An old, embittered woman takes stock of her live and her relationship with her family, especially her daughter.
Harriet Turner sat on the uncomfortable chair in the doctor’s waiting room, staring at the wall hanging across without seeing it, hands folded in her lap. She remembered how often she had been sitting in this waiting room through the times when she was pregnant or later when RJ or Debbie were sick. Forty years ago this had been a nicely decorated doctor’s office. Since the young Dr. Summers had taken over his father’s practice – well, it seemed nowadays he was more interested in other things than keeping up with his patients or his office. She knew she should be bothered, but deep inside she couldn’t care less.
She moved uneasy on her chair, feeling her sweat trickling down her body underneath her clothes. It was a hot day middle of July and the air condition of the poorly maintained building had finally broken – leaving all employees and visitors feeling sorry for themselves and awaiting eagerly the lunch break to escape into one of the nearby restaurants or delis.
She rummaged through her purse and took out her wallet to look at three torn and faded photos. She looked at the wedding picture with young, strikingly handsome Robert holding her hands and gazing deeply and totally in love into her eyes. Robert had been promoted to be sales manager and with this promotion he felt confident to start a family. It hadn’t been the happiest day in her life when they got married but over the years she learned to respect Robert and even feel more for him than just liking him. She looked at RJ’s picture – Robert had been overwhelmed with emotions when his son was born, and he had offered everybody in the waiting area an expensive cigar to celebrate. Debbie, their precious daughter had been born two years later – Robert welcomed the addition to the family but as much as RJ was his son, Debbie was to be bound to be her mother’s daughter.
Harriet wanted Debbie to have and be everything she never had the opportunity to be. From early age on Debbie had tutors who taught her French, Italian and Spanish. At age 5 she had a pony and later a horse. Ballet lessons alternated with piano lessons and singing lessons. The first big disappointment hit Harriet, when she tried to enroll Debbie in a beauty pageant at age 4. Ms. Fitzgerald had been very tactful and diplomatic but it didn’t change the fact that she considered Debbie as not attractive enough. So did 15 or so more other pageant hosts. Every time they had been rejected she would cry, and Debbie would try to comfort her. After Harriet finally accepted the fact that Debbie never would be Miss Universe and being a successful model, she hatched plans for Debbie being a fixed star in the academic world – putting her on the waiting list for the best private high school and most prestigious colleges in the country they could effort.
Debbie seemed to adapt herself to Harriet’s plans without any resistance. Her performance in school left much to be desired but Harriet was sure that with the right amount of money donated to the college of their choice she would make her way.
That was before Debbie met Richard, the new kid in high school. Richard didn’t have any special talents except for being extremely charming and being a daydreamer in Harriet’s opinion. He was very appealing to all the girls, but very much to Harriet’s disliking he had only eyes for Debbie and Debbie for him.
Richard’s parents owned a traveling puppet show. When his parents decided to stay longer in a certain city they would send Richard to school, otherwise he was home-schooled by his mother, until they decided it was necessary for him to stay permanently with an aunt to catch up on his education and graduate from high school.
Richard’s desire was to finish high school as quickly as possible and return to his parents to help with the puppet show and eventually take over this little business. He loved the way his father was able to mesmerize even the most stubborn and whiny children until they were sitting very quiet and following with wide-open eyes the stories and fairy tales he brought to life for them.
One evening Harriet had been sitting in her home office, filling out Debbie’s application for Stanford and Harvard, when Debbie came home from a date with Richard. It was four days before Debbie’s 18th birthday. Debbie rushed in, hugged her mother and collapsed into the chair next to her. Her eyes were sparkling and she seemed to be extremely exited.
“Guess what?” she asked Harriet breathless.
“I can’t read minds and I don’t have time for inane teenage games. Get a grip on yourself and help me with those forms for college.”
“I’m not going to college.”
“I’m not going to college. I hate the idea of studying and sitting weeks after weeks and trying to learn things I find stupid.”
“Besides, Richard asked me today to marry him and help him with his puppet show.”
“He did what?”
“And I said yes.”
“Go to your room and do your homework. You’re grounded for the next six months. You’re not to see Richard anymore.”
“Mom – don’t be ridiculous. You can’t do this to me. I’ll turn 18 in four days.”
“I don’t care. As long as you live in my house and spend my money you will do as I wish, no matter how old you are.”
Debbie’s vivid face impression changed into an emotionless stare as she got up to leave the room.
The next three days were a turmoil of heated arguments and ice-cold silence between Harriet and Debbie. Harriet tried to get Robert so talk sense into her, but he only shrugged his shoulders.
“She’s always been your daughter, your puppet and now she doesn’t want to play along anymore. Good for her.” That was the day when she began to forget that she had a husband.
On the morning of her birthday, Debbie was gone. Two weeks later Harriet and Robert received a card from Las Vegas. Debbie and Richard had married in Las Vegas. Even now, after all these years, Harriet frowned. A cheap wedding chapel in Las Vegas – how tasteless.
Over the next few months Debbie tried constantly to call her and make peace with her, but Harriet refused to talk to her. Years went by, Robert informed her that they would be grandparents, but Harriet didn’t budge and she couldn’t forgive Debbie that she had destroyed the dreams she had for her.
Tears were welling in her eyes when she looked at Debbie’s picture. Her lovely Debbie. She still couldn’t forgive her, but she missed her more than anything in the world.
The nurse opened the door with a chart in her hand. “Mrs. Turner, the doctor is ready to see you now.”
She followed the nurse inside, but to her surprise not into a consultation room but into the doctor’s office. Dr. Summers was already waiting for her – this was unusual.
“Mrs. Turner, how are you? Please sit down.”
Dr. Summers took a deep breath and continued without giving her the chance to reply,
“Mrs. Turner, I’m afraid I’ve bad news for you. Remember the lung X-ray we took two weeks ago? We have to do more tests, but I’m afraid, you have stage 4 lung cancer. Inoperable. I’ll put you on morphine immediately to keep the pain at bay. That’s all I can do for you. You might want to think about moving into a hospice. Or maybe your daughter can take care of you – you do have a daughter, don’t you?”
Harriet rose with a stone like expression from her chair.
“I need fresh air. I need wrap my head around what you just told me.”
“Sure, sure. But come back later or tomorrow morning, and the nurse will give you your prescription and talk about possible arrangements for you at the hospice.”
Harriet left the office and asked the nurse if she had a piece of paper and an envelope for her.
I know it’s too late to apologize. I’m so sorry for the way I treated you. Please forgive me if you can. I won’t put any more burdens on you.
Harriet sealed the envelope, got a stamp out of her purse and asked the nurse if she could be so kind to drop the letter with their outgoing office mail.
She took the elevator up to the 18th floor of the building – and as she had hoped for, the door to the roof was not locked.
Harriet stepped outside and took a deep breath. The pain that has been bothering her for months when she inhaled the fresh air only confirmed what Dr. Summers just had told her. She marveled the outlook she had from here at down town. Curiously she looked down at the street.
And then she jumped.