notquiteold

Nancy Roman

Searching

This is my first Mother’s Day without Mom.

I’m 71. I’ve had seventy Mother’s Days with her, so I am ahead of the game, I guess.

And I don’t even particularly like Mother’s Day. There are too many women (and men) excluded from the celebration. Those whose mothers have died, or mothers whose children have died. Those who had hurtful relationships with their mothers. Those who wanted children but have been left out of motherhood.

I am in the last group. But now I am also in the first group.

So I don’t like Mother’s Day.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my mother’s death.

Only I didn’t, really. I wrote a bit about her life. I wanted to remember her life, not her death.

But today, I find the need to write about her death.

I was with her.

It was unintended. We knew that Mom’s time was drawing to a close, and we were spending more time by her side. But this day was not different from any of the other days of the previous weeks. It was just my fortune (both good and terrible) to be the one who was there.

I was almost not there. I intended to leave to attend my book club. It was my turn to lead the discussion, and the book was one of my favorites. I was very much looking forward to it. If I left by 2:00, I’d have plenty of time for the drive to the library.

One of my sisters was coming to take my place, but 2 o’clock came and she had not arrived. I thought it would be okay to leave anyway – my sister would arrive shortly.

So I got up to go, and as I leaned over to give Mom a kiss, I realized that she had changed. She had been sleeping, but now she was awake. But she was not looking at me. Her eyes were darting around the room, looking but not seeing. Looking for something not there.

So I stayed. I took her hand. I watched her shallow breathing and the way her eyes continued to search everywhere but not find me.

I said, invoking her children who were not there – “Christine loves you. Claudia loves you. Tommy loves you. I love you.”

I repeated that three times.

She died.

I had not called for a nurse. What would a nurse have done? Not save her. She didn’t need saving.

Maybe I needed saving. So it would not have been my fault.

But I know it was not.

I am haunted, though, by her distant searching. Who was she looking for?

I am comforted by knowing I was there for her. I am comforted knowing that her death seemed gentle.

But I am haunted by the thought that I was not who she wanted in those last moments. Was she seeking, wishing for someone else? Did she want a different child holding her hand?

Oh, I was a good daughter. I know that.

But what if I had called a nurse? Could the nurse have given Mom ten more minutes, so my sister could have arrived in time? Would Mom have stopped searching then? Could a nurse have given her another few hours so we all could have been there?

The truth is, I didn’t want anyone to save her.

I wanted her to decide. And she did.

I hope what she was searching for was her freedom.

I am searching for mine.

Remembering

My mother died a month ago.

She was 98.

I don’t know what to write about her now. I’ve written about her so many times already; I’m not sure what else I could say.

She was bright.

She was funny.

She was beautiful.

She was kind.

She was a daughter, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a great-grandmother. She was a nurse. She excelled at all her roles. I cannot think of a thing she failed at.

Is there such a thing as a cheerful worrier? I think my mother would fall into that category. She worried incessantly, but laughed at herself while doing so. “No one is better at picturing her kids in a ditch,” she once told me. I remember a time when my brother was late coming home from a math tournament or some such weird event, and my mother called the school and made the janitor check all the bathrooms. She was sure he had been locked in. Who locks bathrooms from the outside? Nevertheless, she was sure. For decades afterward, anytime anyone was late, Mom would smile and say, “Maybe they are locked in a bathroom.”

Mom had good priorities.

She believed in education. She had come from a time and a culture where educating women was considered unimportant. But Mom fought hard for her education. She became a nurse. I learned only recently (from Mom herself) that my grandmother had secretly paid my mother’s tuition. So women’s education (and all education) is in my family genes. 

All of her children have advanced degrees. We all did well in school, which may be predominantly due to the intelligence genes on both sides of the family. But while my mother stressed the importance of learning, she never put pressure on us to achieve high grades. Learning was essential; grades were insignificant. I remember in my frequent calls to Mom when I was in college, our conversations always ended with the same advice from Mom. She didn’t say, “Study hard.”  She said, “Have fun.”

