We were sitting in the waiting room of the IWK Heart Centre when it happened.
I was looking around the room with a head full of thoughts. The play toys all seemed so small now. The chairs next to them so tiny. I remember how Mark and I would sit together in them and play countless games while we waited over the years.
We are sitting together today too. But there’s nothing little about him anymore. I steal a glance at him to my right ~ he sits taller than me ~ engrossed in his Michael Crichton book.
And then it happens.
A faint noise outside in the hall.
I see Mark lift his head.
Wait. No. Not a honk.
A squeak. A rubber chicken squeak.
And then I can see it in Marks eyes ~ a sense memory that lives somewhere between his brain and his heart. From long ago.
That sound is more than familiar to us.
Mark discreetly but purposefully looks over his shoulder through the glass wall out into the hallway.
He slowly looks back to me and smiles.
We sit there for maybe one whole minute and we don’t say a word. I know without a doubt we are both thinking the same thing.
“What do we do in this situation?”
Mark is probably thinking “I desperately want to go see this person who was the most consistent part of my time here at this hospital. But I’m 15, and I don’t want to make a big deal and I’m not really a patient like I used to be.”
Meanwhile I am thinking “I can hear him playing with a young child.He is in the middle of something very important. And these kiddos deserve every moment with him. We had our time. Now it’s their turn. Plus we have an Echo to get done.”
This is what we are individually thinking in that 60 seconds.
That’s the key word. Thinking. This is what our brains are telling us.
But our hearts, well, they are much more straight forward. Our hearts simply want us to run out the door into the hallway and catch him before he is gone and yell (with no grace or humility) “We are here! Come see us! Play with us! Talk with us!”
But we don’t.
Ofcourse we don’t.
Instead I smile weakly at Mark and say “We should respect his time. We can try and drop in another time when he has a moment for us”.
Mark agrees and nods, and goes back to his book.
But I swear his ears are at 180% listening power trying to hear that familiar voice and laughter.
I know mine are.
And wait a second. Is that sound getting closer? It is. We both look at each other again and then before we have a chance to voice anything the door to the Heart Centre opens, and in comes a small boy, his mother, and a clown.
The Heart Centre waiting room is quite small with chairs lined along the walls facing inward to the centre. I am sitting immediately to the right of the door and Mark is next to me. I almost have to shift in my seat so the three of them don’t bump into me when it opens.
The Mom heads to the reception area and Buddington and the little boy sit smack dab in the middle of the floor – facing in our direction.
Mark and I can’t stop smiling.
Ear to ear smiling. We must look like idiots.
But we don’t say a word.
This clown who we have come to care so much for is working. It may not initially look like that to an outsider, but he is. His attention is focused on his work – on who is in front of him. He is fully engaged on the floor with the young boy. And its not our place to interrupt that, as much as we want to.
A minute goes by and we sit and watch.
I feel as if I’m in a dream watching this man, this clown, play with this boy – who I know isn’t my child – but it so mirrors the time we spent here. It mirrors my memories from long ago. It’s the most surreal feeling.
So I’m sitting here filled with nostalgia and gratitude trying not to cry, while Mark, well Mark quite clearly wants only one thing – to leap out of his chair and talk endlessly to him about his life now as a teenager.
And so we sit.
Silent. Thinking. Wondering if he would even recognize Mark now that he is a young man.
Smiling our stupid grins.
And then it happens.
The radiologist comes out to the waiting room and loudly and distinctly says two words.
And at that moment, not taking our eyes off Buddington, we see his head raise up from the floor and meet our gaze.
The recognition in what he has heard is instantaneous and the look in his eyes match exactly the look in my son’s face: a mutual, genuine and deep affection that time hasn’t changed.
Mark unfolds his 5 foot 8 frame from the chair, walks over to him, and what happens in the next thirty seconds before we go into our appointment can’t be put onto paper or into words.
It will remain one of my most vivid and personal memories ~ that short interaction between them in that Heart Centre waiting room as they, together, process the years that have passed and the years they have shared.
You see, Buddington started working at the IWK only three months before Marks diagnosis. That was 12 and a half years ago.
We don’t remember the IWK without him.
And maybe ~ just maybe ~ in a way, he almost doesn’t remember it without us either.