Uncharted

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“…Because every heart is tender… a story to remind us that our words can heal, or sometimes do irreparable harm.”

 

Inside the medical practice of Dr. Jonathan Elliot:

The office phone’s voicemail light blinks at me. Three more messages to return, then I can go home. I pick up the next patient chart in a stack of a dozen and open it.

Two light raps sound on the door. “Come in.” Clearing my throat, I think it’s my partner wanting to speak about the difficult Hilgaarde case.

“Doctor, I was wondering if you needed anything else tonight.”

I look up from the file at Jackie, my Nurse Practitioner, and squint at the clock on my desk.

“Thanks, I’m good. Why are you still here—you should have been gone over an hour ago.” Her lipstick is a garish red, and I wonder why she is hanging around here.

She blushes and smiles, revealing red smudges on the tops of her two front teeth. “I was thinking maybe you and I could have a drink…if you aren’t too busy.”

I sit up straight. “Wha . . . oh, thanks, but I’ve got more work and I’m spent. It’s been a long day.”

Her face falls, revealing paranasal creases around her mouth.

“See you tomorrow then.” She turns on brown clogs and exits.

Well, that was a surprise. Even if I were interested in her, I wouldn’t date an employee. Then I remember her dad—he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last month and maybe she needed to talk about it. Damn—always five minutes late on saying the right thing!

The mahogany clock sitting on my desk ticks, a reminder that time stands still for no one. A birthday gift from my daughter Sarah while in high school, the card attached read, “So you will know when it’s time to come home. Love, Sarah.” I think back on her reaction to the divorce. She blamed Marla, angry at what she called her “crazed mom-lunacy.” Luke, the less judgmental child, made a lame attempt as mediator until Marla advised him not to bother. She had already chosen her path, and it didn’t include me. My valiant attempts at words and actions didn’t matter anymore.  I’d gone too far–it was too late.

She was gone the next weekend. Later I found out about the gastroenterologist, but how could I have guessed? I was, after all, never home.

Every person should be given a survival map at age 18 to help chart their life’s course.

I scroll through Contacts on my cell, then punch in Leah’s number on the old-school desk phone. I won’t date an employee, but should I follow the same rule about patients?

She answers on the first ring, like she’s sitting by the phone awaiting my call. “Leah. It’s Dr. Elliot—Jonathan. I’m calling to see…how things are going.”

“Dr. Elliot! Good to hear your voice. I’m still feeling great. Friday marks my six-month anniversary of being in remission. I can’t thank you enough for your care. ”

“Glad to hear it. Listen…I was wondering…if you aren’t too busy—”

A bass voice resonates in the background and Leah laughs. “I’m sorry, Dr. Elliot, my husband is cooking and it looks like he set the lasagna on fire.”

Silence hangs for a moment. “I thought you and he—”

“We’re giving it another try.”

“Well, that’s great news, and glad to hear you’re doing well. I’m getting another call. You take care, Leah.” I replace the black plastic handset, which seems as outdated as I feel.

Maybe they did the right things, said the right words, in time to save their relationship.

I swivel my chair around to face the door, take a deep breath of the musty air that has filtered in from the hallway. My door is ajar, and a flash of movement crosses the expanse. Was someone listening in on my conversation?

Just as I reach the door, the light flickers off and the lobby door clicks locked. I scramble to the window, pull up a piece of metal blind and peer. Wait.

A figure scurries through the parking lot. Straining my eyes, I wait until the street light illuminates the shadow of a woman wiping her eyes with a gloved hand.

Jackie.

I release the blind and slump on my leather chair. Stretching both arms into the air, I clasp my hands together palms up to work the kinks out of my neck and back.

How many souls carry wounds due to the careless words of others?

How many have happened at my own hand?

Sighing, I close my briefcase and snap the locks shut.

The human heart is resilient. Once shattered, it slowly mends, but not without rattling bones and shifting organs as it seeks restoration.

There is no way back, only forward into uncharted places where no map exists.

That’s where the future resides.

And it’s called hope.

 

May all your words be tempered with wisdom!

Wishing you the best in 2017–

SUSAN

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