My mother was passionate about fairness. Not only in her own family – she couldn’t even bear to watch a TV show where someone was framed or blamed for something they didn’t do. “NO!” she’d yell at the TV. “That’s just not right!”

But especially with us kids. She counted the Christmas presents, the jelly beans in our Easter Baskets, even the size of our birthday cards. “Even-Steven” was one of her common expressions. She never wanted to show favoritism towards any of her kids.

Just a few years ago, my mother told me a story. We girls are older than my brother, and when he was growing up, my parents were doing better financially than when my sisters and I were little. Mom said that she and Dad were out having lunch with my little brother one day, and he asked (as we were all taught to do), “What can I have?” And my mother replied, “You can have anything you want.”  And Mom said that she suddenly realized something that made her feel terrible. She said, “I’m so sorry that I was never able to say that to you.”

My mother had 97 fantastic years of happiness and good health, but her 98th year was difficult. The decline in her health was unrelenting. 

I’d rather focus on all those other years, but here is one thing from this time that I will remember:

Just a few weeks before she died, I was telling her about an issue I was having with one of my several part-time jobs. Mom wasn’t well at all, and I wasn’t even sure she understood me, but I liked telling her everything anyway – I may be in my seventies, but she’s my mom. I told her I was going to give the job two more months to see if things got better. Mom said, “Well, okay, but just remember, two months is a long time if you are unhappy.”

I will remember, Mom.

And about not being able to order anything I wanted? I already had everything I could want.

Collection Time

I’m here to collect on some debts. Some very old debts.

What I am owed is: Sympathy.

Sometimes you have little accidents doing something stupid. You don’t want your stupidity revealed. When you hurt yourself being a dumbbell, you kind of have to keep quiet about it.

Pretending everything is fine when it isn’t may save face. But while avoiding embarrassment means that no one knows what a dumbbell you are, it also means that nobody feels bad for you either.

But I’m old now. And I don’t really care anymore if I look like an idiot. I want my sympathy.

Overdue Sympathy #1: I’m eleven and taking a test. I’m chewing on the end of my pen, and suddenly I suck when I should have chewed. I have a mouthful of ink. And a mean teacher who yells. Who makes me cry at least once a week. I don’t even have a Kleenex to spit into. I swallow. And keep my mouth tightly shut until recess.

What I want now: The school nurse miraculously swoops in to say hi, takes one look at me and my blue lips, and hurries me to her office, which is a closet with a cot and some band-aids. She cleans my mouth of all that terrible ink and gives me a root beer to get the taste out of my mouth. She says, “It’ll be our little secret, honey.” The honey part is important.

Overdue Sympathy #2: I’m fourteen and bowling with my sisters. I’m wearing a gorgeous necklace that my parents gave me for Christmas. It’s a large locket that looks like a crown – all encrusted with gold and rubies (gold-plated brass and red glass). This bowling excursion is my first opportunity to wear it. I look very fancy with my precious locket and rental shoes. I do that swoopy-skippy dance to throw the ball. When I stop abruptly at the end of my approach, the heavy pendant swings up and hits me dead between the eyes.

What I want now: My oldest sister puts her arms around me and give me a kiss on my throbbing forehead. She had never kissed me on the forehead before – or since – but nevertheless.

Overdue Sympathy #3: I’m in high school, hustling to my next class. I go to push open the door at the top of the stairs, but there’s no pane of glass where I push – the frame is empty. And my arm goes through that empty space at full speed. Of course, my whole body doesn’t go through. I come to a excruciating halt when half of my armpit is shorn off.

What I want now: Jane Beckwith, Homecoming Queen, runs over and picks up my scattered books. She says, “Oh my God, you need to put something soft against that terrible scrape. Why don’t you borrow my cashmere cardigan for the rest of the day?”

