This is what I was doing when Sophia’s mother passed away a few weeks ago.
I was waiting for my yearly exam at the eye doctor on Robertson Blvd. I was hoping I didn’t need another prescription, because my last pair of “progressive lenses” cost me something like $600 bucks. My eyesight is THAT bad. Nearsighted and Farsighted.
I was reading an old Vanity Fair in Doctor Ko’s waiting room when the phone rang. It was Sophia, hysterical, saying that “something is going wrong” at her mother’s house. The ambulance was there. I needed to go there immediately. I was closer than Sophia, who was still in Redondo Beach.
Just then, the receptionist called me for my appointment. I told her that I had to leave. A family emergency. She grumbled unsympathetically, as if she had heard this excuse a hundred times before.
“I will have to charge you a $35 co-payment because you need to cancel three days before blah blah.”
“Fine,” I said.
The next hurdle was the underground parking garage. I handed my parking stub to the attendant in her cubicle.
“Eight dollars,” she announced. A Spanish soap opera was playing on a 13″ TV next to the cash register.
I handed her my Visa.
“Cash only,” she said, unimpressed. I looked inside my wallet. I only had three dollars cash.
“Can I come back later?”
“No. There’s an ATM machine in the lobby.”
“I need to go. It’s an emergency.”
I was getting desperate.
“Sure. Sure. Emergency. I hear that ALL the time.”
It was like the story of the boy who cried wolf, but I was stuck paying for the sins of others. I never lie about emergencies.
“It IS an emergency. My mother-in-law is sick.”
The phone rang. Sophia was sobbing. The attendant let me go.
It was surreal when I arrived at the home of Sophia’s parents. My FIL was sick in the bedroom, unaware of what was going on. My MIL was in the living room, a white sheet covering her body. The aide was running back and forth between the two rooms, screaming. Emergency workers and the police were on walkie-talkies. Noisy Russian neighbors were pacing in the hallway of the apartment building.
Sophia arrived, lifted the sheet, and broke down. Her mother’s eyes were still open.
I closed Fanya’s eyes. There was nothing else for her to see in this world. She had gone to another place.
I was scared of touching her eyes, of the gaze of someone who had just passed, as if it was dangerous to me in some ancient superstitious manner, even though I was just sitting at the kitchen table with this exact same person the day earlier, eating borscht, and taking the finished bowl from her warm hands.
Today I received the bill for the eye exam that I never had. But I don’t need an optometrist to tell me that, since that tragic day, I somehow see things differently.