In the ER waiting room I sat opposite a four year old Mexican girl with down syndrome and a bad haircut. She looked at me lazily from her mother’s lap, a piece of white gauze taped hastily to her forehead. Her father wore a dingy white t-shirt and worn baggy jeans that draped over workman’s boots. He seemed exhausted and furious, alternating between sitting down, tapping his foot impatiently and jumping up to pace about the room, causing the sliding doors to open whenever he got too close to the sensor. His wife was young. Probably younger than I. She seemed tired too, despite having on full makeup. They talked lowly, hurriedly in Spanish as their daughter drooled and wondered why her head hurt, if she could remember at all. Perhaps she just wanted to go back to bed. I watched as she tried to find a comfortable position on her mother’s lap.
I stared at her and she stared back. The father talked impatiently to the nurse.
“We’ve been waiting for over forty minutes. My daughter fell out of bed and hit her head. She was bleeding so badly.”
The nurse didn’t even bother to look past her window to the daughter, who was no longer bleeding. The little girl appeared fine to me too, except for her genetic disability. Her pajamas were stained. There was something sticky in her hair. I wanted to give her a bath. I wanted to give myself a bath, but I had gone to the bathroom and winced, noticing the skin missing from my left thigh and the brilliant red gash on my arm. Those parts wouldn’t be so fun to wash.
We were both injured, the little girl and I, but not seriously so. We would go home eventually, wake up very close to our parents, she perhaps in the same room as her mother, who was likely two or three years younger than I, and I just a hallway away from my parents, who were nearing their mid sixties. Well, my father at least. The father returned to his seat and resumed tapping his foot impatiently. I yawned and stared at my watch, then looked at my father. I had not noticed until now: how white his hair had become! How much looser his jowls seemed! It was late and no doubt I looked haggard as well – the car had knocked my ponytail loose and I couldn’t raise my arm to retie my hair.
The little girl stiffened her body and slid awkwardly out of her mother’s arms and her mother bent down with some difficulty to gather her again. For a minute my father’s and my reflection stared back at us from the sliding glass doors – I saw a gentleman on the cusp of being elderly – not quite there, but just a few years away, and a young woman who could, age wise at least, very easily have been hugging an injured child of her own and tapping her foot impatiently as the doctors and nurses tended to more serious injuries in the back. Instead I was twenty-six and my father sixty-three. I did not have much in common with the little girl’s mother who was fretting like a good mother should, despite the fact that the little girl would be fine. Perfectly. I did not have much in common with her at all.
The little girl and I, however, we weren’t so different.