Overdue Sympathy #4: I’m working a second job at JC Penney’s for extra cash over Christmas, and there’s a long line at my register. I’m the best temporary cashier in the whole store. Every department wants me. My queue is moving fast because I’m quick and accurate, right up to the moment where I staple the customer’s receipt, not to the bag, but to my thumb.

What I want now: The cute security guard rushes to me and gently lays me down. He has a pillow from Home Furnishings and puts it under my head.

It’s not so much to ask. I’m not asking for those accidents not to have happened.

A I just want a root beer, a kiss on the forehead, a cashmere sweater, and a pillow.

Really, is that so much?

Fantastic

I discovered something.

It wasn’t a sudden lightning bolt epiphany. But there was a lightning bolt of a sort. The kind that hits you with a gentle slap to the forehead, saying, “Duh -of course!”

I’ve been working at the library for six months now. It is exactly the right job for me at this time in my life. Interesting but not difficult, quiet but not solitary.

I spent much of my career in management. Mostly I liked the job I was doing. I did not like being the boss. But all those years of Bossdom have made my ‘post-career career’ so much easier. Because I think like a boss, but I don’t have to be one.

Looking back on my so plus years as a financial executive, I know that I was an excellent thinker. I was committed, creative, and productive. But I was not an especially good boss. Oh, I was nice to my staff. And I was a good teacher. But not a leader. Not a decision-maker. I liked doing the thinking, not the deciding.

Those years of management – however successful or unsuccessful they were – made me a nice living for a long time.

And here is my small epiphany: My management experience has made me a much better subordinate.

Why I didn’t see this earlier in my career – I don’t know. Certainly, I was a subordinate as well as a boss. There were plenty of executives in positions above me. So many big shots calling the shots. But I didn’t see them as much more than obstacles in getting my own work done.

But now that I am a subordinate only, with no management responsibilities, I find that I am looking at my boss differently.
It is not an interruption of my work to respond to the boss. My work IS to respond to the boss.

When I get to work, the first thing I do is check my emails and inbox for anything from my boss.

There’s often a report or a question or a bill that needs paying – something – that she’s asked for or wondering about.

I do that first.

Right away.

I fulfill my boss’s needs FIRST.

Then I get to my own schedule.

And OMG. Here’s what I get for my efforts:

My boss thinks I am a genius. That I’m fantastic.

And do you know how I feel about my job – working for someone who thinks I’m fantastic?

Pretty fantastic.

I was a success in my previous career. But now I wonder how much more successful I would have been if I had made it a priority to make my boss’s life easier.

And I also am wondering now how I can apply this knowledge to my personal life.

I’ve thought about it – but maybe not in the way you think.

I’m not necessarily thinking about catering to all the needs of my family and friends – so that everyone thinks I’m fantastic.
That’s nice, I guess

But I’m my own boss in my own life. I am thinking more about how to make MY life easier. So that I think I am fantastic.

Paint more, play more, read more. Oh, I think about my family and friends too. But it’s like the emergency instructions on a plane. “Put on your own mask first so that you are in good shape to help your loved ones.”

It’s not easy, but I’m working on it.

I don’t think I’m fantastic – yet.

But I’m pretty sweet.

****

PS. It’s my birthday. I’m now 71. And every year on my birthday I post a unretouched selfie to say to Mother Nature and the world and myself, “I’m not quite old.”

Teacher

I never really expected to reinvent myself at seventy. After all, it took me over sixty years to like myself the way I am. And yet, here I am, trying all sorts of new stuff and being all sorts of new people.

A new/old role for me: Teacher.

Old – because I was a teacher for a brief moment in 1974. I never got much past my student teaching experience. I was an English major in college, intending to be a writer, but at the last moment (I already had more than enough credits to graduate) decided to take the education courses needed for my teaching certification. The extra semester for student teaching in junior high was both fun and horrifying. I had no idea how to teach. Most of the time, I couldn’t engage the students. Looking back on it, I see that I worried more about whether the kids liked me than whether they were learning anything. But there were a couple of moments when it all clicked – and those moments were magical.

