People seldom emote in waiting rooms. Boredom glazes over their faces as they flip through the latest edition of Real Simple or re-read that email from their landlord detailing the guidelines for recycling, or lack thereof, in their apartment complex. I notice the glazed over faces of myself and strangers when we sit and wait at the dentist, the carwash, in parking lots, or in airport terminals.
The ground floor of the Visual Arts Center (VAC) at Dartmouth feels eerily similar to a waiting room. In particular, the VAC resembles Gate 22 in the domestic terminal at Los Angeles Airport. (I mention the LAX airport because I once spent nine grueling hours waiting cross-legged on that coffee-stained carpet. A delay in Los Angeles due to “fog.” My knees nor my neck have yet to forgive me for my posture that day). My only human contact, asides from my dialogue with the Southwest flight attendants, was an exchange of $4 for a bag of Cheez-its. Despite two of my flights having been cancelled, I presume that I did not show much emotion at Gate 22 that day. I certainly texted my parents with whiny one-liners but I did not cry, yell, or curse under my breath in hopes that the overweight businessman beside me would hear. For nine straight hours, boredom glazed over me. Headphones in and eyes glued to my screen, I did not express human emotion for nine straight hours.
One immense difference that I must identify before going forward, is that the VAC is a bright and pleasant space. Devoid of sweat-stained rows of seating and wafts of Dunkin’ Donuts, the VAC boasts a wonderful selection of red sofas and its skylights foster a peaceful aurora. But, all around me people have headphones in and eyes glued to their screens. Dissimilar to Gate 22, everyone sits a comfortable distance apart, stretched out along the velour couches. The blond-haired girl across from me switches off between checking her phone and browsing on her laptop. I only see her express emotion once when receiving what I presume to be a text from her roommate. She smirks but looks around self-consciously to ensure that no one else notices her failure to remain stoic. The couple across the room sits closer than others. While they are physically close, they both have headphones in, eyes glued to their screens. A man near me wears large headphones and stairs intensely at his screen. Perhaps he is completing a reading about the Bosnian Genocide for his Gov class or solving a computer science lab—yet, his face remains glazed over in nothingness. The man removes his eyes from his screen and stands up to leave the waiting room. Before packing up or preparing for the sub-zero weather that awaits him, he secures his headphones in his ears. Then, he delicately puts on his jacket and backpack and marches away with his eyes focused on his screen. An employee at the building paces up and down the maze of ramps. I am unsure of his intentions and I question his apparel choice (a down-jacket indoors). Up above, an older woman ascends the concrete stairwell. Walking at a safe pace to ensure she does not trip while gazing at her screen.
Minutes, and even hours, pass without the faintest display of human emotion. Asides from the occasional whispering, I don’t hear anything. The girl across from me puts her screens away and skims an article for class. The couple continues to browse their computers. And, the room gets progressively dimmer as the fog obstructs the daylight from illuminating the room. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye I sense motion.
A bearded male jolts his arm into the air like a big bidder at an auction. His comrade across the room notices the male’s sudden motions and comes over to him. The male stands up as his comrade approaches, opens his arms, and they embrace. The embrace is brotherly, sincere, and forgive me for my trite language, raw. While I describe this interaction as genuine and emotional, I don’t mean to confuse readers. There were no tears, no cries of despair, nor was the interaction romantic in any way. This wasn’t a scene out of a Nora Ephron movie. What I was observing was empathy. The comrades proceeded to sit down next to each other and quietly discuss the matter at hand. The bearded man, the listener, crosses his legs, rubs his beard, and looks intently at his friend. The friend sits with his feet firmly planted on the floor but opens himself up to the bearded man. The two grown men whisper in a serious tone. The first individuals to express emotion of any sort in that waiting room and they feel no shame.