Dr. Henry Stevins had left his office Friday evening dreading the weekend. However, come to think of it, he always seemed to be dreading something. His co-workers only ever found enough courage to utter a, “hello,” when he entered a room, and hardly had any left to say, “goodbye”, when he departed. Dr. Stevins, of course, added this to his many reasons for being miserable. He believed that his co-workers were secretly out to get him when truly they were out to avoid him.
His patients found it even harder to relate to him. They quickly laid out their problems and waited for his response in uncomfortable silence. Dr. Stevins would sigh as he looked over their medical notes, adding some scribbles of his own, and then he would peer at the patient over the top of his half-rimmed glasses, and finally speak his prognosis in the most unfeeling way he could muster.
The patients would leave the room either unsure how to feel or ready to buy a grave plot. Dr. Stevins felt, of course, that he was underappreciated, and that he was saving lives and hardly getting the thanks he deserved.
He drove home in the rain, stomped off his shoes in a (to no one’s surprise) empty home, and trudged to his bedroom to change. Having had a draining week, and being lulled by the sound of rain on the roof, Dr. Stevins climbed into bed and soon fell asleep. (And I want to take this time to thank you all for reading this far, you see Dr. Stevins is about to have a dream that will forever change his miserable soul, and we must keep awake ourselves if we are to see how it unfolds.)
Dr. Stevins believed he had woke up, the rain was pounding on the windows sill and yet the weather channel stated clearly amidst the torrential noise that it was clear skies and high 80 degrees. The Doctor shook his head in disbelief, “are they truly trying to fool me?” He sputtered angerly, as he went about getting ready. He had his weekend errands to run, and he wished very deeply that the rain would sweep him away so that his chores wouldn’t need doing.
His first stop was the bank, it was crowded with wet people and Dr. Stevins’s discontent grew as the clock ticked by and the rain fell harder still. A lady in front of him had two children; an infant crying, and a toddler pulling at a toy in the babies hand. The mother struggled to hold the baby and control the toddler. Dr. Stevins ground his teeth. He thought only of himself and his misery, hearing the cries of the baby and the pounding of rain, he missed what the lady was saying to the bank teller.
“Please…Alice stop!…ma’am I need this loan, I have no place to go.” the mother begged, the bank teller smiled sadly, “Dear, I can’t give you this loan, you have to meet the criteria.” The mother started sobbing, this surprised the baby so much that his cries stopped and the toddler stopped tugging on the toy. “The restaurant w..where I work just let me go an..and I can’t pay rent, they want me out in a week!” The banker tried consoling her, but the crowd of people waiting had grown, along with Dr. Stevins anger. He said aloud, “finally lady!” when the crying mom stormed away in anguish. He thought her tears were nothing but rain droplets on her cheeks.
Next stop was the grocery store, Dr. Stevins was running low on TV dinners and evening booze. There was a time he tried to eat right, forcing down vegetables and sticking to water. But as any miserable person would agree, those weren’t “comfort” foods/drinks. And it only brought him less pleasure. (However, had he continued his healthier diet, he would have eventually felt better, at least a little)
He pushed his shopping cart along, it’s tires squeaking noisily on the floor, the aisles were hectic, with shoppers rushing about and kids calling, “Mom can we get this?” and store clerks assisting customers. Dr. Stevins went to turn down a different aisle when someone crashed into him, it was a young father, holding his little girl in his arms, “sorry sir,” the man said, repositioning his laughing daughter.
Dr. Stevins had finally hit a breaking point. In his eyes, he had trudged through rain, had to wait at the bank amidst a crowd, not to mention listen to a screaming baby, after that he had to wait in traffic because there had been a car accident blocking the road, once past that he almost nearly ran over a begger, in which Dr. Stevins thought a fool for standing in the rain. “The idiot is liable to catch a cold.” He mumbled, honking his horn. And now he had arrived at the store to find this place just as much in a state of chaos and had a cart driven into his knee. He sucked in breath and nearly shouted at the father (who was now positively alarmed), the little girl burst into tears and then….(this is when the nightmare truly begins for old Doc)
Right when the little girl burst into tears Dr. Stevins locked eyes with her for the first time and nearly broke apart, it was his daughter Penelope…switching his gaze back to the father, he now saw himself when he was in his early twenties. The whole store became quiet and he stood there unsure how to feel, his face was still red from yelling and his heart was racing, and yet tears were now pouring down his face. “Penny?” He sobbed, falling to his knees.
