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Mary S.

I started thinking about my friend, Mary S., yester-eve. I’d just gotten off the telephone with my brother, lamenting the fact that my youngest suffers agoraphobia and has cut most of her family off. She’s told us, in no uncertain terms, that interacting brings on “too much stress” and she needs to stay away for an indefinite time, perhaps forever. She’s told her siblings who were not raised with her, her cousins, and what few friends she still has that I know as well.

This is juxtaposed against the last time I saw her, shortly after her first, “please don’t contact me” plea: we had a good visit. She hugged me tight and whispered into my ear, “I love you, Mom.” It’s a treasure I hold to my heart knowing she may never overcome what she is dealing with.

Mary never did.

I first met Mary, or was even aware of her existence, when I was seventeen and a Senior in high school. She lived two blocks away, in a low brick house surrounded with a wrought iron fence (I could be making the fence up). Mary’s husband had committed suicide in the basement of that house. Mary was home when he did it. She never left the house afterward.

Well, not until they carried her out.

Mary was in her mid-sixties, older than my parents. Her husband, I suppose, had been a friend of my dad’s. Dad knew everyone, and even his enemies respected him. Maybe it was through the Lions’ Club or the Elks, but Dad kept in touch with Mary in the ensuing time after her husband’s suicide. They had no immediate family, but a niece in her twenties lived with Mary.

I need to stop here. I can’t write about Mary S. without hearing her whisper in my ears, “Oh, screw that!” Mary loved Neil Diamond. Mary swore like a sailor. Mary told things like they were, even if they weren’t like that. She was one sassy old lady.

Mary’s niece had to go on a trip and Mary needed someone to stay with her. See, Mary not only could not leave her house, but she could not be alone in that old house. It was a conundrum that could only be Mary S.

And, in a way only my father could, he volunteered me to stay with this strange agoraphobic old woman who I didn’t even know existed. There I was, standing on her doorstep, nervously waiting to introduce myself.

We watched old movies. She cranked up Neil Diamond until I thought my eardrums would never recover and the police would soon be knocking on the doors. We laughed. We danced to Cracklin’ Rosie, Sweet Caroline, Cherry Cherry, and Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show. We were free spirits inside a house with a history, a ghost of a husband who decided he couldn’t take life anymore so he turned a revolver on himself.

Mary S. hated guns. She hated being outside. She was terrified of being alone -in that house – but she would not leave that house. She knew she was mentally ill, but she couldn’t – wouldn’t – seek help.

I spent two weeks living with her. We had a crazy blast. We wrote long letters to each other when I went away to college, letters that gradually dwindled to nothing.

Then she was gone, an old woman who died afraid of her shadow, but still rocking to Neil Diamond. Forty-five years later, I miss Mary S. Forty-five years later, I miss my own daughter. Forty-five years later, I cannot find the words. At 17, she was my first elderly friend. She was fierce.

And she would roll her eyes at me, slap my wrists and say, “Don’t tell people about me. Turn up Neil Diamond. I want to hear Song Sung Blue one more time. LOUD.”

 

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