New – Here I am 47 years later, finding that I am a teacher again.

This summer, a Connecticut library (not the library where I am currently working) asked me to teach a painting class. The event director had seen my watercolors online, and dreamed up a “Paint Your Pet” class. What a great idea! But I had no experience and wasn’t sure how – or if – I could do it.

But – why not? (which I think is becoming my new mantra.)

So I spent several weeks designing a program to teach a dozen teenagers and adults to paint a portrait of their pet. The library gave me a two-hour slot, which added another level of anxiety.

I needed to practice. My sister, her daughter, and two of her grandchildren offered to take my class, which meant I could practice on folks who loved me. And of course, to see if I could help them produce an acceptable painting in two hours. Oh, and have fun at the same time. I brought a bunch of photos and let them choose.

It WAS fun. Here’s what they painted:

Their ages: 11, 13, 40, and 72. I won’t tell you who did which painting – but I’m fairly certain that if you guess, you’d be wrong.

I was delighted. I COULD do this.

And the next day, the librarian called to say the class had filled up in a matter of days, and they wanted to add a second class.

Sure, I said. I COULD do this.

And I did.

I supplied all the materials, to ensure that everyone had everything they needed. The students brought photos of their pets, and two hours later had a watercolor painting of their babies.

Here are some of their portraits:

I have two more library bookings in the coming months. I think I will contact a few senior centers too. That could be fun.

So far, I have only taught the two classes. But crazily – and perhaps I am reading far too much into it – I think I see a trend.

I taught a variety of students in each class, but each class was also very much the same. They held a good mix of experienced and beginning painters. Both classes were predominantly women with an age range from young adults to quite elderly. But each class also had one man, one preteen, and a couple of teenagers.

And there was a fascinating consistency to their performance.

Let’s start with the men. They were weirdly alike. Although I stressed that they should listen first, paint in the order I suggested, and not jump ahead, both immediately rushed in, and did exactly as they pleased. Then they both got disgusted with their painting halfway through and gave up.

Now, I don’t like to draw conclusions from just two guys, but I couldn’t help but chuckle a little at their unwillingness to listen to directions. And let’s say I was not surprised that they overestimated their abilities and were then disappointed in themselves. But to be fair, one man had come with his wife, and one had brought his teenagers, and it could very well be that they had been cajoled into coming, and were not much interested in the project in the first place.

The younger kids that came were enthusiastic and creative. They were happy to try and also willing to listen. They weren’t babies, so their attention span held up, and they also had confidence in themselves. And they were delighted with their results.

The teenagers were the opposite. Their confidence clocked in at about zero. They thought they were messing everything up, that their paintings were full of mistakes – that their portraits were the very worst in the class. No amount of praise on my part could offset their profound lack of self-esteem.

Then there were the adult women. They represented a broad continuum of age, and they performed along a consistent continuum as well.

The younger women were intense. They were serious and careful. They tried so very hard. They were the last to finish. Look at the paintings above. Pick the ones that are perfect, neat, and detailed. Those are the ones painted by these earnest young women.

My middle-aged students were happy and sociable. They chatted as much as painted. They still wanted good results, and they were proud of their efforts. Each one thought they had exceeded their own expectations. “Look what I did,” one said. “I didn’t know I could do that!”

And the older women! Like the children, they were creative and daring. Their paintings were bold. They laughed at their mistakes. The animals they painted had emotions. These women’s faces – both their own and in their portraits – were relaxed and full of joy.

I am curious to see if these patterns hold up. I think they might. Because in these archetypes and attitudes, I see myself.

I was that confident kid, that insecure teenager, that anxious striving young woman, the accepting middle-aged lady. I even had a moment or two in the man-stage, not having the patience to listen and learn, but still expecting so much of myself.

