“What did you expect, showing up here unannounced like this?” She holds the screen door open just enough to allow me to smell the wet odors of corned beef and cabbage wafting towards me from deep inside the dark house behind her.
“Well, I was just hoping-----” I begin, but am immediately cut off before finishing my lame attempt at an explanation.
“Hoping what?” She grimaces, rolls her eyes, and gazes somewhere above my head, only occasionally meeting my gaze.
A dog barks in the yard next door and I think I hear a baby crying.
“He doesn’t want to see you. Never will.” She begins to close the screen door, but I grab it with my hand and prevent her from doing so.
“Has he really said that?” I ask. “Does he really not want to see me? Or is he just afraid that I’ll judge him and lecture him about how wrong it was that he did what he did?” I immediately worry that it seems like I mistrust her. And I guess I do.
She looks at me sternly. “He worries about what everyone thinks, and he can’t bear to face anyone. He’s always in that room of his, and getting him to even eat once a day isn’t easy.” Her eyes begin to well with tears and she relaxes her grip on the door, opening it slightly as she leans against it for support.
“Well, if he doesn’t want to see me, I understand.” I look her squarely in the eye. “Will you please tell him that I don’t judge him, that I’m not mad, and I just want to offer my support? He doesn’t even have to call me.”
“Look, honey. You’re a nice girl, and I know he likes you and that you’re his friend. And it’s nice of you to come all this way. He just isn’t ready for visitors.” Her eyes are dry now, but softer and kinder, like she has finally let her guard down.
“I don’t care about the distance. It's a really nice day, and I stopped at the flea market and bought a few things.” I point to a shopping bag on the ground next to my feet.
“This is a care package for him. I’d really appreciate it if you’d give it to him. There’s some really delicious cranberry-walnut bread and strawberry jam that I bought at the market. I know he likes that kind of thing with his tea.” I bend down and hand the bag to her. She opens the screen door wider and accepts the white bag, looping three fingers through the rope handles.
“I’m sorry I was so stern with you when you first knocked on the door, honey. It’s been a very difficult week for us all, and his father and I are about at our wits’ end.” She puts the bag down inside the door and steps out onto the front steps and stands next to me, her hands on the black iron railing. She lets the screen door close behind her. She smells like a combination of furniture polish and cabbage.
“So many people say the stupidest things, and I can’t even face our church community. Suicide isn’t looked on very favorably by the church, you know, and having all those people stare at me like I’m the most pitiable mother in the world is more than I can take.” Her face flushes with anger now. “It’s pathetic.”
“Well, I know how much he loves you and your husband,” I respond, and touch her arm with my fingers. “He always speaks so highly of you, especially in the last few years. “He would always tell me how he couldn’t let a Saturday go by without calling you, even when he was in Seattle.”
“I know. He’s a good boy. Always was. But what do I do with him now?” She crosses her arms and sighs. She blinks away a few tears.
“Just love him. Be patient. Be gentle. Give him time.”
We watch a small girl, perhaps eight years old, struggling to walk what looks like a six-month-old Lab down the street. The dog is intent and the girl trails along behind, the leash taut with the dog’s strength and fervor for life. The girl looks up at us, smiles and then tries to wave, but the dog jerks her along and she flails like a marionette. We both laugh.
“Well, dear, why don’t you come in for some tea, and maybe he’ll hear your voice and come down to see you. It’s not a crime that you came to see him, and maybe a familiar face will do him so good. He’s so far from his friends and the city, and he wouldn’t dream of calling any of his old high school friends right now.”
“I’d like that very much. As long as I’m not imposing.”
“Not at all. If you like corned beef and cabbage, we’ll feed you before your start your long drive back. My husband will be home soon.”
“Thanks. That’s not really necessary, but I won't say no. I love corned beef.”
We enter the house and walk down the hall towards the kitchen. As I cast a glance up the stairs, he is standing there at the top, smiling from ear to ear.
(c) 2008 NurseKeith