Voyeaur is Putting it Nicely

I’m a little ashamed of myself this afternoon, and the more I think about it, the more ashamed I am…or should be. After a tearful afternoon spent with Rusnati and Sani, over at Mrs. Teri’s house, I came home and took on a totally new-for-me persona, something I never in a zillion years would have thought myself capable of. I became a Facebook Peeping Patty. We’d been were over at Mrs. Teri’s to collect all of Suharti’s belongings, and her due pay, and discuss the hospital bill. Suharti died a week ago today.

The hospital bill, for 3 nights in ICU where they “couldn’t do anything until she was stabilized” came to Rp 18,690,000. About $1850.00, including 2 million rupiah, about $200, for the ambulance to drive Suharti home to Cirebon for her funeral, a drive of about 5 hours. (That was probably the best value of all.)

To put it in perspective, Suharti’s monthly salary was Rp 1.5 per month, about $150. Her due wages including one month back pay and one month Ramadan pay was RP 3 million. So the bill upon her death was almost a year’s wages—which her family had to pay before the hospital would release her body. Mrs. Teri paid Rp 10,000,000 of that as a deposit when Suharti was checked into the hospital. Without it they wouldn’t have done a thing. Not. One. Thing.

While all the expenses are itemized and the charges noted, by all accounts that cost seems exorbitant. I’ve discussed this with several people, Indonesians and Expat employers who have paid their staff’s medical bills. The cost of a hernia repair and 4 days in the hospital was half that amount; Sani’s mom spent more than 2 months in the hospital and the bill was Rp 50 million, with an operation, medicine and post-op care included. Suharti’s doctors treatment was to “wait and see.” For that the hospital charged more than 18 million…six times Suharti’s due wages. How long is it going to take for her family to make up that cost?

Rusnati, Sani and I went over to Mrs. Teri’s with bags of large bags, expecting to pack everything up ourselves. The other ladies on Mrs. Teri’s staff, the one’s Suharti had worked with, had already packed her things into boxes. I don’t know if Sani and Rusnati were disappointed or relived not to do the packing. They both sobbed when they looked in her room. On the dresser was a tiny, lid-less bottle of cologne. The ladies passed it around and sniffed. “Suharti,” they said, nodding at the familiar smell. Mrs. Teri sniffed it and smiled, too. Then one of the ladies took the bottle away to bag it up. Bottling Suharti’s scent for later.

We returned home with Suharti’s possessions--4 boxes and bags in the back of the car…about the amount of luggage I pack for a vacation. I told Rusnati to go home, then. That Aan, our driver, would take her and Suharti’s belongings home. But Rusnati didn’t want to go. She had work to do. She wanted to make Curtis’s lunch.

So, she went into the kitchen and I came in my office and sat at my desk. I didn’t want to do any real work, but I didn’t want to seem as though I wasn’t doing anything, so I “pretended” to work by clicking on Facebook.

I didn’t set out to look up old classmates, I clicked on “search for friends” so I could look at Max and Lexi’s photos, and grand-niece Adelaide, fresh and new, at something happy. Then I read the notice saying search for classmates from Huntington Beach High School class of ’76, and some lurker demon took over my body. I poured through all 14 pages of people who said they’d graduated from the same school, in the same year I had.  But how could that be? They all looked so old, even older than our parents used to look when we were in high school, and they looked really old. (I don’t look that old, do I?) I recognized some of the names but few of the faces. Only 2 or 3 stood out as familiar. One Japanese woman looked exactly the same—figures (next life I want Asian skin).

I found myself getting miffed at people who “hide” their personal stuff. Dang, I wanted to know if they were married, had kids, where they lived. One couple surprised me by stirring up dirt and my thirst for more… .As it happened, I had gone through middle-grade and part of grammar school with the man nee’ boy. He’d played sports with my brother, too. And once, in 5th grade, we’d had some sort of special event where we made box lunches to exchange with another classmate. The then boy and I were supposed to exchange, but he had turned his nose up at the tuna salad sandwich I’d lovelingly prepared for him and refused to swap, so I ate it (or not, as I recall feeling so embarrassed by his cracks about my soggy, warmish, tuna salad I could barely swallow.) As it turns out, these two had gotten married before his graduation …she was a grade older…hmmmm. Why? I wondered looking at his photo, squinting to find traces of that lanky boy within the manly facade. What’s the rest of the story?

Others from my class were single with children, married with grandchildren,  some were still surfing after all these years and rock climbing in knee braces, others still favored “Alice Cooper” and “Led Zeplin” music or lived in Livermore. So many stories. The sad part was that I didn’t know any of them anymore, and after all the hours and years we’d spent tangled in each others lives, didn’t want to know them. Many of them know each other though. They’re “Facebook friends.” They probably even have reunions…probably go to them, too…or at least get invited…

I tried to shake of a wave of Christmas green and red, jealousy mixed with embarrassment--after all these years a part of me still longs to be “popular.” Do any of them ever ask: what ever happened to good old what’s-her-name?

Then, in the same way movie cameras pull back sucking viewers out of a close-up so we can see the wide-screen, Rusnati calls from the doorway to say she’s finished and pulls me back, back to reality. And I’m ashamed of me, of my petty feelings, of my voyeurism. Am I really so shallow? So easily sidetracked? This is supposed to be about Suharti. What would she say if she knew I was stalking old classmates while her sister cried in the kitchen?