We meet at the corner of my aisle and his row. He is stooped over his black slip ons. Blue flannel shirt opened to a white tee – an undershirt with ketchupy splats. “Please, go right ahead,” I pause on the final step. He turns his head towards me, “I didn’t know it was based on a true story.” Up strikes a conversation.
We ask each other in quick one-two rhythm, certain words reverberating, almost as if inquiry has sound waves or electric flow: Does syphilis make you go crazy? Was she eccentric or mentally ill? Had she ever been a good singer? They all seemed to love each other, yes? How did she die?
We walk out, could have been arm-in-arm given how conversationally close it felt, how easy to exchange wonderings along the length of the movie theater corridor. “Exit signs everywhere,” he observes, not sure about turning left or right. “I know,” foregoing my usual stop at the bathroom to keep walking with him, “This way towards the front.”
He is with a younger person – daughter? Care giver? Kind neighbor? He wears a gold wedding ring on his right hand. Was he married to a European (sometimes they wear the band on the right)? Or did he move the ring there after she or he died (though I sense it was a she)? I ponder the symbolism of switching the ring to the other hand once widowed. If there isn’t such a tradition, maybe there should be. Show the ending-beginning-ending-beginning of one person gone, one person here.
I read out loud from the Wikipedia entry. “Go to the end, so we can see how she died,” he says like a kid without patience. I can’t find the answer, so I re google the exact words, “How did she die?” and up it comes. We land at the bottom and exit through the glass doors. I turn and say, “You could spend all night reading – there’s a ton of stuff on here,” waving my phone in the air. “Really?” “Yup. Don’t stay up too late!” “Ohhh. He will,” says the companion, and then to him, “Stay here. I’ll go get the car.” As we turn, I hear him say, “I can walk.”
Earlier in the night I wrote this: “We’re not supposed to talk about the days we’re unsuccessful or unfulfilled. I am pretty sure I read that somewhere or was told that sometime. But that’s the it of it today chez moi. Not such a wildly rosy day.” This moment with this easily engaged person, with this man curious about the world, who will go home to learn more, has softened my long-day, crusted-over hardiness.
My mother used to ask me, after disengaging from a conversation with a stranger, “Does it say ‘please talk to me’ on my forehead?” I thought it was her way of complimenting herself as approachable, a magnet for the lost, the lonely, the poor. Once we were in Penn Station, and a woman asked her for money to get home to her children in Pennsylvania. I was maybe eleven, tugged on my mom’s sleeve, nudging her away from the con. My mother insisted. In turn, I did too, asking the ticket lady “How much for a one way to Phillie?” Not the large amount my mother gave, nor the woman asked for – my point taken. My mother – giving to strangers to triage the despair of not being given to by those she knew.
The warmth and gentleness of this old man – had to be mid to late eighties – is a proxy. I wish my mother could feel this – becoming the child with the blessing of a parent. It is a perfect gift. With gratitude to you, kind man, from us – at the corner of aisle and row, of give and take, of you and me, of here and gone, and still waiting.
©Gabriella Strecker, 2016
photo courtesy of http://roncelli-inc.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Corridor-2-757×500.jpg