Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Waiting Room Hell

I had an epiphany this afternoon. Hell is a waiting room where you're trapped forever with a person completely oblivious to social cues. I know because I spent 42 interminable minutes there.

One obnoxious person in a waiting room isn't enough to rate as my personal hell, but when combined with a long day of professional development, followed by a sprint through Lexington rush hour traffic, and a dying iPhone battery, I found myself in a perfect storm of social perdition.

I was tired, both physically and mentally. After sitting in an all-day training session, I wasn't fired up about sitting some more in a room the size of my walk-in closet. Six chairs crammed together with a magazine rack and a couple of lamps set the mood...abandon hope all ye who enter. The "soothing" Muzak is supposed to mitigate the close quarters, but listening to an orchestral arrangement of George Michael's "Careless Whisper" is its own form of torture. Usually, my phone provides enough entertainment to distract me from the wait. Usually.

Blessedly alone when the wait began, I was trolling Facebook, trading witty comments with my friend, Susie. A woman and her son came in and sat across from me. My eyes flicked up in time to see the woman smooth her teenage son's hair down. An argument ensued.

"Don't freakin' touch my hair!"

"If you'd pick up a damn comb ever once in a while, I wouldn't have to. There's a bathroom across the hall. Go blow your nose."

As the son stood up, he slammed his chair against the wall. Then he slammed the waiting room door hard enough to rattle my chair. I glanced up at Mom. Big mistake. I immediately glanced back down at my phone, but the damage was done. She leaned over close enough that she was touching my knee.

Don't freakin' touch my knee!

I wanted to say it, but I pulled my knees in and focused on my phone.

"Is that one of them new iPhones?"

"No. I've had it a while."

Everything about my body language was screaming, "Don't talk to me." My legs were crossed. My arms were crossed over my chest, my face buried in my phone. Oblivious, she rambled about her kids running up the bill with their texting. I ignored her, hoping she would get the hint. She didn't. Finally, her son finished blowing his nose or whatever he was doing, and she refocused her attention on him. Thank you Jesus.

My battery was dwindling away, but I returned to Facebook. My science professor friend, Susie had posted a status that said, "Packing for space camp...freeze-dried ice cream, American flag, Tang..." I responded with, "They let people camp in space?" Her reply, "It's only for people who can't afford space hotels."

I busted out laughing, completely forgetting about the obnoxious woman and her son. Second big mistake. Her guffaw overwhelmed my laughter and I looked up.

"It's funny, isn't it?"

My good humor at Susie's response disappeared as I realized the woman thought I was laughing at her story. I had been aware of her talking, but I wasn't listening.

"Oh no, I was laughing at what I was reading."

"Oh, well...this is hilarious. I was telling him," she jabbed a thumb in the boy's direction, "about his sister."

My battery red-lined, and I panicked at the imminent loss of my only escape. I ignored her explanation and practically curled up in the fetal position around my phone. My non-verbal signals could not have been clearer, but she plowed right past them.

"This boy at school was buggin' my daughter, so her daddy told her she had his permission to defend herself. The next day when that boy said something, my girl picked up her math book and smashed it in his face. And can you believe it? The damn teacher sent her to in-school suspension."

I refrained from telling her I was a damn teacher, and since our classrooms are not Thunderdome, smashing someone in the face with a textbook has a consequence. My silence did not discourage her.

"Well when her grandmama found out she'd been put in ISS for two days, she went right down to that school and sat in that suspension room with her. She only lasted two hours though. They kicked her out for talking"

She was hee-hawing at this point, and I was laughing too. Mistake number three. She thought I was laughing with her.

My phone went black midway through her colonoscopy story.

I understand why trapped wolves will gnaw their paw off to escape. When my son stepped into the waiting room at the end of his appointment, I wanted to throw my arms around him in gratitude. Instead, I smiled politely and left the waiting room. When we stepped into the humid, late summer afternoon, I took a deep breath and repented my sins. I've seen hell, and I don't want to go back.

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