White Rooms

by The Cowl Editor on November 20, 2018


by Connor Zimmerman ’20

Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick. What would be an eternity to any onlooker is only a few seconds to him.  He sits in the chair, hearing only the clock and his thoughts. Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick. He refuses to look up, to see the world around him. Only the smell of rubbing alcohol and plastic reach his mind. Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick. He prefers it this way, because right now… he hates this world.

He feels a tap on his shoulder. He slowly and reluctantly raises his head and looks to his left. It’s his wife. She says to him, “Russ, come on, the doctor is waiting for us.” He slowly nods. Suddenly, he is in the white room with his wife and the doctor. He doesn’t remember getting there, but then again, he doesn’t care either. He comes back to reality only to hear his wife calling his name again. “Russ, Russ.”

He turns his head towards her, “Russ, have you even been listening?” Not making a motion he replies, “Sorry, Megan, I haven’t.” She stands up from her chair ready to yell, when the doctor’s steady voice rings out, “Mrs. Bowers, it’s all right. This is a tough time for everyone. Russ is just trying to get his bearings.” Megan sits back down and for a long time, you can only hear her soft sobs. Eventually, Russ says something. “So doc, what does all this mean? Is Danny all right?”

The doctor nods his head. He replies, “Mr. Bowers, I’m sure you understand. Nothing is wrong with Danny, but there was always a chance that your child would carry the same disease as you.” Russ rubs his head and replies, “But we saw a genetic counselor, and she said that it was unlikely.” The doctor quickly adds, “Not impossible, I’m afraid.” Silence strikes the room again. Megan reaches her hand out to Russ, but all he can feel is grief’s cold embrace. The doctor uncomfortably says, “Danny will live, I assure you. His life will just be…different. Mr. Bowers, I’m sure having lived with it you understand what Danny might need help with.”

His face suddenly grows red, “Doc, just because I understand something doesn’t mean I accept it. Is there anything we can do? For Gods sake I will not allow my son to suffer like I have!” The doctor remains calm, but Megan cries harder. With the stereotypical response that Russ has heard all his life, “I’m sorry Mr. Bowers, but there is no cure at this time. There is medicine, but…”

Russ shakes his head, “Enough with this crap. I’m not looking for pills or shots or anything else. I’m trying to save my son from wondering why life is so crappy, from all the confusion, and from these…white rooms. All these freaking white rooms!”

Megan finally speaks in between sobs, “It’s okay, Russ. It’s okay we’ll figure this out.”

Russ gets up and begins to walk out of the room. On his way out, he says, “Is it okay?”

Back at home, Russ stands over Danny as he sleeps in his bed. On any other night everything would be fine. But this isn’t any other night. It’s a living nightmare for Russ. Danny is sleeping soundly, his chest rising and falling with his breathing, but all Russ can see is the darkness surrounding Danny. From the outside, Megan can only hear Russ’ quiet sobbing. Her hand shakes, as she opens the door. She quietly calls to Russ, “I think we need to have a talk.” She closes the door, and Russ continues to sit in the darkness. He stands up and walks over to Danny’s bed. He kisses him on the forehead as a tear travels down his face and falls onto Danny. Russ takes one last look at Danny then leaves the room.

He walks down the steps to see Megan sitting at the kitchen table. He sees her red eyes and puffy face, not unlike his own, but her trembling hands are what captures his attention. He takes a seat next to hers and puts his hands over hers. For several minutes, they sit together in their own misery refusing to break the silence… refusing to acknowledge their reality. Eventually Megan’s hands stop trembling, and she begins to speak. However, Russ cuts her off by saying, “Megan, please don’t tell me its going to be all right. ‘Cause I don’t want to hear that right now.”

She turns her face away from his, but she continues to say, “I know it is going to be tough…for all of us, but we need to stand together in this. We can’t let him know anything is different.” 

Russ’s face grows red in anger as he replies, “Well, he will find out eventually. He’ll find out that there is something different about him. It doesn’t matter if it is tomorrow or 10 years from now. Something that he won’t be able to explain. He’ll look to us for answers, and I don’t know what to say.”

Megan turns to Russ and says, “We will find the words together.”

Russ lets go of Megan’s hands and gets up. He begins to pace around the room, nearly walking into everything in his path till his foot hits a chair near the table. Russ picks up the chair and throws it against the wall, and the house shudders at the collision.

Megan jumps up and wraps her arms around him to calm him down, as well as restrain him. “Russ, calm down. Please calm down, honey.”

Russ in his agony cries out, “Why should I be calm? This fucking disease has cursed this entire family.”

Megan whimpers back, “I fell in love with you because you are the empathetic and compassionate man that I have known since day one. If that freaking disease had any part in that, then maybe it was worth it. But I need that compassionate man right now because I can’t do this alone.”

With his head down, Russ whispers, “Megan, what am I supposed to say when Danny asks me why I gave him this disease? When he looks at me and wonders why I brought him into this world to feel only pain?”

“You didn’t bring him into this world. We did, Russ…we did.”

Russ looks at Megan and sees his reflection in the tears streaming down her face.