I know many strange people. I don’t know why it is that way, but it is. I suppose that if you pursue a career in the arts you are bound to run into a few interesting people. But the funny thing is that many of these people aren’t even into the arts. They just come across my path and I don’t know why. I guess I’m just that fucked up.
Last year I moved to Lynnwood Ridge in the East of Pretoria. I did it because my college moved to the area and I didn’t yet have a car. The neighborhood is okay. It is relatively safe and quiet. Sometimes it gets a bit too quiet and then the voices in my head start to scream and I just want to run away. But, as usual, I digress…
On one of the first mornings that I walked to college from my new flat I noticed that someone was watching me. And no, it wasn’t Ryan Gosling. It was a woman sitting in her car. She had just pulled out of her apartment complex and stopped in the driveway. As I came closer my social anxiety light started flashing. I hate talking to strangers, especially when they stop their cars and stare at me. Not that it happens that often.
“Hi! Don’t I know you from somewhere?” said the lady. I guess she’s somewhere in her late forties or early fifties. She has short, curly hair and she wears glasses. And no, she didn’t know me from anywhere. I had never seen her before in my life. But she was adamant. For some reason my face reminded her of someone that she had seen before. She started asking me questions about my life. What was my name? What was I doing? “Studying? Oh, that’s nice. What are you studying? Drama? So, you’re the artistic type? Yes, that’s so much better than being a paper pusher in an office. Well, from one artist to another, good luck!”
When she finally left, I felt like I had just been interrogated. If I allowed it, we probably would’ve ended up speaking for over an hour. I realized that she was lonely. I also realized that something was wrong with her. Not in a dangerous or disturbing way, but she wasn’t like other people.
Ever since that day, I have run into Elaine many times. Honestly, when I see her coming I try to dodge her, because I find our conversations painful. She never, ever remembers my name. While I was studying, she kept telling me that it was time to stop, because I had been studying for the past six years. But I was only in my second year. Now that I’m done studying, she keeps thinking that I’m still studying. Each time I need to explain that I work part time and what children’s theatre is, because she forgets. She forgets everything. Often times when I see her, she is walking her dog. She often talks to the dog, and when she can’t remember my name (which is all the time) she refers to me as their “long-legged friend”. I’ve been called much worse things in my life, and it beats having to say my name and discuss how it is actually a surname each time.
Yesterday the voices in my head got too loud and I had to get out. It’s something that I do quite often, especially when depression calls. I take my cell phone and earphones and then I walk down the streets listening to angry songs. I don’t power walk or run, I just walk. I walk, think and talk to myself and by the time I get back my head is cleared and sometimes I’m tired enough to just fall onto my bed and sleep.
As I started walking I noticed my old friend in the distance with her dog. I tried to pretend not to see her, but she kept calling me and after a while I realized that if I wanted to shake her off I would have to ignore her blatantly and start running. I’ve never been a runner, so I sighed, turned around, and smiled. She caught up and we started walking. She usually just walks around the block, so I was hoping that we would part ways, but when she asked me where I was headed I realized that she was going to follow me. It’s not that I wanted to be nasty, but my walks are a bit sacred to me. Sometimes it’s the only way for me to keep sane and I prefer to do it alone.
While we were walking I had to repeat my name no less than four times. I had to say that I was no longer studying twice. Each time I said it like it was the first time. I didn’t want to talk about other things. I didn’t want to say that my friend had recently passed away and that I feel another wave of depression heading my way and I don’t know how I’m going to handle the impact. Perhaps I should have said that, because she probably wouldn’t have remembered anything I said. But I have a therapist for that shit.
I also didn’t want to get into deeper things, because in our previous conversations I had already gathered that she has had a difficult life. She was married at least two times. She doesn’t seem to have a lot of money. In general, when I look at her I see someone who has suffered and I fear that her story is more than I can bear right now.
