The Red Couch

It's happening again.

I push my eyes open and force myself to sit up, although I do so a little too quickly. I sit up straighter for a moment and close my eyes, even though the room is completely dark anyway. I hear scraping against the wall of the hallway, which just so happens to be on the opposite side of my bedroom door. Two, maybe three men's voices are now audible, although I can't understand them with their medical jargon—they are emergency medical technicians, back again for the second time this month.

I open my eyes and gingerly swing my legs over the side of my bed. I propel myself into a standing position and walk over to the light switch next to my door—my now stinging eyes squint almost to a close in response to the sudden light. I reach into my drawer and pull out a pair of comfy jeans, then I open another drawer and grab a loose-fitting t-shirt. I think to myself, "My shoes are by the door. I'll get them after the EMT's leave." 

I wait, fully dressed, sitting on my bed. I know that my mom will come in at some point to alert me on what has happened. It's no use, because I already know.

He's on his way to the hospital again, that part I know; it could be because he stopped breathing, like last week. Or, it could be something totally different, I mean, I'm not a doctor. I don't know all the possible side effects of cancer. 

I hear a soft tap on my door, unlike the harsh scraping from a few minutes ago. Scraping, which I know from experience, is the sound of a stretcher carrying my father away to the emergency room.

The door opens without my giving the OK, and it's not my mom, but my neighbor. She looks surprised that the light is already on and I am already dressed. She informs me that my dad was having trouble breathing, so my mom went with the EMTs to take him to the emergency room to make sure everything was "all right." She asks if I want her to stay the night and sleep on the living room couch. That couch is red. Red and very comfortable, shaping to your body once you lie on it for an hour or two. Before my dad got sick, I would leave my bedroom door open at night. Four nights out of seven, I could hear him out there snoring on that couch, completely oblivious to what was playing on the TV screen at that point. He would later go back to their bedroom after waking up from a loud blast from the TV, signaling that it was time for a commercial break. But as I drifted off to sleep in my bed, hearing him snore just a few rooms away was when I felt to most safe. Although lately, he's been limited to one room in the house, a makeshift "hospital room away from the hospital." 

I don't know why I told my neighbor that she didn't have to stay—I'm 12 years old. I don't have a fear of the dark per se, but I sure as heck don't like it. As we all could have guessed, I couldn't go back to sleep after she left.

“Too late now,” I tell myself. Before my neighbor left, she told me that my mom would be back in a few hours to check in on me. A few hours could mean anything to an adult. Me? I think: two hours. That's a few. Just to be safe, I'll say that she'll be back in three. That's enough time to give her to sit with my dad in the cold and dingy and unnecessarily loud hospital waiting room. That's enough time to wait on the doctor, to have the doctor check him out, and then to come back with the right medicines to make him feel better. 

I have my pajamas on again, and I can't decide which movie to fall asleep to. I turn on the lamp by the couch, decide on my second movie option, and put it in the DVD player. The living room is well-lit. I am by myself. The red couch is comfy, like always.

A little less than three hours to go.

Birthday Girl

The smell is crisp and hot, and it sets off a warning in my mind that we could all be in grave danger at any moment—something is on fire, or at least it's about to be. I can see it with my own eyes now—the smoke, a faint but evident gray veil, is draped over the party-goers' faces, and no one has said anything. Yet. Conversations are going on between groups of two and groups of many, and the smell is growing stronger still. I am about to say something when I hear my friend's voice, informing us that she microwaved brownie batter in a mug for too long. The alarm going off in my mind is now silent, much like the one in the house that never went off in the first place. A boy who I just met moments ago, notices the smoke in the kitchen and takes off running to open the garage. When he comes back inside, the humid air walks back with him. A group of boys gathered in the kitchen each grab a dishtowel from the countertop, and like bullfighters, they rapidly fan the smoke in the hope of it dispersing or simply reconvening outside the sticky, Tulsa, Oklahoma air. 

The birthday girl is nowhere to be found, and I am stuck in a conversation with a girl who doesn't know she just introduced herself to me for the second time. She asks me the ever-popular question, "What's your major?" and I ask her the same. I listen to her segue into a topic, which I will have nothing to contribute other than a head nod or two, and my stomach growls, "You need real food," as I place one salty chip on my tongue and another, the hunger I'm feeling lessening slightly. A sudden uproar of upset voices from the living room drowns out the crunch of the chips, and all the conversations come to a screeching halt, including ours. I peer over the counter to see what the commotion is about and notice that others are doing the same. About fifteen people are scattered on the floor and on the couches in the living room, all reacting to the person that caused the standstill—one of my friends. Looking around, she notices all the eyes looking back at her, and her cheeks flush red in response, matching the color of her shirt. She begins to explain to the onlookers why she is jokingly upset; as she extends her arm to point to one of our newer friends, I hear something about "...doesn't like coffee..." and then I go back to the snacks, while the noise of people and music gradually get back to its original level. 

Everything is calmer now. In the dining room just a few feet over, I see a boy throw his arms up over his head and yell in a greeting toward the front door, "Ayy!" but a wall separates me from seeing who the new arrival is. More and more people yell the same greeting as the newcomer presumably walks further into the house and closer to the groups of people within the lamp-lit home. The harsh fluorescent lighting from the kitchen finally reaches the person's face, and I greet my friend with a wave.

Someone from the living room suggests with a booming voice that we all should play Catch Phrase—some nod, and some yell right back with their response. Slowly, most of the party makes their way into the living room, and I join the herd as well. Space on the couches and free chairs is now limited, but I find a narrow spot between two of my friends. The birthday girl suggests that we take a picture to commemorate the moment before we start the game, and because it's always so difficult to get group pictures unless they're planned, we happily agree. Someone I have never met volunteers to be the photographer, and a mixture of people I have known for years as well as those I have just met tonight all squish together to fit in the frame. I can hear people whispering to each other, "Are we supposed to smile?" and "Are you making a funny face, or no?" I squint hard to try and make out the photos while the phone is handed off from person to person, like a baton, until it reaches its owner. I could only get a few glances, but I know for a fact that we all have the same facial expression, complete with tired eyes, yet evident grins.