His resume looked like a spreadsheet for at least ten different people who had lived at least three full lives. He had come across it as he was preparing to pack from his last job before the strange new world of retirement. He laughed quietly to himself realizing that he had been employed by everything from dog walking to telemarketing, from teaching to counseling, from cleaning to writing. The day had finally come where he could hopefully rest from a long career of a smorgasbord of life works and activity, which produced at least another lifetime of memories.
Just when he came to the last box of papers and discarded letters, he realized that he had not opened this particular movable crate of remembrance ever since he packed it forty years ago. That was when he worked for a medical delivery company, transporting everything from specimens to records all over the area in a three-hundred-mile radius and visiting as many as twenty-five different hospitals and medical facilities. This was the moment he found them. Neatly wrapped in that light tissue paper that people often put inside those big gift bags as a splash of color temporarily hiding the surprise gift for the recipient, there they were: a pair of soft pink silk ballet shoes that appeared never to have been worn or even presented to anyone. He drew a deep breath and quickly realized that his eyes began to moisten with a warm but sad memory that he placed away for safe keeping. In his hands, he softly held those two pristine fit pointe shoes (as they are known within ballet circles) while bending over quickly to retrieve the invoice and receipt probably undisturbed since the day he first opened the small delivery box in which they had arrived.
This particular memory had taken several months to begin, develop, and conclude while he was delivering medical items to a children’s hospital in San Antonio, Texas. He loved going there and speaking with the nurses on the different floors, most of whom knew him by name and vice-versa. Holidays were especially memorable for him because he never forgot to provide seasonal cards, post cards, candy, and maybe even a potted plant for the front desks. That was perhaps why they always asked for him by name for deliveries and why his company was always to assign him, for one, to keep their clients happy, and second, to help ease the disappointment and frustration when a particular shipment was late or even worse, lost.
This touching story, all these forty years later, began at the beginning of November during one of the worst rainstorms in the area. Freeways and overpasses were dangerously drenched while police cars and ambulances were heard and spotted every mile or so. Of course, that meant that he was equally drenched from head to toe. Gratefully, he had several spare changes of clothes in the mobile delivery van, and on this memorable day, he ran into the hospital, and after a quick dry-and-change maneuver, he was back on the floors checking in with his anxiously awaiting customers.
That’s when he met her. It was perhaps one of the most strangely curious and yet darling memories that would always be accessible throughout his years. She was a little girl about seven years old, with the brightest smile, the most delicate of expressions, and clearly a cancer patient. He found himself in the front admitting room of the oncology wing patiently waiting for someone to come and certify his delivery and sign the invoice. What he noticed was more than curious. This little girl wore a bright petty-coat kind of dress that looked like she was about to start square-dancing, deterred perhaps by the IV-drip suspended high above her head hanging by a silver pole on wheels which she pushed as if it were her own private tricycle or elaborate wagon. She was as bald as a bowling ball with a cute red ribbon apparently scotch-taped to her head to complete the ensemble. She was going from patient to patient asking their name, occupation, and reason for being there as if she worked there or was part of the welcoming committee of the hospital.
When she finally arrived at our delivery man, she was taken back by his uniform, name tag, and stack of unusually marked boxes which comprised his delivery for that day and floor.
“What are you?” she asked rather brusquely.
“I’m from FedEx, little girl, and I am here bearing gifts!” came his quick and smile-laden response.
“Oh, hello, Mr. FedEx,” came the retort. “Welcome to my hospital.”
The next few minutes or so began the most endearing of passing friendships that would warm anyone’s heart. The next questions were all about their homes and families, their favorite things to do, and of course, about why this little precious soul was even here at the hospital.
“Well, Mr. FedEx, you see that bag hanging there? That’s for me. They say that I have “lookeemia,” or something like that. But look! I figured out a little dance I can perform for you right here even though I got this ‘bag-pole’ stuck to me.”
And with that innocent and inviting introduction, she proceeded to provide a jig and some rather fancy foot work while humming some melody which escaped the scope of the delivery man’s repertoire.
“That’s pretty good little girl! By the way, what’s your name?” asked Mr. FedEx.
“My name is Sally. I am happy to meet you, but I think it’s time for my nap. I will see you later, I hope real soon, OK?”
Even though it was 9:30 in the morning and perhaps an odd hour for napping, our delivery man continued his way forward with his deliveries and collection of signatures before braving the elements outside once again and praying that he could make it back home in one piece.
