She had just heard that her friend of 50 years had died. "I didn't even know she had cancer," she told me. She stared through the open door absently and said, "I didn't even know." I put the card back I was looking at and picked up a different one. The birthday greeting inside was exceptionally lame. I put it back. I turned to look at her. I watched her, curiously. Her light, white hair framed her pixie face. Her eyes were vibrant and sparkling. She was very lovely. I felt so young looking at her. Childish. Inexperienced. What wise condolences could I offer her? I prayed for her, silently. "It's very sad when your friends start dying," She said, looking at me. I couldn't say, "I know." Because... I didn't. "When you know someone for so long, it kills you when they leave you. It does, " she said, looking at me thoughtfully. I twirled the card stand, and watched the colorful cards spin. I tried to share in some of her pain by telling her of my friend who had just left that day for Marine boot camp. I think that made it worse and I berated myself for telling her. So, I decided to just listen, silently. Attentively. My heart going out to her, quietly. "I really hate goodbyes, you know." She said. "And... I've learned that, this is what life is; a series of goodbyes." Her soft, wistful voice smote my heart. "I really, really hate goodbyes." I ended up buying a card. I didn't want to leave so quickly, but I was late for an appointment. I tried to say everything encouraging and loving that I could think of. I walked to the door. She smiled, "Thank you for coming, dear," she said. I smiled too, wanting to run back over to her and give her a hug."Goodb--" I started to say. "I hope you have a lovely evening," I quietly said instead. I walked down the cracked sidewalk, clutching my card.
"Well," I said, "I remember I turned on the light and stood in front of the mirror, looking at myself, frightened because people thought when they were getting ready for bed, and didn't think about me because I wasn't the most important thing in their lives at all. Mother and Father'd always made me feel that I was important, and now all of a sudden I realized I wasn't. How can you be important when nobody knows about you? It's very frightening to realize you aren't important after all."
"Wait, wait, don't go yet!" I say,
to the melting sun as it waves goodbye,
sliding down through space.
The day cannot be spent yet-
it was too lovely.
I dig my heels in the ground
and push the sun back up an inch.
It slides right back down again.
I sigh. And sink into the soft grass,
in sad reluctance.
But tomorrow dawns another day,
and with it, a new sun.
It was torrid and windy. Which, was bearable as long as the breeze blew, but the moment it stopped, the heat would encircle me- and then just as it had captured me- it would thrust me aside as the winds blew again. I felt like a ship being buffeted at sea. I sat there in the dirt, barefoot, watching the crowds of people picnicking or dunking each other in the lake. The trees near me swayed, their branches swirling in the wind; their shadows making random shapes on my arms. Because of the hot temperature, the park was flooded with people. The picnic tables were littered with plastic Winco bags and chips and Sprite. Paper cups or a napkin or two occasionally flew by in the wind. Families of every descent seemed present, each with their 23 children and 65 lawn chairs. The beach was overgrown with towels and sunscreen bottles, soaked diapers and stray flip flops. A child ran past me with a precarious looking sucker jutting from his mouth. I watched a boy and girl toss a pink ball back and forth; the girl never seemed to be able to catch it. The wind grabbed my hair and plastered it on my face, making it ridiculous to see anything. I held my hair away from my eyes as a young boy on the swings caught my attention. He was no older than 12. He sat on the swing with a cigarette in his mouth; pumping up and down, up and down, a puff of smoke trailing behind him. A wailing sound broke into my reverie. A mob of little children were making a mad dash to the sound, towards... towards what? "Ice cream!" I heard someone shout. And there it was, the ice cream...van. Playing very, very loud Christmas music. "Go tell him it's July," I said to the little brown-eyed toddler, staring at me from the baby swing. Something that resembled fried food wafted indelicately through the air. I heard someone laugh. I heard a scream. Someone swore, loudly. A woman with bright green Crocs walked past me. A small boy with a plastic bucket marched past my feet. To the right of me a girl was bothering two little children on the tire swing. They wanted off-- they screamed, cried. She twisted it up and let it go...twisted and let it go. Each time she stepped back, laughing. They fell off, finally, at the end of their third ride; dizzy and sick. They collapsed in two little heaps, sobbing on the bark chips. She pointed, laughing. I turned my head to watch the nearly naked swimmers. Their white pasty legs and sunburned faces clambered in and out of the off-brown water.
There are times in life, when one feels a part of humanity, when you feel one with your fellow bank teller, or the man who waved to you at the intersection. But, then there are times, like these, when one feels completely alienated. As I surveyed everyone, this small part of humanity, I drew conclusions about them all-- the picnickers, swingers and swimmers-- I felt as if I knew who most of them were and how they were pursuing their lives. Sometimes, you can tell things like that from just simply watching people. I felt as if all the evidence I needed was being presented right in front of me. And it made me sad.
I stood up and grabbed my water bottle and keys. I waved to the little dark-eyed toddler still stuck swinging in the baby swing.
My eyes began swimming in a sea of salt water.
Must have been all the wind and dust.
Old Age-- Mr. Professor, I hope to see you well. I have known you for some time, though I think you did not know me. Shall we walk down the street together?
Professor (drawing back a little)-- We can talk more quietly, perhaps, in my study. Will you tell me how it is you seem to be acquainted with everybody you are introduced to, though he evidently considers you an entire stranger?
Old Age--I make it a rule never to force myself upon a person's recognition until I have known him at least five years.
Professor-- Do you mean to say that you have known me so long as that?
Old Age-- I do. I left my card on you longer ago than that, but I am afraid you never read it; yet I see you have it with you.
Old Age-- There, between your eyebrows,--three straight lines running up and down; all the probate courts know that token,--"Old Age, his mark." Put your forefinger on the inner end of one eyebrow, and your middle finger on the inner end of the other eyebrow; now separate the fingers, and you will smooth out my sign- manual; that's the way you used to look before I left my card on you.
Professor-- What message do people generally send back when you first call on them?
Old Age-- Not at home. Then I leave a card and go. Next year I call; get the same answer; leave another card. So for five or six,--sometimes ten years or more. At last, if they don't let me in, I break in through the front door or the windows.
We talked together in this way some time. Then Old Age said again,--Come, let us walk down the street together,--and offered me a cane, an eyeglass, a tippet, and a pair of over-shoes.--No, much obliged to you, said I. I don't want those things, and I had a little rather talk with you here, privately, in my study. So I dressed myself up in a jaunty way and walked out alone;--got a fall, caught a cold, was laid up with a lumbago, and had time to think over this whole matter.[Oliver W. Holmes, The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, 1858]