Penny had died when she was 8 years old from cancer, Dr. Stevins remembered it all in fine detail, remembered feeling useless. He would argue with his wife well into the night as their daughter slept fitfully. “I’m a doctor! And I can’t even save my own child!” He would cry out and then the argument would end, his wife, Sarah would kneel beside him and apologize, she would comfort him and lift his face to hers. The strength that he had relied on when their daughter was sick, became a thing to resent when after the funeral life had to go on. Dr. Stevins wallowed in anger and depression, while Sarah fought desperately to live again. They divorced within a couple years.
The Penny he saw now before him was the same age but radiant and healthy. The younger him placed her down, she wiped her eyes and said, “Daddy what has happened to you?” Dr. Stevins smiled at her between sobs and replied, “What do you mean sweetie?” Penny made a face, not unlike the one she had made when he couldn’t go to the zoo like he had promised once. “Your face looks like this daddy, why are you so angry?” Her face turned soft and searching, Dr. Stevins saw immediately how vile he had been for years. To his surprise, the store suddenly filled with people, but this time they were all silent and circled around him. He dared look them in the eyes and recognized them immediately. He saw his patients, his co-workers, his young wife, and more recently, the woman from the bank with her now quiet children. To his left, he spotted the begger, and a man he didn’t know who looked as if he had been in a car wreck.
The doctor within made him lurch toward him, “sir are you alright?” the man stood and smiled sadly, this made Dr. Stevins pause, “who are you?” he stepped forward and said, “I’m the man whose car was hit by a drunk driver today, the crash backed up traffic, you were the one who laid on the horn and grew impatient at waiting for me to be hauled away.” Dr. Stevins blinked in shock, “I…I’m sorry…” He turned his gaze away in shame and saw the lady from the bank. She stepped forward and said, “I am a single mother, trying to survive. I have no idea what to do…but I am the only one who can do it.” Dr. Stevins finally heard her voice amidst the rain and crying at the bank. “I’m sorry I didn’t hear you or notice you were even crying.” He said softly. And so it went around the circle, each person telling their story and their hurt, and Dr. Stevins realizing that he had been a part of it or had failed to notice them.
He both heard and felt their pain as if it was his own, as his patients told their stories he broke down again in tears. He had made them feel uncared for, had put them through undue pain and suffering as they feared their prognoses. Dr. Stevins covered his face with his hands, “I have failed as a doctor and as a father.” He felt like the lowest scum of the earth and before he could sink any lower he felt his daughter pull his hands away from his eyes and say, “daddy I still love you, please don’t cry.” He looked at her and hugged her close, “I’m so sorry Penny, have you watched it all? Have you seen me become this monster?” She nodded her head and kissed his cheek, “daddy, I never leave your side.” He looked at her in wonder, and in an instant, it all vanished.
The sound of the alarm clock wrenched him back to reality. He awoke with a start and realized that he had cried all over his pillow. The window curtains were closed but a ray of light burst through, he opened them to reveal a beautiful day. The weather channel said blue skies and 80 degrees, the rain had parted…in the world and in his heart.
Today, Dr. Stevins is a new man. His co-workers love him, his patients have grown to respect him and always leave his office feeling reassured and full of hope. In public, you would be hard-pressed to see Dr. Stevins alone, as he is always ready to help and serve others. The begger on the corner even calls him a friend.
Sometimes people ask him why he lives alone, as they see him as quite a man…to this he always replies the same, “I’m never alone.”
A smile lights his face as he imagines his daughter trotting beside him, “I could find many reasons to give up, but they do not compare to the overflowing number of reasons to keep going…to live.” Dr. Stevins looked over at Sarah, “It was me against the world then, I’m sorry I pushed you away…I’m not asking for you to forgive me, but will you consider getting a cup of coffee?” She turned her head away and looked out at the rain hitting the pavement, and smiled.