This morning I am thinking about a friend I use to know, when I lived in a different town. I’ll call her “N”. N has brain damage caused by an accident and a stroke. I do not know how or when she got it; I never asked. N has a speech tick, which means she communicates using only three, very limited sentences: “Oh well”, “Oh, I don’t know about that”, and “Yes”. She only shakes her head for “No”.
She smiles constantly. It’s rare to see her frown or upset, because little upsets her. N’s smile, crooked as it is, is horribly contagious. She uses it to every advantage, often for non-verbal communication, such as *smile* Yes, I want that book, or *smile* More water please.
“Oh well” is her favorite phrase to use. If we were playing a game and she didn’t win, Oh well. If her drink spills over, Oh well. She says the phrase in the exact tone, with open arms, EVERY TIME. N and I met up about once a week for over a year. In a “normal” relationship we would have known too much about each other by then, instead we built up a “getting use to each other” bond.
GETTING TO KNOW YOU?
Working as the weekend activities coordinator at a convalescent home, I grew to like N. She was always a participant at the Sunday afternoon group BINGO. Often after group activities were over I would read to her. There was something more behind those eyes that made me curious. I just didn’t feel like it my place to ask too many personal questions about her, so I didn’t. However, the artifacts in her room gave a few hints of her life before the brain damage. For example, on the middle of the wall, in clear view, space is committed to her full-nude self portrait, tastefully done in an abstract watercolor. Judging by the style and frame it looked like it was from the late 1970’s. She appears as a strong, confident woman, proud of her body. Was N a feminist?
Many photos of her family, her children and grandchildren rest among books on the shelves, books about art, other languages, foreign countries, murder mysteries. The frayed edges on the paperbacks suggest she’s read them all. Sadly, the stroke took away her ability to read. She holds her books, quietly in her lap; she loves to hold them, open to a page just right of middle.
DO YOU KNOW ME?
One month I was depressed. After realizing my 20 year marriage was over, I walked around in a zombie state, adjusting to the thought of it. Everything was foggy. I analyzed and over analyzed everything.
It was fall, the season that readies us for winter. I continued to see N. Her big smile lit up my day. Her unending, seemingly, optimistic attitude encouraged me. However, I did not believe she was capable of recognizing my mood, the slight change in my behavior, until one day.
An afternoon in October, I wheeled her back to her bedroom after a BINGO game. She smiled at me to open her curtains. N has a wonderful garden view. When I pushed back the curtains I was shocked to see the whole yard was covered in large, orange maple leafs!
“Wow!” I proclaimed from the window, “N, look at your yard! All the leaves have fallen down!”
The majestic maple, older than the building we stood in, was barren of foliage. Black branch tips wiggled like horse whips in the wind. The once lush and lively view of iris stocks, azaleas, rhododendrons and lawn was gone, buried beneath the tree’s litter, cancelling out any hint of green.
She looked out. Then at me. Then out again. Our eyes met.
With comical timing she opened her arms―“Oh well.”
We laughed together. Her comment touched a tender spot in my heart, tears came down my face.
Tears came down N’s smiling face.
She was crying with me.
And I was thankful.