It’s early summer and everyone seems to be sniffling from the deluge of pollen and the woman who chose to sit next to me in the empty waiting room was no different. Except now I’m suffering too, from her.
I take a deep breath and try to distract myself with my reading. My mind is grinding over all the worries and mystery of my child’s appointment as I sit and wait, helpless, for her time with the doctor to end as my anxiety percolates. It’s punctuated with the woman’s SNIFF and SNORTLE. My eye spots a tissue box. I try to time the switching of my reading material with seamlessly picking up the box along with my sacrificial choice of magazine to camouflage the snatching of the box. My plan is to drop the tissues on the table next to her as I retake my seat. Because of this I’m forced to read Portland Monthly in broad daylight.
Much like the dreaded walk to the bathroom as a young girl when I first got my perio. I had to hide a gargantuan log of a maxi pad up my sleeve and slink to the restroom undetected by the Spanish Inquisition level of social scrutiny known as “the lockers”. Just as then, I tried to nonchalantly drop the tissue box near her and sit back down with as little aplomb as possible to not draw her attention. She gave no sign of noticing as she spelunked into her nostril and deposited a booger the size of a cricket on the arm of her chair followed by a snortle and a sniff.
That does it! This woman is unbelievable! My brain was incensed with silent indignation. I breathe deeply and attempt to speak in a light, calm voice, “Oh, here’s some tissue if you need them. Allergies, right?”
I was hedging for good naturedly sarcastic yet rhetorical but didn’t anticipate for idiocy. The vocal fry was combined with a scrunched up face, foggy glasses, and annoyed disdain, “Huh?”
Do you ever have that moment when you know you’re probably making a face of disgust and wish you weren’t but wonder what it looked like all at the same time? It was one of those moments. I breathed a hurricane in and a gust out before responding to her as I would if meeting a schizophrenic captor for the first time. “There’s tissue next to you…IF you need it.”
She blinked, looked at it like an unexpected animal appearing next to her, and smiled sheepishly before laughing awkwardly and fumbling with her glasses and bag on her lap. “Oh! Thanks!”
Part of me felt guilty for being annoyed with her and chided myself. Maybe she’s nervous like me. Worried and waiting for her child to come out from their appointment. I told myself to be more tolerant, drink my coffee, and for f*cks sake bring headphones next time. I tried not to touch anything and made a mental note to use hand sanitizer before I touched anything again. The time passed, my daughter emerged happy and outwardly unscathed by therapy, and we were on our way. I put the interaction to the back of my mind and hoped never to see the woman again but it didn’t stop me from immediately putting headphones in my bag when I returned home, extra antibacterial wipes, and laughing about the situation with friends.
Then next week rolled around. I closed my eyes as I grabbed the doorknob for the waiting room and held my breath. She was there. Scribbling with great force and earnest in a journal surrounded by her belongings and taking up three of the six chairs. I sighed, forced myself to grin back at her upturned joyful face as we were in such close proximity, and mirthlessly sighed in resignation as she returned her gaze to her labored etchings. Nora thankfully beelined it for the toys and happily began using them in silence. I sat near her and tried not to see what my eyes couldn’t tear away from. The woman was eating her boogers.
I caught Nora’s eye and silently shook my head to warn her not to laugh. Her shoulders squeezed together and her mouth turned inwards not to do so. As I opened an app on my phone to read I almost dropped my phone in horror as Nora startled as well. The woman began hawking and gurgling phlegm like she was preparing for an underwater dive and was anxiously shaking out every fluid from her body at once. She caught me staring, blushed, smiled, and hunched back over her journal. Nora was watching me intently, I shook my head curtly in response, and she tentatively returned to her project.
I would like to say the weeks ahead improved or that her self awareness evolved. It did not. I did grow used to carrying around sound cancelling headphones and extra hand sanitizer though. We established a pattern of not speaking to one another, me placing the tissue next to her, and her leaving my preferred chair unsoiled. At least that’s what I told myself. Much like a hotel room, don’t look too closely for what you don’t want to know.
There were special moments over this summer of observing my weekly weirdo that stood out. The day she brought in a bucket of leftover fast food chicken was most memorable and pungent. Or the moment she assumed a gentleman’s dog was a service animal, or at least trained, and got nipped when she tried to pet the dog without permission. Or the day she bumped into Nora and knocked her over and managed to almost fall on top of her trying to “help” her up. All the while I kept wondering if we would meet who she was accompanying every week. Whoever it was, they must need a large amount of support since she was there before us and still there after we left.
After a particularly stressful morning on a hot day that put additional strain on events, we stumbled in for our appointment unusually early and she wasn’t there! My mind needed a distraction and went into Agatha Christie-mode. Maybe she was having her deviated septum repaired? Maybe her child was ill? Or – dare I hope?! – Maybe she switched appointment times! I settled in with a cup of tea and serenely exhaled in the quiet company of Nora and myself. It didn’t last long.
A door opened somewhere in the depths of the clinic and I heard the trademark SNIFF. The clock read a quarter till, I noted the time to myself and realized as she emerged alone that it was her appointment. Why in the world is she sitting here this whole time, every time?! This mystery had me stumped.
Maybe I’m unwittingly being filmed for a reality show called “How Much $#!+ Can You Take?” Maybe it’s a consult appointment for her child? Maybe there is a God and this is my purgatory? Forever being annoyed and too constrained by courtesy and societal etiquette to confront her. It was my personal dilemma being played in dramatic irony.
The time passed and we stopped off at the restroom before heading back to the car. Nora was once again ready, small delay in our routine, and I began buckling her into her booster seat just as SLAM. I looked up in terror realizing someone had backed into our parked car. I check that Nora was still buckled and ok before I ran to stop the person as they put into drive then in reverse again. My arm failed in front of the woman’s face through the open driver’s window as I screamed, “F@CKING STOP!!! YOU HIT US!!!” She cowered and threw it into park with her hands shaking as she mumbled, “I did?… I didn’t feel anything…” It was her.