states of Grace
Seeing a nice family moving away after years of being solid next door neighbors was bad enough but seeing a lone old lady move in to take their place was the worst. Judging from her age I thought it was optimistic on her part to even unpack everything. I would have left at least half of it packed and ready to be collected by her next of kin.
I don’t like old people. The way they are always slowly staggering around, losing their trains of thought and dithering. I’m not even sure what dithering entails but watch an old person for more than a few minutes and you’ll be up to your eyeballs in the stuff.
The worst only got worse from there. As soon as the weather got a little warmer she would unfold a lawn chair and sit out front as if inviting people to talk to her. Obviously my neighbors shared my aversion to getting trapped in conversation with an old person because we were like so many disinterested Punxsutawney Phils snug in our burrows and completely content in not casting any shadows. Every time I looked out there she was. Surveying the cul-de-sac in hopes of roping someone into an introduction.
She got me as I tried to sneak in some groceries one otherwise-pleasant afternoon.
I heard it all. The whole story. All as I sat holding four bags laden with cans and bottles, my arms quivering with the effort of holding them and my mind twitching from the effort of listening to her. I’m not even sure how it happened but she must have used her old person powers because at some point I invited her over for dinner that night. Apparently you’ll say anything to be able to leave your driveway and duck back inside your fortress of no-old-people.
I hadn’t even put the salad on the table when she told me that her only daughter had died a few years back. The blood drained from my face. Before the salad? I hesitated to even take the rolls out of the oven.
Not content with playing the sympathy card she tried for the straight flush. Her daughter had been killed by a drunk driver. A drunk driver. Of course. It had to be a drunk driver. I braced myself for the longest dinner of my life.
And I was not disappointed. Her daughter was mentioned in every single conversation we had. Inserted whether or not there was any rhyme or reason to it. Sometimes the story started out about her and other times she entered the story as if a character from Les Miserables took a wrong turn and suddenly walked smack dab into the middle of Spamalot.
This old bird was really testing my patience.
When I was done clearing away the dishes I asked her whether she would like some tea. I said it in a manner that left no doubt that if she said yes I was going to walk over and punch her right in the mouth.
She said yes.
She would not shut the hell up.
It’s like when you have to take a long drive. It can be five hours at the wheel but the time that seems the longest is the last fifteen minutes. Now imagine if you arrived at that destination and it had moved another fifteen minutes away. When I was sure she wasn’t watching I stuffed a napkin in my mouth and screamed.
At least I thought she wasn’t watching.
We were both frozen in that one second. Our eyes met and realization washed over both of us simultaneously. She stood up to leave.
And I got it.
I am young. She is old. I was alone by choice. She was alone because her daughter died and her endless attempts at CPR weren’t bringing her back. But she’s going to keep pounding her chest and yelling “Clear!” by bringing her into every conversation she has until her last breath anyway. She had spent the evening trying to introduce me so I might help her in this endeavor and I had spent the entire evening unaware that she was even in the room. I knew at that moment that she had pictures of her in her purse eager to be pulled out but I hadn’t shown an interest.
Now she was leaving.
And I got it. I got it good.
She knew my attempts at stopping her departure weren’t because I felt some vague social obligation or out of politeness because the glazed look was gone from my eyes.
She came back and sat down and we had more tea and I got to know Grace.