When we got back to her complex I said that I was going to keep walking for a bit. I wanted to have some time alone. We smiled and parted ways, but as I turned around, tears started to flood my eyes. It took every bit of self control to not start sobbing in the middle of the street, but I couldn’t keep the tears from coming. I have walked that route many times and it isn’t very strenuous, but after walking with her I suddenly felt like I had aged 1000 years. I felt such a great heaviness fall over me. It made me think of how the immortal witches in movies kiss young people and such the life out of them until they are fossils. But I think that what upsets me most about this woman is the fact that she isn’t immortal. She is anything but that.
Each time I see her, she looks a bit older. She has more grey hair. Her wrinkles get deeper. She struggles a bit more to keep up with my walking. Sometimes her breathing even gets a bit harder. I know that it sounds silly, but each time I see her, I realize that I am also getting older. My hair is thinning. My eyes get weaker. And my soul feels like it has been on this earth for 200 years.
I don’t know how many people this lady has, but something tells me that she lives in almost complete solitude. And that scares the crap out of me. I have often thought that if it wasn’t for the fact that my mom checks in on me every day, I could drop dead in my flat and an entire month could pass before anyone would notice. My landlord and his wife don’t really come to my side and the dude next to me will probably just think that a dog died somewhere. I don’t really have a lot of friends. And most of the time I need to contact them first, so they won’t even notice that I’m gone. I’m only 22 now. What will it be like when I’m Elaine’s age?
I often wonder who I remind her of. An old friend? A family member? Or maybe it’s just her imagination. I don’t know. I just know that one day she is going to die and I probably won’t even hear about it. And maybe that is going to happen to me too.
Two Years Later
Two years have passed since I wrote this piece. I was surprised by the reaction. A lot of people found the piece funny. My intent wasn’t to be comical, but I suppose that one of my flaws as a writer is that I tend to come across as a bit silly when I mean to be serious.
The encounter I wrote about here is the last time I can recall talking to Elaine. I might have seen her once or twice after I posted this, but I can’t say for certain. All I know is that she disappeared. Somewhere along the line I realized that I no longer see her walking around with her dog.
I have no way of knowing what happened to her. I know that she spoke to pretty much everyone in the neighborhood, but I don’t. How do I walk up to strangers and ask them if they know what happened to the lady with the curly hair who can’t remember anyone’s name?
If I’m completely honest with myself, I know that she most probably passed away. She owned the flat that she lived in. It’s possible that she went to a care facility of some sort. As I said, each time I saw her she looked frailer. But somehow I doubt this. She never spoke of moving away. In fact, she was looking for a tenant.
Elaine’s story makes me so sad. I’ve always felt sorry for her. Yes, we laugh at these people and the funny situations that they put us in, but their lives aren’t funny. They’re still human beings. They also want a place to belong.
I don’t believe that Elaine was always forgetful. I think that either some sort of trauma or disease caused her to turn out that way. She lived a life of more or less 50 years. I can’t help but wonder what happened during her lifetime. Was she ever truly happy? It’s not that she was a morbid or depressive person, but sometimes when she spoke, she revealed a sadness that seemed to run very deep. I guess that it’s impossible to live up to her age without accumulating a certain degree of grief. I just hope that it didn’t overshadow her happiness.
I’ll never know who I reminded her of. She seemed to have liked the person she thought I was. Maybe it was just her imagination. Maybe every person she saw looked familiar to her.
I don’t know.
It’s a scary thought that someone can be a living, breathing person who engages with other people, and suddenly they’re just gone. You just disappear, as if you were never there. If you’re lucky, a few people might remember you. But you’re gone. You’re just… gone.
Although I was often annoyed when I saw her, I hope that she didn’t pick up on it. I think that she lived a very lonely life, and if the times we spoke brought her some comfort then I’m glad.
Wherever Elaine is now, I hope that she is happy. I hope that she has lots of people to talk to and that she doesn’t forget their names. I hope that she is healthy and not in pain.
I hope that her dog is well taken care of.