I have been back in Boston for two weeks, but I cannot seem to force myself to continue investigating my mother. Oh I had done all the preliminary work. I have found out the addresses and phone numbers of my mother’s parents and brothers, I knew all of their ages and marital statuses, and I even knew her parents had a rose bush that grew in front of their house because I had driven near that house several times. However my courage, which had propelled me during the last several months, seemed to have vanished and had been replaced with enormous dread which filled my body every time I thought of contacting my mother’s relatives. It seemed that my life had turned into knocking on old people’s doors, and I was too scared to knock on the next door alone. I decide to call Claire and ask her to come with me.
There are many reasons I would prefer to call Claire instead of Mike. For one thing, when two women show up at a stranger’s door, it is much less scary than if it is a man and a woman. I would certainly be less inclined to answer a door to strangers if one of them was a man. Secondly, I had been trying to cut Mike out of my life, and although I am not ready to go cold turkey, I certainly do not want to add any more emotional ties. Plus if I go with Claire I won’t even have to lie my husband. Well, at least not lie in any way that would make me feel guilty. I will tell him that Claire and I are going shoe shopping, which would be almost the truth. I might even decide to go to a shoe store after I find out the truth about my mother. If I find out the truth about my mother. I take a deep breath reminding myself that this door might lead to a dead end, a permanent dead end. I pick up the phone and call Claire.
Claire tells me that she can easily get a sitter, and that she is available to go with me tomorrow. I can hear excitement in her voice. Claire had wanted to be a journalist, but her parents convinced to switch to a less competitive profession. However, Claire still enjoyed uncovering secrets and asking lots of questions. I had not expected for Claire to available so soon, and I decide to wash the dishes to calm my shaking hands. Charlie will be pleased that the dishes are washed, so at very least all my lying will benefit him in some way. I watch the hot water roll down the dirty plate and I wonder what I’ll find out tomorrow.
The next day Claire drives us to the house with the rose bush in the front. My brown tennis shoes make me feel very under dressed when they walk next to Claire’s red heels towards dark blue door. I ring the door bell. A woman who I know is seventy-two, but who looks fifty-two, answers the door. “I’m not interested in buying anything today,” she says rather coldly. Through the cracked door I can see a silver cross hanging in the living room, and coldness of her voice convinces me to stick to my lie this time.
“I’m sorry to bother you Mam, but I am doing research for my aunt. I want to surprise her by finding a lot of her old friends and collecting memories from them. I usually call, but since I happen to live in Boston, I decided to make it a house call. My aunt’s name is Kelly Myers, and she used to be really good friends with Pamela Dactylic. This is the last known address I could find.”
I show her the photo of my mom and Kelly. “Yes that is my Pamela,” the lady replies, “although I don’t remember this Kelly person. I’m afraid Pamela’s address is St. John’s cemetery. My daughter had been walking with Jesus for over thirty years.”
“I am so sorry for your loss, can I ask what happened?”
“Thank you, but it was a long time ago. And I have six sons who have helped me in my grief. No one can replace Pamela, but the heart gets used to everything. She died in a car accident.”
I am at a loss for words, but Claire’s journalistic instinct kicks in and she asks, “was it an open casket funeral?”
“No, my daughter’s body was burned beyond recognition. The only reason we knew it was our Pamela was because of dental records.”
“You never worried that the doctor could have made a mistake,” Claire asks with a disinterested tone, as if she’s doing research on a college paper.
“Oh no, the doctor who called us, to inform us of this death, was a family friend. Well not quite a family friend, but he had been very helpful during an unpleasant incident that Pamela had been involved in less than a year before her death. He was very young, fresh out of med school, but he was very devoted to our daughter. He was the one who saw her turned over car and called the ambulance, and he comforted her during her last living moments. She made it to the hospital alive, but she died shortly after.”
“Does he still work at the hospital,” Claire asks.
“Oh no. One of my sons broke his leg six months later, and when we went to the hospital we asked for him. Turns out he had transferred after Pamela’s death. The death traumatized him. He cared about our a daughter quite a bit; he even went to her funeral. I remember when the minister said we would all see Pamela in our next life, a tiny smile had crept on his face, and he seemed to breathe with relief.”
“Doesn’t it seem strange that a doctor would be that involved with a patient,” I ask, and though I try to keep my voice calm, both Claire and the lady give me a dumbstruck stare.
“He acted the way a good doctor should act. I’m so sick of these doctors today that treat you a like an object with a bank account instead of a person. The doctors in my day cared about you, they called on your birthday, and remembered your symptoms without the help of a chart. Dr. John Smith was a great doctor who cared about his patients, to suggest otherwise would be inappropriate.”
My eyes become wide and my mouth hangs open. The lady notices the look on my face, and she must assume that I don’t believe her words because she adds, “ a good doctor cures the patient not the symptom.”
I continue to stand silently, not because I disagree with her, but because John Smith, aside from being the most generic name in the world, happens to be the name of my father.
“Of course it is important for the doctor to care for the patient,” Claire says, and then she adds, “do you mind telling us how Pamela was during the last year of her life?”
“She wasn’t as good as she could have been. She had lost her way and was going against the teachings of Jesus. But luckily she still remained a believer, and Jesus forgives all sins. She is in heaven now, thanks to Jesus and his forgiving heart.”
“Thank you,” Claire says, “for answering our questions, and I’m sorry for your loss.”
Claire and I drive back in silence, and after five minutes I realize that Claire is not driving back to her house.
“Where are you going,” I ask.
“St. John’s cemetery,” she replies.
“That Lady was scary,” I say.
Claire laughs, “You do realize that was your grandmother.”
A cold chill sweeps across my body. We arrive to the cemetery, and I am thankful that I am wearing tennis shoes and not heels as I walk past the tombstones. I see the tombstone with my mother’s name, and I walk over to it. I touch the cold smooth granite, and I think about the cold smooth granite that my mother’s other tombstone is also made out of. Nobody but me had been to both her grave sites. Except I realize that’s not true. My father had also been to both of her grave sites, and he had listened to two eulogies that featured my mother’s name.