And now … now I am the old woman. I have given up the self-criticism and judgment. I am focused on the joy.

That makes me a teacher.

Bossy

I haven’t written for a while.

I’ve been trying to decide what to write about going back to work after five years of retirement.

But now I’ve decided – I love it.

I wasn’t bored in my retirement. I write. I paint. I play with my dogs and cats. I belong to more than one book club, which has not only introduced me to some terrific books, but to some terrific humans.

I hadn’t even been thinking about going back to work. But when I saw the job posting for a part-time bookkeeper for our local library, I suddenly wanted to do it.

Now I have been working for two months.

I like it.

It has taken me a while to figure out just what it is I like.

It’s pretty easy work. But not because it’s mindless work. I’m not bored. It’s interesting enough. It’s only easy because it’s the work I’ve been doing for forty years. 

And when I say, ‘interesting enough’ – I think the stress is on ‘enough.’  I love learning. I’m learning Spanish right now. But there is something about knowing a job like the back of your hand that is very satisfying to me right now. To go to work and know you will succeed. 

A comfort zone is not something that you always need to break out of. It can be something to embrace. Especially in these uncertain times.

I also like that the job is only part-time.  

I spent decades working long hours. Americans do seem to take an inordinate amount of pride in working too hard. I was no exception. My self-image as an executive meant that I needed to ‘brag’ about sixty-hour workweeks. After all, those long days and weekends at the office meant that I was really important, right?

Well, now, a few days a week, I go in after lunch and do my job quietly for four hours and go home to happy-to-see-me dogs and cats. I’m really important to them.

But what I like best: I am not the boss.

I am responsible for only my work. Not for anyone else’s. 

For thirty-five years, I have been a boss of some kind or other. At the peak of my career, I had a staff of twenty. I am not ashamed to say that I hated it. 

I was not a good boss. Oh, I wasn’t mean or bossy. Just the opposite, I couldn’t tell people anything negative. I would fix employees’ mistakes after hours so I wouldn’t have to tell them they made a mistake. I gave in to most personal requests, no matter how inane. I forgave over and over until my own job was at risk. Employee reviews were my torture.

I liked my job best when I worked by myself. If confidentially required that I not share my projects or delegate any of the work (which was often), those were the days I loved my job. I am an excellent analyst. I am a terrible delegator.

My saving grace was that I was a good teacher. I helped my staff succeed. And many of them did. I just couldn’t face the ones who failed. They were my failure.

My mother was a registered nurse—a very good one. Over the years, she was offered many promotions. She turned them all down. She said, “I don’t like telling people what to do.”  

I’m like her. Only where she was able to say no to promotions, I said yes. Over and over. I loved each promotion. I loved the title. I loved the prestige. I loved the money. I did not love being the boss.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with being bossy. Too many women are told they are ‘bossy’ as a criticism. Women can be and should be good bosses. I’m just not good at it. That’s me. Not every woman. 

Now, at seventy, I am nobody’s boss. 

I was never bossy. And now I get paid not to be.

It’s sweet.

Having Lost My Mind

I have now been retired for five years.

I love being retired. I love living my life exactly as I wish. No schedule. No deadlines. No bosses.

And now I have done it. Or un-done it. Lost my senses.

I’ve un-retired.

I saw a posting for a part-time bookkeeper at my local library.

And all of a sudden, I wanted to do it.

Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to work in a library.

Imagine going to work every day in a place that’s full of books and people who like to read books. That is an introvert’s heaven.

I took a day to think about it. And decided that yes, I have indeed lost my mind.

But what if I could fulfill a childhood fantasy at the age of 70? Why wouldn’t I want to do that? After all, my other dream was to be a movie star, which isn’t so likely anymore.

And I had been a financial executive for thirty years. Bookkeeping wouldn’t be so hard. Just part-time too. I could do it.

