Ana shows up in a flurry of panic. I don’t know what the man in the red tie has told her. He stands to greet her as she runs toward me. I can see them talking but I can’t hear them. they speak only for a second before she runs to my side, puts her arms around me. I let her arms fall where she puts them, but I have no energy to hug back. this is the dead fish of hugs. she whispers, “I’m sorry,” into my ear, and I crumble into her arms.
I have no will to hold myself up, no desire to hide my pain. I wail in the waiting room. I sob and heave into her br**sts. any other moment of my life, I’d move my head away from that part of her body. I’d feel uncomfortable with my eyes and lips being that close to a sexual body part, but right now, sex feels trivial and stupid. It feels like something idiots do out of boredom. those happy teenagers probably do it like sport.
Her arms around me don’t comfort me. the water springs from my eyes as if I’m forcing it out but I’m not. It’s just falling on its own. I don’t even feel sad. this level of devastation is so far beyond tears, that mine feel paltry and silly.
“Have you seen him, elsie? I’m so sorry.”
I don’t answer. We sit on the floor of the waiting room for what seems like hours. sometimes I wail, sometimes I feel nothing. Most of the time, I lie in ana’s arms, not because I need to but because I don’t want to look at her. eventually, ana gets up and rests me against the wall, and then she walks up to the nurses’ station and starts yelling.
“How much longer until we can see Ben ross?” she screams at the young latina nurse sitting at her computer.
“Ma’am,” the nurse says, standing up, but ana moves away from her.
“No. don’t ma’am me. tell me where he is. let us through.” the man in the red tie makes his way over to her and tries to calm her down.
He and ana speak for a few minutes. I can see him try to touch ana, to console her, and she jerks her shoulder out of his reach. He is just doing his job. everyone here is just doing their job. What a bunch of ass**les.
I see an older woman fly through the front doors. she looks about sixty with long, reddish brown hair in waves around her face. she has mascara running down her cheeks, a brown purse over her shoulder, a blackish brown shawl across her chest. she has tissues in her hands. I wish my grief were composed enough to have tissues. I’ve been wiping snot on my sleeves and neckline. I’ve been letting tears fall into puddles on the floor.
She runs up to the front desk and then resigns herself to sit. When she turns to face me briefly, I know exactly who she is. I stare at her. I can’t take my eyes off of her. she is my motherin-law, a stranger by all accounts. I saw her picture a few times in a photo album, but she has never seen my face.
I remove myself and head into the bathroom. I do not know how to introduce myself to her. I do not know how to tell her that we are both here for the same man. that we are both grieving over the same loss. I stand in front of the mirror and I look at myself. My face is red and blotchy. My eyes are bloodshot. I look at my face and I think that I had someone who loved this face. and now he’s gone. and now no one loves my face anymore.
I step back out of the bathroom and she is gone. I turn to find ana grabbing my arm. “you can go in,” she says and leads me to the man in the red tie, who leads me through the double doors.
The man in the red tie stops outside a room and asks me if I want him to go in with me. Why would I want him to go in with me? I just met this man.this man means nothing to me. the man inside this room means everything to me. Nothing isn’t going to help losing everything. I open the door and there are other people in the room, but all I can see is Ben’s body.
“Excuse me!” my mother-in-law says through her tears. It is meek but terrifying. I ignore it.
I grab his face in my hands and it’s cold to the touch. His eyelids are shut. I’ll never see his eyes again. It occurs to me they might be gone. I can’t look. I don’t want to figure it out. His face is bruised and I don’t know what that means. does that mean he was hurt before he died? did he die there alone and lonely on the street? oh my God, did he suffer? I feel faint. there’s a sheet over his chest and legs. I’m scared to move the sheet. I’m scared that there is too much of Ben exposed, too much of him to see. or that there is too much of him that is gone.
“Security!” she calls out into the air.
As I hold on to Ben’s hand and a security guard shows up at the door, I look at my mother-in-law. she has no reason to know who I am. she has no reason to understand what I am doing here, but she has to know I love her son. that much has to be obvious by now.
“Please,” I beg her. “please, susan, don’t do this.”
Susan looks at me curiously, confused. By the sheer fact that I know her name, she knows she must be missing something. she very subtly nods and looks at the security guard. “I’m sorry. Give us a moment?” He leaves the room, and susan looks at the nurse. “you too. thank you.” the nurse leaves the room, shutting the door.
Susan looks tortured, terrified, and yet composed, as if she has only enough poise to get through the next five seconds and then she will fall apart.
“His hand has a wedding ring on it,” she says to me. I stare at her and try to keep breathing. I meekly lift up my own left hand to match.
“We were married a week and a half ago,” I say through tears. I can feel the corners of my lips pulling down. they feel so heavy.
“What is your name?” she asks me, now shaking.
“Elsie,” I say. I am terrified of her. she looks angry and vulnerable, like a teenage runaway.
“Elsie what?” she chokes.
That’s when she breaks. she breaks just like I have. soon, she’s on the floor. there are no more tissues in sight to save the linoleum from her tears.
Ana is sitting next to me holding my hand. I am sitting next to Ben’s side, sobbing. susan excused herself some time ago. the man in the red tie comes in and says we need to clear some things up and Ben’s body needs to be moved. I just stare ahead, I don’t even focus on what’s happening, until the man in the red tie hands me a bag of Ben’s things. His cell phone is there, his wallet, his keys.
“What is this?” I ask, even though I know what it is.
Before the man in the red tie can answer me, susan appears in the doorway. Her face is strained; her eyes are bloodshot. she looks older than she did when she left. she looks exhausted. do I look like that? I bet I look like that.
“What are you doing?” susan asks the man.
“I’m . . . We need to clear the room. your son’s body is going to be transferred.”
“Why are you giving that to her?” susan says, more directly. she says it like I’m not even here.
Susan steps further into the room and takes the bag of Ben’s stuff from in front of me. “all decisions about Ben, all his belongings, should be directed to me,” she says.
“Ma’am,” the man in the red tie says.
“All of it,” she says.
Ana stands up and grabs me to go with her. she intends to remove me from this situation, and while I don’t want to be here right now, I can’t just be removed. I pull my arm out of ana’s hand and I look at susan.
“Should we discuss what the next steps are?” I say to her.
“What is there to discuss?” susan says. she is cold and controlled.
“I just mean . . .” I don’t actually know what I mean.
“Mrs. ross,” the man in the red tie says.
“Yes?” Both susan and I answer at the same time.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “Which one did you mean?”
“The elder,” he says, looking at susan. I’m sure that he meant it as a sign of respect, but it’s torn right through her. susan doesn’t want to be one of two Mrs. rosses, that much is clear, but I bet she resents even more being the elder one.
“I’m not going to give this any more credence,” she says to everyone in the room. “she has absolutely no proof that my son even knew her, let alone married her. I’ve never heard of her! My own son. I saw him last month. He never mentioned a damn thing. so no, I’m not having my son’s possessions sent home with a stranger. I won’t have it.”