I saw him first, coming off the elevator with his N-95 mask on, dad in front, mom behind, and a cute blond next to him. It was the mask that grabbed me; if you could hover over it with a mouse a text box would pop up that said "I have cancer." He whipped it off, but I didn't recognize him. I had never seen his face before. But his parents I remembered.
They walked past us, and we stood awkwardly facing them until she made eye contact. Robbie's mom remembered me, we had spent a couple of late nights talking in the parent lounge, not believing either of us were really there. Robbie, a teenager, had been diagnosed very close to Henry, with leukemia. His stem cell transplant happened some time after Henry's, but their stay in off campus housing overlapped ours a little. That was the last I had seen them. It had been over a year.
Robbie's head of hair was evidence that he hadn't had chemo in some time. I had never seen him out of bed before. He had been so very sick. The cute blond next to him, his sister, made the head of hair admit that Robbie was only pretending to be healthy. His skin was a bit mottled, his hair thinned like a middle-aged man.
His mom and I chatted briefly about how he was doing, then she looked around and said, "Where's your son?" I thought it was so obvious, standing there with my red-rimmed eyes after a day of visiting Henry's old nurses at clinic to commemorate his birthday. But of course it wasn't. He could have been getting a transfusion, or having an MRI done, with us hanging out in the cafeteria until he woke from sedation.
I told her he was gone. She was surprised, horrified, but she looked at it. When you've lived it, like she has, you can look at it in a way that other people can't. She stood for a long time, searching my eyes. I could feel her questions. "How is it, there, where I thought I may have had to go?"
I cried again. We hugged, she whispered to me "I'll never forget you."