I sent my resume. My cover letter said, “I know that my resume is a bit ‘extravagant’ for a part-time bookkeeper. But I’m no longer looking to move up in the world. A nice quiet world is fine by me.”

I got the job.

I have been at it for two weeks now.

On the first day, I was sure I had made a grievous mistake. Oh yuck, I thought. I am matching purchase orders to packing slips to invoices. Didn’t I do that in the 80s? And I’m lousy at it, to boot.

But on the second day, I found some of the purchase orders. And I found staples and paper clips. And the bathroom.

I worked so quietly, the staff forgot I was there. They were locking the doors and enabling the security system as they were leaving, as I rushed down the stairs. The librarians were shocked. Shocked that they almost locked me in, and probably shocked that I am even quieter than librarians.

To be honest, that had happened when I was new at my last job too. After working a little late trying to figure out what the hell I was doing, I got up from my desk, and all the building alarms went off. The police came. The company president gave me the security codes the next day.

On my third day at the library, I paid bills. I put checks in the printer and they didn’t even print upside down. Plus, I got out safely before the alarms went off.

Okay!

Week Two: I made a bank deposit and balanced the cash and produced a financial statement.

And I did it in a LIBRARY!

Unedited

I have a writer friend. Like many of my writer friends, I don’t truly know her. She’s a professional acquaintance. I like her. But mostly because I like writers.

I don’t even remember how we became friends – or, more accurately, internet acquaintances. But it was many years ago. Maybe our first books came out at the same time. Perhaps we belonged to some Facebook writers’ page and got to talking. I have no idea. She’s got a ton of Facebook friends, though, so perhaps people are just drawn to her. I certainly am.

Katharine writes ChickLit. I’m not much of a fan of that genre, but I appreciate the craft and its popularity. Good ChickLit makes for terrific beach reading. It’s light, enjoyable, amusing, romantic. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I would even argue that it’s pretty darn good to write novels that so many women love. Millions of women devour Romance novels and ChickLit. A voracious reader is every writer’s best friend.

Years ago, Katharine’s social media was just like everyone’s – family occasions, good eats, travel, and of course, writing.

But over the years, I’ve noticed a change. A change that lately has been bugging me. Katharine’s social media is predominantly selfies.

Oh, I like selfies. I love to see my friend’s beautiful faces. And I like to see my own kisser when I’m looking pretty good.

And Katharine is pretty. Very pretty.

But not pretty enough. Not pretty enough for Katharine.

Increasingly, Katharine is “fixing” herself.

Facetune is the most popular selfie editor, and I imagine that’s what Katharine is using.

Scrolling through her Instagram page, I have to go back to 2014 to see Katharine looking like a real human. And she’s very pretty in 2014.

In 2015, her selfies looked a little airbrushed. Nothing too dramatic. Just maybe a fix to an unattractive shadow.

In 2016, the airbrushing and photoshopping stepped up. Katharine looked beautiful. But she was beautiful before. Now her beauty looked slightly unnatural.

And at the end of 2016, the Facetune app was launched.

And Katharine dissolved. There are no shadows falling across Katharine’s face. Dramatic lipstick is perfectly placed. Skin perfect. Hair perfect. She has no pores. She smiles a gorgeous smile, but there are no creases at the sides of her mouth.

And it bugs me.

Why is her beauty not enough for her?

I am afraid that the more she facetunes, the more she hates what she sees in real life. She can’t compete with the enhanced version of herself. Who could?

Some are calling this problem Snapchat Dysmorphia. People are going to plastic surgeons seeking to look like their own internet personas.

But here is when it gets more complicated for me.

I know a different person, (I’ll call her Sally), who recently had plastic surgery. And some of her friends are irritated with her. Why would Sally have surgery, they ask, when she was just fine? And when these friends were criticizing what they considered to be needless surgery, I said, “If it makes her feel better, and it doesn’t hurt you, why do you care?”

Oops.

