The back tires of the van were compressed under the weight of the boxes. Rod had felt an emptiness, ever since he lost his wife and son in a car accident. Since then, trying to find something to grab onto was the hardest thing. He felt this was it—the absolute last thing that could give him a fighting chance to feel alive again. After he completed this mission, he would feel accomplished at the very least. This he was certain of.
Glancing into the back of the van, he looked at all the boxes neatly stacked in rows.
“Damn it,” he said as he unbuckled his seatbelt and slid a little into the back of the van. He reached just far enough to tuck some wires back under the box’s top and then closed it as tightly as he could. He slipped back into the driver’s seat, fastened his seatbelt, and began his overly planned trip. Deep down, he knew this trip would probably be his last.
Living close to the hospital for the last three years, he never thought he would plan an event of this magnitude. After countless therapy sessions, he determined that there was so much suffering in the world. So, this would be one of the most important things he had ever done in his life. The children’s hospital had some of the most suffering in the world. It wasn’t fair that anyone, especially a child, had to suffer like those children do daily. The saddest thing is to be tied to beeping machines all day and see the nursed with pasted on smiles. Were they happy or were they just trying to keep the children content with their situation while quietly mourned on the inside?
It wouldn’t matter. At least not today. Rod would change that today. He had masterminded everything about this day. He had the maps on his wall. He had driven the route multiple times. There were even a few good people who were helping him out. The time to drive to the hospital, park in the garage and unload the boxes was all planned—by him. And he knew the news would be there as well. Maybe a little fame would help him be happier. Rod didn’t know what he wanted, but he knew the news would cover this incredible feat. Maybe someone had done this before, but he never saw something of this level on the news. Usually, it was a famous person who spent an hour with a kid who was dying. It seemed more likely that the celebrity only wanted publicity. That mattered more than the actual kid to those types of people. Rod didn’t like this. He wanted to show those celebrities and politicians that he could take care of anger, sorrow, and pain with just one trip. The depression had been crippling him ever since the tragic accident, but now it had reached a new level. It was at a level of not giving a crap anymore. His mind could not make any other decisions outside of the plan that existed on this day. And he was just going through the motions.
“I’m here,” he said into his phone.
There was a man wearing scrubs that waved him over to the curb. Rod rolled down his driver’s window.
“Rod. It is so nice to meet you. My name is Edward. I was the one who was emailing you about this. You are like a celebrity to us,” the man said.
Rod grunted. Just being mentioned in the same sentence as a celebrity made him sick to his stomach.
“Well, I wanted to thank you, for letting me be a part of this,” Rod said. “Do you have someone to help me unload the van?”
“Yes, I’ll have some of my guys come down and help. We have been expecting you.”
“That sounds fantastic. Are you sure no one is aware?”
“A few people,” the man said. “Definitely none of the children.”
“That’s all that matters. Ok, let’s do this,” Rod said.
The man in the scrubs disappeared into the building. Two men wearing street clothes with hospital name tags opened the back of the van and took the boxes.
“Be gentle with the boxes, guys,” Rod said.
Both men nodded and smiled.
So far, so good, Rod thought to himself.
After the men got the boxes out of the van, Rod parked. He investigated the back of the van. The only box left was the one that he had tucked the wires back into moments earlier. That box would remain in the van. He looked at it through the window and a few tears dripped from his eyes.
Stay strong, Rod. He thought, wiping the tears away with his sleeve.
With a sniffle, he turned toward the entrance of the hospital and followed the directions that he jotted down a few weeks prior. He walked to a receptionist’s desk. From there, a nurse escorted him the rest of the way.
As he walked through the door, the nurses and doctors lined up to shake his hand.
Rod looked over at the boxes being opened. All the children that were strong enough began playing with the toys from the boxes in the hallways. A reporter walked up as well and introduced herself. She asked him a few questions. Rod could barely speak. His eyes teared up again.
These children are so happy, he thought. They have been through much more than I have.
The afternoon went by quickly. Rod tried to absorb the entire experience of the children smiling and having fun. Happiness was the only emotion he witnessed. It was all fabricated out of the things he brought them. But Rod kept thinking about the box in the van. It had been on his mind all day. That box was the intended focus of the plan.
Soon, he thought. After all, it was so well planned. Why couldn’t he have brought that one box to the children. It was a last-minute hesitancy that kept him from doing so. He knew what he must do now.
It was time to go. He arrived at the hospital’s exit that led to the parking garage. From there, he stared at the van. He crept toward the van. And when he got close enough, he observed the single box through the back window.
He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t give that box to the kids. He couldn’t give that box to anybody. Sliding back into the driver’s seat, he started the van and left the parking area. He got on the first major road and continued down it until he was in the country.
There was nothing but dirt, scattered trees, and the occasional plot of land the entire way there. Rod found a nice place to pull over. As far out as he was, there was nothing around, just flat land. He pulled the box out of the van and placed it on the ground. Then he cracked the box open, exposing the electric wires and cords. Continuing to pull the top off the box, he stared at its contents. The memories rushed back to him. He remembered the very day that he cut the cords and wires on his son’s video game system. It was improbable that any of the kids could have used it.
It was the night before the accident when he cut the cords. If he had only let his son play the game longer that night. If he had only sat down and played with him. He was going to replace it with another one, but his anger got the best of him. He was so hard on his son that night. That very night, he did not know that it would be the last time he ever saw his son or wife again.
Nothing angered him anymore except for the person he was until he got the call the next day. He put the top back on the box and burst into tears. He left it there. Glancing back at it one more time before he crawled into the driver’s seat. After all these years, he finally wiped the tears of depression from his face. I will never forget them, but it’s time for a new beginning, he thought.
At that moment, there was a release of all that was holding him back. He let it all go. Stronger and better, he promised to experience life and love to the fullest.
Copyright © 2021 by Ryan Barnard-Stoker