After the funeral, I visited Mom at the convalescent home. The place always had an odd stench, the smell of an invalid’s last breath. It was as if death was hiding in the ventilation system, ready to snatch patients when the nurses were not looking.
“Missy. Nice to see you. You haven’t been here for a few months,” a receptionist named Jan greeted me. (I was called “Missy” back then).
“I go to college in Florida now. How’s my mom?”
“About the same. We turn her over regularly so she doesn’t get bed sores.”
“Can I go in now?” I asked.
“Go right ahead,” Jan said. “By the way, your father’s never been here. Is he still living?”
“Yeah,” I said and tiptoed into Mom’s room.
I dreaded these visits. I showed up out of a sense of duty. Mom was as thin as kindling. She was frail and slurred her words so badly that I knew there was only a 50/50 chance that I’d be able to understand any particular sentence. It took great effort for her to speak, and I felt like I was torturing her when I made her repeat herself. On the other hand, I knew I was probably her only caller, especially now that Buddy was dead.
“Hi, Mom,” I tried to act perky.
She got excited, just as she always did when I visited. “Mi…sss…yyyy.”
“Looks like you’re doing well,” I smiled, but it was fake. She looked horrible.
I rambled on about my classes at the University of Florida and my friends in the dormitory because I figured it was better for her to listen rather than wrestle with the English language.
“Hoooww’s Arrr…..th….uuuurrr?” she asked.
“Dad?” I said in an upbeat way. “He’s doing fine. You know how he’s always working. He wishes he could be here with you. But, you know, it’s not easy running a big company.”
“Buddy is doing just great,” I lied.
I didn’t know whether to tell her the truth. I was afraid bad news would send her over an emotional cliff, making her vulnerable to the black forces in the air vent.
“Buddy’s going to be starting college pretty soon,” I continued the charade, even though Buddy would be nowhere near college age if he’d been alive. I figured Mom’s mental deterioration would keep her from detecting the ruse.
“So, he may not be around as much; but he loves you, and he’s always thinking about you.”
I figured I would tell Mom about Buddy’s death during the next visit or the one after that, or maybe the one after that.
I never told her.