Katharine has gone a little overboard in facetuning her selfies.

But how does that hurt me? Why do I care?

Am I really concerned that she will end up hating herself because she can’t measure up to the image she created?

Maybe.

But maybe I am more like the friends who are criticizing Sally.

I’ve taken some time this week to get honest with myself.

Yes, Katharine’s edited version of herself bothers me. Not only because of her insecurities. Because of mine.

Katharine is beautiful. Naturally beautiful. She’s more beautiful than I am. But apparently, she’s not beautiful enough for herself.

If she doesn’t think she’s beautiful enough, and she’s more beautiful than me, then I must be even more unattractive than I think I am.

That is the thought that hurts.

Katharine is raising the bar too high. If she can’t measure up, then I certainly can’t.

Oh, I do wish that we could accept ourselves as we are and not see our uniqueness as imperfections. We don’t have flaws – we have character. We have distinction.

But here I am. With hair dye and makeup and contact lenses and the very latest fashion. Trying to present a better me to the world.

And Katharine with her Facetune selfies, and Sally with her plastic surgery – that’s what they are trying to do too.

So today I say to Katharine and Sally – “You are beautiful. You are beautiful however you choose to be.”

Tomorrow I may say it to myself.

Oversharing

Today at the drugstore, the kid at the cash register was one of those Oversharers.

You know the type. Most often, it is an older person. Maybe lives alone. Maybe lonely. The old lady at the supermarket who starts by asking you about the pickles you are buying, and ends up telling you about her grandchildren, her arthritis, and how her Uncle Harold used to make, not only pickles, but pickled beets and pickled beans and a bit of moonshine on the side. And Uncle Harold was married to Aunt Helen, but he also had a girlfriend on the side. And they are all passed away now. But how she wishes she had the recipe. For the beets, not the hooch.

But the kid in the drugstore was a young boy, not more than twenty. He was cute, with dark curly hair and red lips.

I walked toward the register with my one pricey birthday card, the kind that doesn’t even say what you want it to say, but if you made one yourself that said what you wanted it to say, you’d look like a cheapskate, so there goes $8.99. (And of course, you know you will screw up the envelope.)

I was still fifteen feet from the register when the boy sprang up from the sunscreen aisle.

“All set to check out?” he asked.

“Well,” I said, “I still need a snack.” I have yet to exit a drugstore without a snack.

“Pick a good one!” he said. And I did. Snacks don’t get much better than potato chips. The kid approved. “I like those too. They’re the best.”

At the register, he told me he had just started his shift.

“I didn’t get a ride today. First time I had to walk all the way here. It’s a pretty long walk. And it would be such a hot day.”

Yes, his brown ringlets and forward looked a little damp.

“It’s nice, though,” I said. “It began to seem like we would need our parkas until the Fourth of July.”

He agreed. “Yeah, no kidding.” I’m not sure any place other than Connecticut says ‘no kidding’ as much as we do. But we say it a lot.

He rang me up. I didn’t have my discount card.

“Sorry,” he said. I understand that Canadians say this even more than New Englanders, but we apologize all the time here too.

“I got my tax refund today,” he said, apropos of nothing. “I’m going to buy myself something nice, and then I’ll bank the rest.”

Oh, I thought, the connection might be my snack. A treat. Maybe it made him think about treating himself.

“Good for you,” I said.

“Enjoy the rest of the day for me,” he said.

Well, that was a sweet way to say, ‘Have a nice day.’

A few years ago, this conversation would have made me uncomfortable. Why is he telling me about his tax refund? Why did he need to tell me about his walk?

But now, after this pandemic year, I think about these conversations differently.

Certainly, he was an Oversharer.

But the Pandemic has reminded me that you don’t have to be an elderly widow to be lonely. And you don’t even need a Pandemic to be lonely.

Too many people have no one to talk to. It is such a little thing to discuss your day. Not only do people have to keep their worries to themselves. They can’t even share their small happinesses.

