Thursday, November 29, 2007

True Story

When I was just about 4 years old, my parents and I were living in student housing while my father completed his doctoral degree here. During that time my mother substitute taught while finishing her teaching degree.

At times, my care fell to Lucy, a wizened southern black woman whom my parents met while commissioning her husband to build a trestle table for our kitchen. (I still have a warm fuzzy for that long, darkly stained hunk of a table that was still in our house long after I left for college).

Evidently Lucy and her husband took a shine to the very young,student poor hippie couple and their precocious child who liked to sing at the top of her lungs to anyone who'd listen, and Lucy would offer babysitting services on afternoons my mother had to be at school. On those days, she would also clean while she watched her "stories". Id sit at that table and color, listening to Lucy talk back to the TV as she shuffled around the kitchen.

One afternoon Lucy was cleaning the kitchen floor, the smell of Ajax permeating the whole house (that smell, 36 years later, forcibly reminds me of that day),when she opened the screened door and just stood there leaning heavily on her dust mop. Being the helpful child I was, thought she was tired, and needed help shaking out the mop, so I walked over to help her.

"I don't need help child, Lucy just needs to catch her breath"

Those were the last words she spoke. She stumbled back into the kitchen and promptly passed out, falling into my little red rocking chair. I remember being very concerned for my little red rocking chair, as it was not meant for grownups to take naps in.

"Lucy, Lucy, ummm.. I'm going to go take a walk now" I think on some level I knew something was wrong, but as a 4 year old did not quite understand what that "wrong" could be. In my head, she had simply fallen asleep. And In MY red rocking chair.

I wanted my dad to come and wake Lucy up, but he was at the Lab working. The Lab was down the path, across the main highway, and in one of those big red brick buildings.But which one? So, I toddled myself up to the big road and stopped. I had been told in no uncertain terms that I was NEVER EVER to cross that road without an adult. NEVER NEVER NEVER!!!! SO, I did the next best thing. Yelled.


I'm not sure how long I stood there yelling across the street at the facades of those buildings. I remember being kind of amused at the way my voice echoed off of them. Luckily our next door neighbor and class mate of my father's was home for lunch and heard me yelling.

"What's wrong Chanda?"
"Lucy fell asleep in my rocking chair and won't wake up" (again with the rocking chair).

He stood there for a moment, probably trying to process what this kid just said then sprinted back toward the house.

Lucy had died of a massive stroke - instantly.

My mother sat on the edge of my bed that night to talk to me about what had happened. She was convinced I would be traumatized, permanently scarred by what I had seen.

"Is Lucy coming over again tomorrow?"
"No, Honey, she died today"
"Where did she go?"
"Heaven" (as all good Irish Catholic moms would say).
"Is she coming back?"
"No, but she's happy where she is"
"Oh... Okay"

Early childhood memories before the age of 4 are spotty at best, but that one stands out in extreme clarity, and one would think it would be a traumatic one. But it wasn't. Not once do I remember being scared or anxious, even after I had learned of her death. I don't know what that says about me, or it may just be that's how little kids process the abstract concept of death.


we_be_toys said...

GOOD retelling of this! You know, it was funnier when you told it to me in college - was that because we were wasted at the time?? Excellent story details; tell me another story, Bea!!!

flutter said...

Oh, babe.

This was exquisitely written, and it just cracked my heart for you.

Melanie said...

I just clicked through to your blog from "Half of Me" and I was caught off guard completely! I thought I'd read a post about the trials of weight loss or what you're eating today - but no, this was a way better. Your retelling of this story is nothing short of novel quality. Seriously, it was like I was reading The Secret Life of Bees or something like that. I will definitely be back to read more. Thanks for the great read.

suz said...

I can totally see you there screaming your head off.