what depression even was before this whole incident. They weren’t aware with the stuff that was going on in my head every day. You’re probably wondering why I tried to kill myself. I’m afraid to die, like most people are. I hate the thought of death, the idea that one day I just simply will not exist. And I would ask myself why live, when death is inevitable anyway? Why try to put death off longer when it’s going to happen either way? I want to be in control of my life, or in this case my death. So I attempted suicide because I will face death somehow, and I would rather it be when I decide to die, than the eventual, natural deterioration of my body. Like Kurt Cobaine said, I’d rather burn out than fade away,”
“Wow. I’d never thought of it that way,” says Frank.
“It’s all in my head. And I’m here today for therapy like you Frank, just for something else,” I say.
It feels good to be so open, to share such painful information with these people.
I hear a deep hum surround us, and for a second, I’m confused.
And then the lights flicker on and all at once I am presented with the appearance sof these people, the people that I now know so much about.
There is Carl, an old man, with a balding head and a wrinkled body, with a kind, sad look in his old brown eyes.
There is Rachel, a short, strong woman, with mousy brown hair and electric blue eyes that emit a strong energy.
There is Frank, a lanky, tall and awkward boy, or teenager; he is still in the transition stages of his life.
There is Sarah, a stunningly beautiful woman, with a tan complex and straight black hair. Her makeup is smudged and streaked from her anguished tears.
There Pete, a muscular black man, with earnest, determined eyes. He smiles at me, and it is his smile that I treasure in my memories.
We all get up and hug each other, cry with each other, laugh with each other. It is in these moments that I realize that the human race is all the same underneath, no matter what perspective you may come from. It feels like I’ve known these people for years, not minutes. I am taken aback by the power that the conversations we had contained. In such a short time we had gained so much knowledge from each other, and from ourselves.
The elevator buttons start to light up too, and we unravel our embraces and straighten up, ready to enter the outside world.
“I wish the best of luck to all of you,” Carl says.
We all nod. We all know that we will never see each other again, and I do not know how to feel about this. This experience has changed all of us in such away words cannot describe.
The elevator dings, and the metallic doors slide open once again.
I slip into the hospital lobby and shudder, for it is much cooler out here than in the elevator. For a fleeting moment I wish for the warmth of the elevator, for the warmth of the five other people inside. But the electricity is back on, and the hospital is bustling once again. I reach the front doors of the hospital and look back, to find no one from the elevator. They have all dissipated into the sea of people with a purpose, and I linger at the door, with a slight smile on my face.
I turn to leave, for life must go on.