I walked down a nondescript road, long and narrow. The sun was cast against my back, so that my shadow, projected in front of me, stood nearly three times as tall as my actual person. It mimicked my every move.
I remember the cold air that nipped at my face. I was propelled forward by the sun’s warmth on my back. But the icy breeze from the front autumnal wind pushed me back.
Yet I was on the sun’s side, so I kept moving forward without fear and without hesitation but with great purpose. I was on my way to see an old friend, afterall. A very good one. She waited for me at WW Assisted Living, a community where old people gather to socialize with similarly aged tenants and intermittent visitors generations younger. This is what I was told.
I was also told that they loved having visitors, and that they would tell stories for hours, filled with content from years of walking the earth. No history is richer than that held in the minds of the elderly. Jane proved this true to me; she and I talked for long periods of time, which mostly consisted of my questions and her long-winded answers... But she longed to share it all, I could tell.
Her name was Jane. And I was once told that she was in a place where people go to die. I understood this to be a metaphor, one meant to convey just how wonderful it was to live in these communities of old in congregate. The arrivals would stay at these places until death did them part - because such places were so damn great to live in. How naive I was, then.
The passion for living was sewn through each of Jane’s words. As if reading directly from her memoir, Jane could string together sentences describing her past that entranced my young mind.
She spoke about her first marriage with the man she loved since highschool. She had one child with him - Grant was his name - but they divorced soon after that child’s death tore their emotional lives apart. She remarried a woman named Sue - NOT a boy, she insisted. This was during the Vietnam war, and she supposed it was the lack of national identity that made her question her very own… And her sexuality. They were her “experimental years” she said. She did remarry a man but never had a child again. He passed away years ago.
Jane further explained, “I was always thinkin’ this and that woman were so pretty - I thought I preferred them… In some ways I still do. But I can’t shake the sexual power bending my soul every time I see a man, so I know better now, I suppose. Lord knows even this old body gets a hankering from time to time.”
I admired her candid honesty and free spirited way in which she reminisced. Young as I was, it would be a lie if I said I didn’t blush a time or two at some of the things she shared. But I’ve never respected someone so much for the very same reason.
She once took my hand in the soft wrinkles of her own, and looking me right in the eyes, said, “I’ve seen the worst of what men do - I’ve lived through times of war and perpetual worry. I’ve seen hatred fester in the breasts of men and women alike. I’ve seen technological progress shake, break, and shift many paradigms, including my own… I’ve seen social regress rife with strife and national suffering. I’ve seen social progress reclaim its hold, only to give way to a newer social reform. I’ve seen a nation’s identity compromised by dissent and generations of sadness,” She paused, stared at my hand, and continued, “Yet I never could have known that a new world would be built by hands so youthful. An age of immaterial reality, where digital constructs dictate the life and death of the person, where technological progress bears the fallen fruit of social regress… You and me are not different. We are both social animals trying to navigate a world created in code, where the preservation of information means everything. The only difference is that I’m old information, less cryptic and secure, because the information of ‘me’ is soon to cease, and all the memories it contains...”
I gently pulled my hand away and made sure she saw the frustration on my face. “Why would you say that? Your vitality might actually be greater than my own!”
She took my hand back. “I’m old. Very old, and I’m dying, Dalton.” Before I could detest she squeezed my hand and kept talking. “The future is in your hands, and the millions of youth born and being born as we speak. I’m no fool, and we both know I’ve got little time left - it’s not my age, Dalton, it’s my heart: it’s failing, and failing faster each day. I tell you this so that you may preserve some part of me that does not exist in the new world. My soul will soon be high in the clouds, but my information will not.”
“Jane--” I began protesting.
“No. Stop. Just do an old lady a favor and remember me. Remember me and preserve some part of me, my history, my life, so that the generations now and to come don’t forget the ones who built the world before you - the one that now stands before you.” Her expression was grave, but sweet, motherly.
We shared tears together, for a moment. Then I left.
After some time walking, I arrived at the big house, went past the sign in the lawn that read WW ASSISTED LIVING, then stood at the door. The sun was going down, and the chills from the cold winds were mounting. I entered.
I spoke with the first nurse I saw. “I’m headed to Jane’s room, can I take her anything?”
The nurse’s eyelids raised up, then dropped with an adjoining frown. “She’s not with us anymore.”
“What do you mean? She loved this place!”
“She’s gone.” She said with hesitation.
“Well, where to?” Almost immediately after this question came from my face, I saw the increasingly dour face of the nurse. My quesiton was stupid - innapproapriate, even… And my refusal to believe her vanished, replaced by a twisted stomach and light head. I sat down on a chair nearby.
The nurse walked over to me, rested a hand on my shoulder, and asked, “Are you Dalton?”
“Look, I’m very sorry for your loss. Jane left something for you… Wait here, I’ll be right back.” After walking out of sight, I felt tears well up. I thought to myself: this is the place where people go to die. I was a fool for not accepting this sooner, for not expecting what Jane knew was the inevitable outcome of her stay at this place.
The nurse returned. I shot up from the seat, sniffling and trying to suppress my emotional display.
“Here you go,” She handed me a notebook. “She wanted you to have this.” I took a sticky note off the cover, which read: FOR DALTON: JANE’S DIARY - NOT THE DIARY OF JANE.
I single tear landed on the “J,” and I smiled a sniffling smile. “You will be remembered.”
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