I Keep Thinking About Budwatti
I only met her twice.
The first time was five years ago when she greeted me at the door to my dad’s office. She was timid, but warm, just as I had expected. She wore lots of layers of dark, loose-fitted clothing on her five-foot body. An older, Indian woman with an incredible mix of subtle yet strong energy, Budwatti looked at me and smiled, halfway.
“Professor Brand is here, yes, this way,“ she said in a hurried whisper, leading me through the door.
My dad perked up from his desk. “Bud! This is my daughter, Anna,” he said cheerfully, rising from his chair and towering above us both at 6’ 4”.
“Hello, yes, hello, now I can see that,” she said in such a gentle, quiet voice, offering me her hand.
“This is the photo I show Bud of you,” my dad said, grabbing a wallet-sized picture taken in 1994 off his bulletin board. “You look so sweet there, sweetie,” he said, stretching one long arm around me. I was 23 that day.
I rolled my eyes to Bud and she chuckled to herself softly.
“I don’t know what I would do without Bud, right Bud?” my dad joked. She smiled, “No, no, Dr. Brand,” she said with a little laugh.
Aside from our immediate family and his best friend, no one knew my dad’s truest self — his best, his worst, his rawest. Except for Bud, who slowly became famous in my house for the many years she worked as a secretary in the social science department at the college.
My dad was technologically challenged. When I was younger, he would make me sit with him and give "computer lessons” — for hours. He came ready with a brand-new notebook filled with graph paper and we would start at the beginning: how to turn the computer on. For this, he would draw a precise apple icon and then stressfully write “TURN ON” with his ballpoint. This alone took more than 30 minutes, and we would do it again the next week.
A few years ago, I was receiving emails from him with nothing in the subject and nothing in the body — only a word doc attached. I’d open these attachments, and they’d say something like “Hey hun, gray skies, miss ya. Love, D” or “Tried calling you. How are your spirits? ~~Will try again later~~” He literally thought that’s how email worked. He was just so proud he learned how to send an attachment.
More recently, I tried to Gchat him. I would send him messages all the time and get no response. Quickly after I’d send a message, he would sign offline. Very rude, I thought. Then, one day, I was home, and we were both on our laptops in bed next to each other checking email. I Gchatted him.
“HELLO WHY WON’T YOU EVER ANSWER ME WTF” I sent. He gasped.
“Oh my God, not this again!” immediately powering down his computer. He thought it was a “virus.“
My family gave up on him, but Bud never did. She would sit with him late at night transferring exam questions, old essays, notes, etc. from old floppy disks onto CDs and finally onto external hard drives. She would teach him how to scan and email documents and use the new “completely irrational total bullshit” Scantron machines we often heard about.
"She’s a saint,” my dad would say at the dinner table. He talked about Bud’s life and her daughter and funny things she would do and say in the office. She had a huge influence on his daily life; when he would feel his nerves breaking, she could somehow calm him down. We were all grateful for Bud.
The second time I met her was a couple months ago, when my mom and brother and I went to his office to go through the things he had left behind. Bud was there to let us in, her head lowered as she offered condolences. She had been at the funeral, my mom said, though I never saw her, or don’t remember.
She stood in the corner silently, patiently, as we sifted through old papers, hundreds of books, letters from students, photographs, and more. We spent hours in that room, and Bud never rushed us. When we laughed at the filing cabinets filled with the same piece of paper copied hundreds of times she smiled, too.
After a few colleagues of my dad’s began joining us in the room, Bud said goodbye. As my mom and brother resumed putting things into boxes, I followed Bud out of the hall.
I tried to speak, but I couldn’t. I took a deep, shaky breath, and was about to try again when she turned around. We looked at each other in silence for a little bit, I couldn’t stop my tears.
“I miss him so much,” Bud said, still keeping her distance and her head tilted down to one side.
Her pretty brown eyes became glossy as she continued. “He would always bring back nuts and chocolate for my daughter from Sahadis.” Sahadis was my dad’s favorite place to get snacks. He went in almost every day, leaving with enough bags of pistachios and peanuts and candy to fill his jars and pockets. It made her feel good that he cared, she told me.
“He would say on warm spring days, ‘Bud, why don’t you go get yourself a good lunch today and take a nice, long walk,’” she said. "And sometimes,” reaching for my hand, “he would tell me, ‘and if it makes you happy, just stay out, just keep on walking.“