Here’s how this works.

You’re doing something completely innocuous, and the bottom of spacetime gets knocked out of you, and you’re in The Hole again.

What does it? Anything. Anything at all. In this instance, it’s a smell.

We stopped off at Kaiser to pick up a prescription for me. It wasn’t ready, and I had to use the restroom. Afterwards, I did what you’re supposed to do. I washed my hands. I looked in the mirror, noticed a few gray hairs, ran my fingers through my hair, and I smelled The Soap.

Hospital soap. The same fucking hospital soap that every hospital uses. The same hospital soap I’ve washed my hands with countless times. Too many times. And the smell rips what’s been almost 5 years to shreds, and mocks you. Taunts you. Laughs at you, and reminds you that you need to scrub more than you have. Then you notice that the bathroom you walked into is no longer the bathroom you’re in. The bathroom you’re in is an hour’s drive south. The porcelain sink is the sink in San Francisco. It even has the same curve to the edge of it. The hum of the lights. The mirror. The ceiling. All of it is from somewhere else, or exactly the same – it doesn’t matter. Because even if you’re not physically there, you’re THERE.

You’re in the bathroom in San Francisco. When you open the door, you will be in the familiar hospital hallway, with the familiar pictures, the familiar sounds, and faces. You begin to wonder if you’ve been in the bathroom too long. What if this is the moment your son decides to stop breathing for good? What if you MISSED IT? Is that an alarm? Is that my son? Or is it one of the other premature infants deciding to attempt an exit from this planet?

The bathroom begins to spin. You need to get out. Your heart rate increases, and you start to sweat. You NEED TO GET OUT. You try to get your bearings, and you can tell yourself again and again that it’s been almost 5 years, and that you’re somewhere else, but you’re not 100% certain, are you? You don’t know. You know what you’ll see when you open the door, but you also KNOW WHAT YOU’LL SEE when you open the door.

You take a deep breath. You open the door. And you’re in two hallways at once. You’re in a Kaiser Medical Office, and you’re in the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital NICU at the same time. One foot in each hallway. Sounds, smells, floor tiles, automatic doors, telephones, medical uniforms merge and separate into two-instances in one.

The scent of The Soap is still on your hands. It will be until you get home. What a stupid, stupid thing. What a stupid, stupid mistake. It shouldn’t be like this, but it is. You make it to the automatic door, and it opens, simultaneously releasing you, but making sure to give you the finger, because it’s also The Other Automatic Door.

You make it to the car. You never want to go back there.

But you have to. Because the final “fuck you” is that your prescription won’t be ready for another day or two.

Next time, you’ll remember not to use The Soap.

At least you hope so.

But, really, you know you’ll probably forget again.

Until it’s too late.

Wash, rinse, repeat.