When I see people, I see stories. A crowded room is a library filled to the brim with story after story. Maybe part of me wants to know them all, but it would be impossible to read every book. And a part of me thinks: I would like to mean something in someone else’s story.
This was what went through my mind as I pushed my cart through the hospital halls. I thought I’d be making a difference while gaining some substantial experience for my college application. Instead, I was handing out magazines and games. There was nothing to do, so I looked down at my badge, pretending to study the hospital codes and ending up actually studying them. Code Red, fire of course. Code Yellow, missing adult. Does that really happen so often that they would need a code? Code Amber, missing child. Interesting, very specific.
A jumble of words from a distance grabbed my attention. I saw Kid-With-Superman-Shirt run into the outpatient center for pediatrics. He always made my job seem important. Every game we played was exciting to him. He talked in that childlike babble, which sounded more like giggles than anything. I knew he always wore a Superman shirt, and I knew he liked Candy Land; but I never found out why he came to the hospital every Tuesday.
“Hi!” I called when I finally rolled my cart into the waiting room. His mom was signing in at the front desk. He automatically went for the closed bottom shelf of the cart and handed the Candy Land box to me. “Okay, but I’m green this time,” I teased him. He nodded, and we played until a doctor called him in.
Next, I was in the emergency room. Two men came in from the outside entrance, one holding his head to a bag of ice and the other holding onto his friend. Their shoes had a bulky clank as they pounded on the floor, adding to the clatter as the men violently swung the glass doors open. The wind sent a sheet of one of the coloring books flying out the door. I rolled my eyes before running after the piece of paper. When I turned back to the emergency room, I noticed a woman standing next to the doors. She had dirty blonde hair and a frantic look in her eyes, and she was clutching something close to her chest. My first instinct was to leave. But I couldn’t.
“Are you a doctor? Do you work here?”
“I’m only a volunteer.” She wasn’t listening.
“Safe Surrender Sites. No questions asked,” she said as if she was repeating something that she memorized a long time ago.
“What?” I couldn’t have heard her correctly.
“Hospitals are Safe Surrender Sites.” It was both a question and a command. She revealed what had been clinging to her chest, and I instinctively held out my arms. A second later, a newborn child had been dumped into them. “No questions asked,” she repeated in a daze before she sprinted away.
I wanted to call out, “This wasn’t covered during orientation! Take this back!” but she was gone before I even had time to react. I froze; my arms started to slip down to my sides. Then, I felt a shuffle from the falling cloth brush my arm. I jerked my arms close to my body, hugging the baby tightly. Apparently being squeezed wasn’t comfortable. The baby’s face was expectedly red and hairless, its eyes scrunched as if straining to keep them closed. Story-In-A-Blanket was wrapped in a quilt meant to cover a bed. Jagged marks with hanging threads showed where the quilt had been cut down to size.
It was time to leave the hazy world of daydreams. It was time to figure this out. I vaguely remembered that situations like this were handled by Social Services, so I made my way over. “You’ll be ok, right?” I whispered to Story-In-A-Blanket.
When I arrived, there was only one woman in the room, with several empty cubicles lined up behind her. Her curly brown hair bounced as her head whipped around to look at me. The large blue beads in her earrings followed suit, swaying and twinkling sweetly like wind chimes. A pronounced scar sat in the middle of her chest.
“Hi, I’m here regarding a Safe Surrender baby,” I muttered less than confidently.
“Fill out this form. They’re optional and anonymous, but they’ll help us take care of your child.”
“I’m a volunteer.” I clumsily pulled out my badge with my left hand and tried to point to the hospital logo on my shirt, while I held on tighter to the worn quilt with my right. “The mother just left.”
She looked at me appalled, then sympathetic. “You really do see everything in here,” she mumbled. I followed Wind-Chime-Earrings into her office. Her desk was filled with framed photographs of two kids. Those same brown curls hung on the two grinning children as they played in a pool, at the park, and at a party. At the very corner of her desk, there was a dusty pillow shaped as an anatomically correct heart, signed with variations of “Get Well Soon.”
She continued, “You’ll have to fill out some paperwork, so we know how we obtained the child. Here’s the form.”
Wind-Chime-Earrings took the baby from my arms. She smiled softly but sadly and reached for the door.
“Wait!” I yelled a little too loudly. I wanted to ask for a moment with the baby. I wanted to ask for five minutes to hold Story-In-A-Blanket and say goodbye. “Yes?” she asked patiently.
“I just…what’s going to happen to the baby?”
“I’ll have a pediatrician take a look at them. The mother can claim the baby within seven days if she changes her mind. If that doesn’t happen, the baby will be placed into foster care.”
“A small time frame for such a huge decision.”
“It’s the only way to protect them both.”
Story-In-A-Blanket had been in my life for only twenty minutes. Now, I had to put this baby’s story down into a 5 x 5 black box on copy paper. One day, they might wonder where they came from, and all they’ll have is my chicken scratch handwriting to tell them. If I was all that Story-In-A-Blanket had, I had to tell all I could. I told this child that we did what we could to take care of them. I told this baby they could make it. My signature was always a mess, but I printed my name clearly and made my mark. I showed myself out of the office and into the lobby, and I let out a sigh as I sank into one of the oversized sea green plastic chairs in the waiting area.
The next Tuesday, I pretended that nothing had changed in this hospital for me. I was almost done with my shift, but I wanted to give out the remaining stuffed toys that had been donated last week. I decided I would visit pediatrics, so I could give the Superman toy to my friend. Sure enough, Kid-With-Superman-Shirt was there. “Candy Land!” he said.
When he was finally called in, I interrupted. “I have this for you.” His eyes lit up, and he hugged the gigantic Superman around its head. He skipped in for his appointment.
I was part of his story, and he was part of mine. I’d do what I can with my time here, even with a simple game of Candy Land.