I am an oversharer too. But I have a blog. I have a Twitter account. I can tell everyone important things, like how hard it is to see my mom in a nursing home. And I can share stupid, unimportant things, like how little girls wore big hair ribbons in 1910.

I have platforms that allow me to share. That makes me a fortunate oversharer.

This kid got his refund check. He’s going to buy something just for himself. He just wanted to share that little joy with someone.

He picked me.

That’s really nice.

It’s a compliment. He thinks I look like a kind woman. Someone he can talk to. A grandma that he can share good news with.

“Make sure you buy yourself something special,” I said.

My great-aunt Lillian’s class photo. She’s the little one seated on the left. Hair ribbons in 1910 were huge. I don’t know how little girls held their heads up. Thanks for letting me overshare.

Old Poetry

When I was a teenager, I wrote a lot of poetry. 

Some of it was good – I won a few awards. But most of it was typical adolescent mediocrity. Life is never more unfair or more glorious than when you are seventeen.

Most of it didn’t survive. I remember only orphan lines. They come to me sometimes because of a cadence I hear in something else – a rhythm that sounds familiar.

I worship you. You know that.
I give you all in adoration.
You give me back...

What he gave me back won’t come back to me. But I’ll bet it wasn’t good.

Confession, he said, 
is why us Catholics never need the shrink.

How I wish that were true. I think that poem ended with the guy on the next barstool springing for the beer.

Here’s the end of another:

Do you feel the hairs on the back of your neck
suspecting?

I think that one was supposed to be sexy.

Well, you get the idea.

There is one old snippet of poetry that recently emerged from one of those curlicue folds in my brain. It was a poem of four of five stanzas, I think, about the advantages of beauty. At the end of every stanza was the refrain:

If Nancy were pretty, how easy.

I must have been about nineteen when I wrote that. 

I was about nine when I realized that I wasn’t beautiful. And I saw the tremendous disadvantage of being plain even at that age. Mostly, it was Attention that I was seeking at that age.

At nineteen, what I was seeking was … still Attention. 

And not just from all the cute or even noncute boys. Teachers and hiring managers noticed the pretty girls. Even shoe salesmen waited on the pretty girls first. 

It didn’t change much as I got older. At work, I still saw who bosses and business associates, and even subordinates paid attention to. In my personal life, I was the funny, smart sidekick in every romantic comedy you ever saw.  

(Except one. In 1986, when I was thirty-five, I saw the film “Legal Eagles” with Robert Redford, Darryl Hannah, and Debra Winger. Darryl Hannah was so gorgeous. Debra Winger was so ‘everywoman.’ And in the end, Robert Redford chooses Winger. I loved that movie.)

Something else life-changing happened around the same time. 

I was friends with a woman who was extremely pretty. And as expected, I was her witty gal-pal; the tagalong who once in a while picked up Aphrodite’s cast-offs. By that age, I rather accepted the role with gratitude. I figured that once a man got over the disappointment of ending up with the consolation prize, he might find that he actually liked me. I was, after all, smart and funny, and not ugly. Just not beautiful.

But here’s the life-changing revelation. It was not a singular event. Not a lightning bolt, but a gradual awareness.

My beautiful friend complained to me that although she received plenty of attention, it was all superficial. Oh, she wasn’t above using it to her advantage, she readily admitted it, but she knew the attention was based on the nice arrangement of her body parts, and not who she was.

“No one listens to me!” she wailed.

And I could see the truth of it.

And it was the same as my truth. 

No one listened to me.

So if pretty girls are not listened to, and plain girls are not listened to – is it possible that the problem is not the ‘pretty versus plain’ part but the ‘girls’ part?

I want to be heard.

But so do all women. The pretty ones, the homely ones, the fat ones, the thin ones, the ones with disabilities and speech impediments and empty wallets.

I want to re-write that poem.

If Nancy were pretty, she'd still have to yell.