One month passed and it was time for yet another delivery to that same oncology wing. He was secretly hoping he would see Sally again, and although at his first visit to the floor, he did not see her, he did return to the waiting room and waited for as long as he could. Sure enough, after about twenty minutes, there she entered the area, different dress, different shoes, but same smile and scotch-taped bow on her shiny little head.
“Hey, Mr. FedEx! I am happy to see you again!” she blurted out, approaching him slowly.
“And I am happy to see you, too, Sally. Tell me, what have you been up to?” came the quick reply.
The two continued their conversation as if they had known each other forever. She went on to tell him what new treatments they were going to try with her, while he spoke to her of the ever-expanding routes they were planning to assign to him, maybe as far away as Austin and Dallas, and that he hoped that he would still be on the same schedule to bring him by the hospitals in the San Antonio area.
“That would be really nice, Mr. FedEx. I hope you keep coming,” reassured Sally.
“Me, too, Sally, me too. Hey, before I forget, next month is Christmas and I’ll bet you’ve got a long wish ready to share, don’t you,” continued her new friend.
“Yes, I do. What I would really like to do for Christmas is dance, a special dance that I create and perform here for families who come to see my friends here. And of course, I’d like to dance for my family. But I’ve got this ‘bag-pole’ with my medicine, but with the right shoes, anything is possible, right?,” she said with a smile that filled the room with the love and dreams of a dying girl with undying hope.
It was at that moment that our Mr. FedEx knew exactly what he was going to do. He was going to go to one of those ballet studios and purchase a small pair of tall pointe shoes and wrap them exactly right for Sally for Christmas. He was so excited and knew that it would make her face light up like all the Christmas trees he could imagine. Immediately he found the place, purchased the gift, and placed it in safe keeping inside his delivery van hoping that he would see that familiar address of the hospital on his list of stops.
The Christmas rush that year was merciless, however. There were new delivery locations everywhere and, although the San Antonio children’s hospital was always on the list, there was a slew of new drivers that had to be hired on to fill the demanding order for Christmas fare all over Central Texas. The young delivery man seemed to have gone everywhere else except that children’s hospital in San Antonio, but he never went anywhere without his special package tucked safely away in one of the storage compartments of his van.
Christmas, New Year’s, and January all came and went and the rush for packages seemed to have abated substantially. One dark and cloudy morning, at around 6:00, he received his list of deliveries for the next three days. He brandished a great big smile when he read that the children’s hospital was on the list. He could not wait. And the rainstorm would not wait either. The weather was as dark and torrential as the day he first met his little ballerina. However, nothing was going to stop him from this last delivery of the week.
It was a little before three o’clock in the afternoon when he arrived at the hospital and yet it seemed as if it was much later. He brought the dolly that carried about five or six heavy boxes of everything from small oxygen tanks to latex gloves and finally made his way to the oncology wing. Surprisingly, it was empty. He thought the visiting hours were either over, or there was just a lull in the flow of families coming to see their young ones. He was also taken back with how quiet it all was. As he looked up at the large clock on the wall, he began to hear the soft but determined raindrops hitting the windows facing the city below. He was also determined to make this last delivery, and after a full hour that seemed like a day, he rang for the on-duty nurses. Two incredibly young and serious-looking women dressed in bright blue scrubs came to the desk.
“May I help you, sir?” one of them asked.
“I’m looking for Sally. Could you please tell her that Mr. FedEx, her friend is here to see her?”
The two nurses glanced at each other with a strange expression that was a mix of distress and awkwardness. One of them went to the file cabinet while the other was about to reach for the phone but not before our delivery man assertively intervened:
“Which one of you is going to tell me?”
The older nurse who had tried to deflect what she was sure to be a most difficult and yet common conversation, spoke up:
“Well, sir, you know this is a hospital and the kids here are very sick.”
The young man impatiently interrupted with, “Where is Sally?”
She continued, “Sally died Christmas Eve shortly before midnight. I am sorry. We all miss her very much.”
He would later say that he felt as if all the air in that room became so thin and he felt as if he was going to faint or something. He walked out slowly, package in hand, into a well-known and frequented mercado-like plaza outside the hospital and just started walking. He was grateful that it was pouring down so that the rain and his tears comingled and very few, if any, noticed.
That was forty years ago and today, as he was getting all his papers and documents in order, he found those ballet shoes again. Sally would have been about forty-six or seven today and he often wondered what kind of life she would have led had she had the chance. However, that was not where he was going with this memory. He believed strongly that everyone had been placed upon this earth, and even more specifically, in each of our paths to achieve something worthy and noble that makes, or rather, should make a difference. Sally had done that for him, and he prayed that during these past four decades, he had done the same for others.
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