He had spent a lot of his life waiting. He recalled waiting for his first-grade classroom door to open, proud to enter and take his seat, instantly in love with Miss Milam and her blond hair and intoxicated by the fragrance of her talcum powder.

He waited four months for his report card in seventh grade, and even though it had a D on it, he took it home dutifully. At least he passed.

He had waited for the nickel bus to take him to school each day, and while waiting, memorized Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s valentine to her husband: “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”

In cap and gown, he had waited four times to hear his name called–to march across a stage, to receive four pieces of paper which he still had somewhere. He waited in lines in a gymnasium where professors of the small college sat behind tables, enrolling students for the opening term of the year. He waited in line for the dormitory dining hall to open, but not because the food was gourmet. On spaghetti night, Bill, who became an astronaut, dished out spaghetti to those inching through the line. “Get your live fish bait right here!” Presentation received little attention in the men’s food service.

He had waited in the anteroom till the usher said, “It’s time.” The wedding march began. She floated down the aisle like an angel. She became had his savior in ways he had never imagined, absolutely worth the wait.

He waited five hours, beginning at 2:30 A.M., staring at Pacific waves dashing on the rocks beneath a gigantic picture window, till the birth pangs were over, and he had another love in his life.

When his mother died, he had waited in the viewing room. Friends and acquaintances came to pay their respects. He wondered where her friends were. Then he realized she had outlived most of her friends and acquaintances. Her heart was large enough to embrace the world, but she was not a public person. No one was going to come by representing some club or church.

Waiting with colleagues, marching in heavy rain, he struck for smaller classes, while- others struck for money. They got neither smaller classes nor more money. They lost the fight, but they had stood up to power. They possessed a dignity they had never felt before.

I’m in room 103, he thought, but we don’t check out according to our room number. Leonard was in 104 and younger than me. One day he was here, the next he was gone, and Franklin is in 104. Now he’s waiting along with the rest of us.

Aggie left suddenly. She loved to play Bingo, and she could keep three cards going at the same time. She was lucky, and the prizes were not bad—a candy bar, a small stuffed toy, or a knitted hand warmer someone had donated. They rolled the gurney past my door last night, and even with the
sheet pulled over her face, I knew who it was.

What’s next? he asked himself. The leap is next. The move to the head of the line–leap–into what? He wondered where the idea came from there’s something beyond death.

He recalled the funeral of one of his Hmong students who had gone home ill one day. The next day Lao Moua had jumped to the head of the line. Alone, he had an epileptic seizure, fell off his bed, struck his head on the metal frame, and bled to death.

The one indisputable fact is we go. We might wait 100 years, or far less, but ultimately we go, in war, or by accident, or in the quiet of our home, extracted from our room and hidden from view on a gurney.

He finally admitted to himself notions of an afterlife—resurrection, heaven, Purgatory—all were guesses that sprang from hope. The culture declares saints reach heaven; sinners enter hell, and wee sinners pass through Purgatory, where their souls do a turnaround. Perhaps none of it is real.
Over the years, he had gradually laid aside all ideas about life after death. Why think about it, he asked himself when the answers never rise above the level of speculation? Even priests and ministers, specialists, disagree because they, too, are mere speculators.

Whatever happens after death, he was content to leave in the hands of the Other, his designation for divinity. But he took comfort in the fact that people who die live on—in our memories. People we have loved, people we feared, people he might have only known casually, all lived inside our mind.
He still conjured up memories of his mother and father, like the smell of his father’s aftershave. His mother, queen of the kitchen, waiting for the third table, the women’s table after the men and children had filled themselves with the holiday feast. He still heard the sweet voice of his blind Granny waiting in her dark world, “Who’s there? I know it’s someone,” when all along, she knew it was he. He closed his eyes, wondering if tonight might be his turn. If it is, he thought, then so be it.