Monday, November 22, 2004

Breaking the news

It's Tuesday, November 16.

My phone rings. It's my aunt Shirley, Jenny's mom.

"Hi, Steve! How ya doin'?"

What does she want?, I think. Aunt Shirley is a lazy good-for-nothing. It's truly amazing that Jenny is so ambitious and successful, possessing Shirley's decidedly UNremarkable DNA. If Shirley actually undertook the major multi-step project of looking up my number, walking across the room, picking up the telephone, and dialing it, she must want something, and must want it pretty desperately.

"Hey, aunt Shirley."

"How's it goin', Steve? You doin' okay?"

"Yeah, everything's fine."

Yeah. Blah, blah, blah. We both know you want something, so spit it out.

"How's your father?"

"He's doing fine. About as good as you can expect, under the circumstances."

"He's a good man."

For the love of GOD, woman! OUT with it!

"Hey, Steve, I wonder if you can do me a favor."


"What's that?" I never say "Sure!" when someone asks me that. Why agree before I know the terms?

"You remember that retarded girl your mother used to spend time with?"

"I heard about her. Never met her."

"Well, she lives over at the group home. When your mother died, they weren't gonna tell her. They just figured she would forget. But now she's asking for Louise."


"They said they would tell her, but I offered to do it. But I just don't wanna do it alone, that's all. And I know you are so good with people, I thought you'd be perfect. I mean, Chris is good, too, but I just got the feeling you'd be better."

"Ahhh," I say. I make sure it sounds like I don't think this is such a good idea.

"I mean, I can just call and tell them to forget it, if you want."

"It's just that I have no experience working with retarded kids."

"Well, I mean, someone from the home would be there. And I would be there."

"Yeah, alright," I say.


Wednesday, November 17, 2:55. The Wildwood Group Home.

It looks like a regular house, really, a non-descript ranch-style home, complete with basketball hoop in the driveway and skateboards on the front lawn.

I ring the bell. It buzzes loudly, like the sound my dryer makes when it's finished running.


I ring it again, and the door swings open immediately.

"Hello." It's a heavy-set black girl. She's eating a sandwich. Her whole face sags; she's either clinically depressed, or hasn't slept in 72 hours. Her voice is devoid of any expression, like a robot. It's almost funny.

"Hi, I'm Steve. I'm here to see Dawn."

"Oh, hi Steve." She opens the door all the way. "I'm Abby. You want one?" She says, holding the sandwich out to me. It looks like turkey, lettuce, and tomato. There are huge white globs of mayonnaise oozing from the sides.

No, I've already had my recommended daily allowance of lard. But thanks.

"I'm all set," I say. "Is my aunt here?"

"Nobody's here but you. I'll get Dawn."

"Maybe you ought to wait for my aunt-"

She leaves the room.

A young girl walks in, smiling brightly. She looks about 19. But we all know how bad I am at estimating ages...

"Hi," I say.


"Do you work here? I'm waiting for Dawn."

She smiles wider.

Abby walks back in. "Say hi, Dawn!"

Dawn blushes and smiles.

Shit! I thought Shirley said this girl was retarded. I was expecting to see a Down's syndrome kid, with the wide face and narrow eyes. But then again, you can be retarded without having Down's.

"Hi, Dawn!" I say.

"We have a VCR! Do you wanna see our VCR?"


"LOOK! See? SEE?" She opens two wooden doors on an entertainment center, exposing a color TV and VCR.

"Ah, very nice," I say.

"Do you have a VCR?"

"Er, yes."

"Is it black?"

"Is it BLACK?!" I ask.

"Is it a black VCR? Is it black?"

I believe the politically correct term is electronic-american.

"Yeah. It's black, Dawn."

"My VCR is black, see? Look!"

"I see that."

There is no way I should have rung that bell. I shoud have waited in my car. I didn't even think to look for Shirley's car before I walked up to the door.

I have a meeting at 4:00. It took me 20 minutes to get here. Since I always like to be at my desk 10 minutes before a meeting starts, that means I can't stay any later than 3:30. And that's pushing it. I look at my watch. It's 3:15.

Abby sees me checking the time. "Was she supposed to be here at 3?"

"Yes." I grab my phone and dial Shirley's number.

"Silver! You have a silver phone!" Dawn says. "Why is your phone SILVER?" She reaches for the phone as I dial. I pull it away.

"Dawn, be polite," Abby says, looking down at her sandwich. She takes a shark-sized bite. A big glob of mayo plops to the carpet. She makes no effort to pick it up.

I get Shirley's voice mail. I look through my name listing, and I don't have her cell number.

I call Jenny. Voice mail.

"Jenny. Steve. PLEASE call me. I'm here at Dawn's house, and your mother's MIA. I need her cell number."

"Why isn't your phone black," Dawn says.

I look at Abby. She tilts the sandwich sideways and licks the mayo as if it were ice cream. I think I am gonna fucking barf.

"Maybe we ought to just tell her," Abby says. "She probably won't understand anyway."

Something tells me not to do it, but I have to get the hell out of here before I puke.

"Dawn," I say. "Do you remember Louise?"

"Louise is my mommy," she says.

"Well, she's your friend," I say.

"No! She's my MOMMY!"

"Well, she's mine, too. She's MY mommy, too," I say. I look at Abby. She's looking at me intently, as if she's learning something. Why do I get the feeling that I am completely on my own here? What if this chick flips out?

"Louise....Louise passed away, honey. She died."

She stares at me blankly. She has no idea what I just said.

"She doesn't understand you," Abby says.

"Do I-" I begin.

"She passed a web." Dawn says. "She passed a web. What is 'she passed a web'?"

"No, she passed aWAY, Dawn. Louise DIED."

"Is mommy coming?"

"No, Dawn."

"Is she coming?" she asks.

A young, shirtless man appears in the doorway, carrying a cordless phone handset. "WHY IS IT!!??" he screams. "WHY!!! WHY IS IT!!!!!!??? WHY IS IT!? WHY IS IT!!? WHY IS IT WHY IS IT WHY IS IT??" He throws the phone like a Bartolo Colon fastball. It misses my head by a foot and smashes against the wall into a thousand pieces.

Abby gets up and runs toward him. He runs away. "Seth! Seth!" she shrieks. I hear grunting, followed by the dull thud of bodies hitting walls.

"Where's mommy!" Dawn says, oblivious to what has just happened.

"Honey. Louise died. She DIED."

"Where IS she?"

"She's....she's in Heaven."

"WHY IS IT!? WHY IS IT!?" I hear Seth say, in between grunts.

"Heeelp!" Abby says from down the hall.

What's the matter, bitch? Drop your sandwich?

A huge bald man runs down the hallway. "Come on, Seth," he says. There's a brief grunt, then...nothing.

A door slams heavily.

"You gotta redirect him," the man says. "You gotta REDIRECT him!"

"I know," Abby says.

"Where's mommy?"

"She died, Dawn."

"Where's mommy?"

"She's gone, honey."

"Where's mommy?"

I don't know what else to do. So I hug her.

"I'm so sorry, sweetie," I say, rocking her like you would a little kid. "She's with the angels now. I know it's hard, but just remember all the fun you had with her and she will always be with you just like a guardian angel. Do you know what a guardian angel is?"

She pulls away from me and turns on the TV. "Wanna see my VCR?" she says.

Next time I see Shirley, I'm going to give her a swift kick in the ass.