Thoughts in Waiting
by Ró Stack
I check my phone for the umpteenth time. As each hour passes I think I’m probably not sick at all and shouldn’t have brought this situation upon myself. I make a plan to go to the shop, then remember that I cannot go to the shop. Within a day or so, the lady said, as I recovered from the sensation of having a new part of my skull tickled, my left eye watering, the sensation of an almost-sneeze looming.
Patience has never been my strong point, a trait I inherited from my father who was impatient at best, intolerant at worst. Impatience essentially means you’re not generous with time. Since my father died, I’m even less generous with it. Watching someone die with no acceptance of their illness will do that to you. Bucking against fate, raging against the dying of the light, wanting to grasp every second and somehow turn it back into precious life.
Vladamir and Estragon became paragons of waiting, casually resigning to their fate of hanging around a tree talking endlessly about when Godot will arrive. I worked on an Unusual Rural Tour of Beckett’s play the summer my father went into the hospice. I’d written the grant applications, prepared the press releases, programme, photographer and video promo, before I had to suddenly clear my desk. It had been a difficult period of waiting, wondering daily at what point I’d have to jump off the bus, careening inevitably toward an unfortunate end while desperately running out of petrol. Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock had nothing on me though (apart from romance, good looks and wealth).
Keanu waited a long time for the reputation he now has: an incredibly nice guy. Someone who is not the best actor but has somehow ended up in several cult classics: Bill and Ted; Point Break; The Matrix. He just leaned into it and people respect him for it. John Travolta had a similar trajectory, albeit helped along by Pulp Fiction and later undermined by Scientology, but the point remains: perseverance pays off.
I wonder if perseverance is the right approach today. I have the urge to cancel things but feel slovenly and know that leaning into the day will help. I check my phone again for the diagnosis text. Still nothing. It’s the limbo that’s the trickiest. I’m not quite sure what’s required of me or how to prepare for what’s ahead but I remind myself that I’ve been here before:
Waiting to hear back on a job interview (2012)
Waiting for college results (2009)
Waiting for a decision on arts grants (2009–2021)
Waiting to see if my cousin will pull through (2014)
Waiting to hear the government restrictions (2020–2021)
Waiting for a boy to text me back (1999–2011)
Waiting for my period (1993–1995; 2013; 2015; 2018; 2020; 2021)
Waiting for my mother (1981–present)
I should be better at this. So much of life is spent waiting – for a person, for an outcome. For something that says: continue. My impatience urges me to find things to do in-between, a stubborn productivity. This I also inherited from my father.
In most of my memories, my father is not present physically, only his voice. My memories of him are memories of me, holding a phone, receiving supportive soundbites. He always seemed impressed by me and I always felt it was because he didn’t really know me. As a result, I never took his encouragement seriously. If I did, I wouldn’t have waited so long to pursue writing in a disciplined way. The difference between those who get published and those who don’t, is that the published writers get up and do it every single day, he told me.
To distract myself from this morning’s limbo -or maybe to defy it- I sit down and write. I hear the cat at the window, waiting to come in. My mother in the kitchen, waiting for the kettle to boil. I pause between paragraphs, waiting for the next word to come. I cross my legs, waiting until later to go to the toilet. I glance at my phone, waiting, still, for the text to come.
Around nine years of age, I won my father’s admiration by using the phrase ‘thundered down the stairs’ in a piece of writing, so much so, that he promised me a typewriter. It arrived from America nine months after my birthday, doubling as a Christmas present. I can’t recall the waiting, only the arrival of the machine, heavy and adult-like and entirely mine.
I re-joined the company on the last leg of the Unusual Rural Tour, in a place called the Céide Fields, one of Europe’s oldest Neolithic sites, on the west coast of Ireland. Horizon and sea were one bleeding pallet of grey; sky and Atlantic a single moving mass of water. I looked over the cliff and thought of Keanu and Patrick Swayze having their final showdown. Swayze as Bodhi, pleading: Let me get one more wave before you take me. One more wave!
Everyone was wrapped in raingear, the insipid mist not so much coming at us, as accepting our trespass within it. On rows of black folding chairs we persevered. We sat inactive, watching very little unfold. Or seemingly very little. Weather. Waiting. Fleeting profundities. Silence and nonsense. A fitting tribute to my father, my grief, my own discomfort with the sensation of wasting time. Water dripped off my nose onto my Gortex jacket, heavily glossed with rain, a membrane between the elements and my pale trembling skin.
The screen lights up: This number was provided for the COVID-19 PCR test of Roisin, age 40, taken on 16-May-2021. The HSE can confirm that this test did NOT detect COVID-19 virus. More information is available at HSE.ie.
A mix of disappointment and relief. I must go on. A resumption of time, permission, activity. Life.
What do we do now, now that we are happy?
Ró Stack is a writer and theatre maker based in the West of Ireland. Her plays have been produced in Scotland, Australia and Ireland. Recent writing has been published by the Irish Times, Hybridities, Pure Slush Books and Abandon Journal.
Image: Peter Yost/Unsplash