by Noah Rosenberg, SOM ’12
Grand Prize Winner 2010 Gerald F. Berlin Creative Writing Award
Walking to the hospital each morning,
I pass the Leahy Juvenile Detention Center,
its high walls shielding me
from the gnawing winter wind.
I imagine the young men,
confined to their cells
like so many feared worker bees.
I step over a dead tabby cat,
who chose as its final resting place,
the one-foot wide path
between troubled boys
and a sodden marsh.
Why, Mr. Leahy,
did you want your name
on such a place?
The snow is melting now.
One day, I notice it on the path:
a small bit of honeycomb,
no larger than a silver dollar.
I don’t remember seeing it there,
before the snow.
I want to pick it up,
but it looks brittle, gray, and friable,
like so much of this winter world.
I gaze skyward,
expecting a hive,
but glimpse only the shiny razor wire
atop the center’s cinderblock walls.
There’s that feeling,
as if the universe placed this fragile trinket
to make me stop in just this spot.
Then I see him:
a brown-skinned boy,
from behind his Plexiglas prison window.
Our eyes meet,
and I tell him I’m sorry.
Sorry for the winter,
sorry for the gray,
sorry for the cinderblocks,
and for the razor wire.
Sorry for the cold.
I want to stay,
open a book outside his window,
and read to him.
Let him hear the voices
of characters who’ve righted troubled boys
since boys were troubled.
Let him imagine
places we will never go.
Let him forget
instead of be forgotten.
I’ll take the job, but I don’t think I’m gonna like it–
that’s what I told my boss when she hired me.
I started out part-time, per diem, in case I hated it,
filling in when another nurse got sick or had a family emergency.
That was two and a half years ago, and I’m still here,
eatin’ my words every day,
because hospice is the best damn job I’ve ever had.
At first, ya know, I thought the patients would depress me.
The dying and the pain,
I thought it’d be impossible not to take that home,
no matter how hard I tried.
Then I found out that these are some of the nicest,
most grateful patients & families you’ll ever meet.
There’s this one elderly woman,
she’s always smiling when she opens the door
with something delicious in her hand.
No matter how bad
she’s about to tell me things have gotten,
she greets me every time with a smile and food.
She’s dying, they’re all dying–
have less than six months to live in most cases–
and here they are,
nicer than any patient I ever saw in a hospital.
Your usual hospital patient,
they wait all of 15 minutes,
and they’re fuming by the time you get them in the exam room.
That’s white coat syndrome:
nobody’s scared of the hospital or doctors,
they’ve got high blood pressure because they’re all so pissed off.
But the hospice patient is different,
they’d wait all day if they had to.
For most of them,
each minute in that waiting room is sacred,
a gift that no one had to give.
You’d think having your time limited like that
would make you even crazier to protect it–
I’m talking stage 3 hypertension here–
but it doesn’t.
Even though their time is limited,
their appreciation of it is expansive.
Six months after I started,
my boss said she’d make me full-time.
After two and a half years
and two and a half kids (one’s still in the oven),
I’m still part-time,
and that’s the way I want it.
I spend four days outta the week with my kids.
I stand in the doorway of my son’s room,
watching him while he naps,
watching his chest rise and fall,
his head too big for his body,
and his drowsy eyes when he awakens.
That’s my favorite part of the day,
and I can’t give up that moment.
I figure, if my patients are gonna take it day by day,
I might as well too.