Her name is Anne. I sit kiddy-corner from her in her trailer home’s kitchen dining area. Beneath her purple glasses and her aquamarine knit sweater, her cloudy eyes shine. She has the classic, comforting old lady smell: mothballs and cats. There are books and cats everywhere–cat memorabilia and other mementos, that is. Her hands tell her story–worn and tired, but strong and willing to fight.
She took a Creative Writing class 20 years ago; now, at 84, she wants someone to write down her stories. I’ve been chosen. I don’t know why.
But I go. I go, and I sit, listening to her tell stories–stories of times gone by and of times more recent: of walking to the library with her best friend during the summer, of watching someone die on the road outside her house. The circle of life.
“Why has God taken people so close to me who have lead productive lives and left me?” The big question she’s trying to answer, and maybe, maybe I can help her tell her story–we all have one.
She has carpal tunnel now, in her right hand, making it hard to type. The click-clack of the electric typewriter in her spare bedroom is silent. “I paid $40 to get electrocuted 9 times,” she howled, telling us how she’s received treatment for the pain in her arm, the pain keeping her from writing. “I’ll suffer,” she continued, “I’ll suffer, but at least I’ll have $40 in my pocket.”
There’s something admirable in the way she unflinchingly tells her truth, something humorous in the way she tells her life. And I want to be like her one day–feisty, a spitfire, even at 84.
She says she wants to be like me: young, and with the drive to write.
I see a lot of myself in her; she sees a lot of herself in me. Maybe we’re not that different–born in different generations, 60 years apart. But what is time but a social construct? Age is just a number.
“You may have lived many years in your short 24 years, but look at how many years you have left! Look how much you can accomplish.”
She’s been wanting to write this story for many years–the story of a penny. A penny that even years of adventures, years of being passed through people’s hands, years after being a part of numerous transactions, is still shiny. A certain soldier happens upon this penny and considers it lucky. He’s shipped to Germany, where, he’s shot, and the penny is dropped in the mud. Someone else stumbles upon it, but it’s no longer shiny. No longer clean. No longer fresh.
And I don’t remember how the story ends. I was too busy thinking about the poeticness of that: how life can one minute seem shiny and bright, and dull and boring the next. How people can think they’re like that: passed through too many hands, been through too much, are too broken to be beautiful.
But we’re not. I’ve been through so much in my short 24 years of life, but look at how many years I have left. I don’t want my funeral to be the result of driving into trees or taking too many pills.
I want my funeral to be because I died of old age, in my bed, after living my life the way I want to live it, not defined by other people’s expectations, achieving the goals I have set for myself.
She wonders why God’s taken so many people close to her when she’s the one that hasn’t been productive in life.
I think productivity is defined in different ways, and maybe her purpose was to cross paths with me. I sat with her for two hours today, listening to her share. I should’ve recorded it. Next time, I will. Anne, next time I will because your story deserves to be heard.
And I don’t want people to wait until your funeral to know what wisdom, humor, and wit you have to offer the world.
“Honey, you ain’t been to a funeral until you’ve been to one with 3 ex-wives.”