My Mom and I walk down the stark hall and stop at the staff elevators. Our tired feet refuse to continue around the corner to the visitor elevators. I know my Mom must be more exhausted than I because she never breaks a rule. We've just left my Dad in his hospital room for the night after getting a pace maker. This after a three-day stay of not knowing what was wrong. He was groggy, but in pretty good spirits.
The elevator door slides open. An older Asian man leans against one wall and looks at the floor. We enter and he briefly glances at us. He wears a cap that says, "America the Beautiful" with a bald eagle graphic. His eyes are weary behind his glasses, red and a bit puffy from the evening's goodbyes, I imagine. He holds a plastic "patient's belongings" bag by its drawstring. It is full with items. One pink fuzzy sock pokes out of the hole on the top.
We reach the ground floor and the doors clank open. We three worriers walk in silence to the exit doors. It feels unnatural to leave a loved one behind in the care of strangers and that feeling tightens your chest when you reach the edge of the building.
As we go through the exit, the man's bag hits the door frame and the pink sock falls out. Its bright color in sharp contrast to the gray sidewalk and our somber mood. I snatch it up and for a split second, wonder whose foot it belongs to:
Me: "Sir, Sir! Your sock!"
Man: (Turns to me, eyes wide and startled by my voice) What? Oh. Oh. Thank you.
Me: Here you go.
Man: (He clutches the fuzzy sock in his hand) Ah. My wife. I could not say goodnight to her. I could not say it.
Me: Oh. It's alright. I'm sure she understands.
Man: She had cancer six years ago. And she survived. But the radiation burned everything up. Ahh. This is a hard life. I could not say goodnight to her...
My Mom: I'm sure you are doing your best. We do our best and we just keep going.
Man: I'm going back. I'm going back to say goodnight. I thank you.
The small old man clutching a pink fuzzy sock walks purposely through the double doors and back toward the elevators. Just before he gets to the visitor's desk, he brushes the sock against his cheek, I think to wipe a few tears away.