* * *
“I’m on my way.” On the drive to Rhonda’s home, Martha wondered who was going to be able to provide the kind of care that Rhonda would need during recovery. Rhonda was a 70-year old widow who lived by herself. Certainly, her son Ben and his wife Suzanne were not logical choices. Rhonda was the kind of person who was unafraid to travel anywhere in the world, but she never had the courage to tell her own son what a self-centered, stingy, inconsiderate bastard he could be. An accomplished, successful businessman, he nevertheless left much to be desired as a son. Now that he had reached middle age, he had evolved into a tired, harried, dull fellow who had no time for his aging mother.
One thing that she and Rhonda both had in common was their inability to inculcate respect and a sense of responsibility in their sons. Where they differed was that Rhonda refused to address this issue with her son whereas Martha had confronted her son, which ultimately ended all pretense of relationship. It was sad that she no longer had any contact with her son, but Martha thought it was more honest. She did not want anyone in her life that did not love and respect her, even if it was her own flesh and blood.
“How’s the patient?” Martha asked when she was greeted by Ben and his wife Suzanne. She peered past them to see her friend sound asleep on the couch in a tangle of blankets and clumsy casts. She could see that they had set up the couch as a bed because getting Rhonda up and down stairs was logistically impossible.
Ben stepped close and lowered his voice. “I truthfully don’t know how she is going to manage by herself. We think she should arrange for some kind of short term care but she won’t listen to us.”
“Let me talk to her. Maybe I can help her sort things out.”
A look of relief softened the frown on his brow. His wife Suzanne who looked bored and annoyed at having to spend time with her mother-in-law, turned to cast a wistful look out the balcony window. Suzanne and Rhonda maintained a polite relationship, but clearly there was little affection between them.
“I think she’s mixed up her meds,” Suzanne said as if Rhonda was not even present. “All she wants to do is sleep.”
“Well, you need to have a schedule written down because it is very difficult to keep track of when you’re on several different medications. Let’s make up a schedule for her so she can check them off.
“And I have no idea how she is going to bathe and change her clothes,” Suzanne said.
Martha looked Ben up and down as he stood next to his trim, petite wife. “Maybe you have some large t-shirts you can lend your mother. I doubt she owns anything that will fit over her cast. And we’ll have to find some large sweat pants that she can pull over the leg cast.”
Martha turned to Susan. “Could you go to a pharmacy that carries home care supplies and find a seat that will fit in the shower? And we’ll need some garbage bags and tape.”
“Sure.” Suzanne replied with little enthusiasm, but Ben was beaming. Perhaps he was hoping his mother’s care might soon be handed off to others.
Martha took a deep breath. “OK, how about I stay here a few days to get her acclimated?”
“That would be a godsend,” Ben replied, glancing at his wife, who lifted her mane of golden locks and rearranged it on her shoulders. "We just brought her home from the hospital so we're kind of disorganized."
Rhonda stirred from her sleep. “Martha?” She reached for her hand.
“We were just talking about having me stay here with you a couple of days. What do you say?”
Rhonda smiled, eyes half-closed. "I’d love it."
And so began Rhonda’s recovery. The first week Rhonda spent most of her time in bed, too drowsy from the medication and after effects of surgery to do much more than sleep. When she was awake, she was annoyed with the pain and difficulty of moving around. But most of all she was annoyed because Ben did not bother to call or visit.
“We did not raise our sons well, did we?” Martha asked. “We somehow gave them permission to be inconsiderate and selfish.” While Martha always avoided the subject of her own son, Rhonda talked frequently about all the humiliating slights she endured from her son and his family. It made Martha’s blood boil to hear that one’s own child could be so insensitive which was why she preferred to imagine that she did not have a son.
The second week Rhonda became more restless and less dependent. She tried to figure out how to do things for herself which was exhausting for both of them. After dressing in oversized t-shirts and baggy sweat pants each morning, Rhonda would roll her wheelchair to the balcony overlooking homes across from the ravine below while Martha prepared her breakfast. She would attempt a few simple exercises from her wheelchair and then settle down with a cup of coffee, a book and her binoculars.
“I must confess I’ve become quite a peeping Tom.” Rhonda said one sunny afternoon. She pointed down to the house below. “The last two Thursdays around one o’clock that sweet little blond crawls over the back fence like she’s all set to go jogging except she enters the yard of the next door neighbor and jogs up to the sliding glass door of the master bedroom. He’s there waiting for her in his undershorts.” She laughed.
Rhonda stared at the house and shuddered. “I have a confession to make also.”
“Look, here she comes. See?” Rhonda pointed and raised the binoculars to her eyes. “And just like clockwork, he opens the sliding glass door. He’s wearing a towel today.” She handed the binoculars to Martha who hesitated.
“So what do you have to confess?”
Rhonda laughed. “Stop squirming and answer my question.”
“I never told you my son lives in this neighborhood. I guess I never realized his house was directly across the ravine from your home.” She pointed at the man in a towel.
Rhonda frowned and took back the binoculars. “Hmmm.” There was a long silence. “I guess I never mentioned that’s my son’s house is the one down there. If you’d taken a look, you might have recognized Suzanne as she crawled over the fence.”
Martha met her gaze. “The things you discover when you fall down a mountain and break a few bones.”