I wasn’t going to write this one up – my meeting with Miss Carrie. I didn’t get a photo of her – it’s like an unwritten law for me, no photo no write up. But it’s 3:30 in the morning, and I am wide awake thinking about her. Perhaps writing will be therapeutic and bring some sleep…
It’s interesting to me how the human mind works. There seems to be times in life where you realize that things aren’t quite the way you’d wish. Maybe you don’t even realize it in a conscious way, it’s more of a longing, a regret –and you find yourself “looping”. The same thought recurring in your head, leaking out of your mouth, hoping that if you just say it, think it enough, it will be true.
I was dating this girl, for instance, about a hundred years ago. She wasn’t the right girl for me, but I wanted her to be. My brain locked into this loop of “I love her”, and it escaped my mouth frequently. “I love you” I would say to her. One day she asked “Do you? Or are you trying to talk yourself into it?”. Becoming aware of the “loop” in my mind brought an end to that relationship shortly thereafter…
So subconsciously maybe we hope that “if I think it enough, it will become truth”. I wonder how much of my life is just fooling myself–built in blind spots thinly covered by loops.
Miss Carrie is sitting by herself in the evening gloom. I can see her through the sliding glass door on the front of her double-wide. She’s old, she can’t remember for sure how old. She tells me that she’s 83. Her neighbor tells me the next day she’s really 87. Carrie forgets.
I’ve been told if I bring her a beer she’ll talk to me. I borrow one from the neighbor and walk through the Florida evening and see her there. It’s easily eighty degrees or so, very warm for November even in Florida. But Miss Carrie sits with her door shut, a dim bulb burns in the lamp behind her, the only source of light in her place. The ancient lampshade casting a yellow circle of light where she sits. Staring.
I walk up to the door. She kind of knows me by now, I’ve been around the trailer park for a couple of days. I’ve teased her that I want to hear her story – she sees me and starts shaking her head, a smile spreads across her face, but she doesn’t want me there. Then she sees the beer…
I sit down and it only takes me a moment to realize that Miss Carrie uses “ohgoddamn” like most poeple use “um”. Whenever there is a pause in her conversation, several escape her, laced with more colorful language. This is a colorful woman. I see that the beer I’ve brought is the third one tonight. She’s ready to talk…
The first phrase out of her mouth is “I’ve had a hard life. A really hard life. But I’ve got no regrets, nosirree, not one regret”. I find out tonight that this is her loop. With her version of “um” and this loop, it takes up 40% of the conversation. In between a story of her life starts to emerge.
She lived on a dairy farm in New York with her first husband. They owned the farm and had about 70 cows, and although they had machines to do the milking, her husband insisted on making sure all the milk had been retrieved by hand. So after the machines, she and her husband would hand milk the cows to “finish them off”. So she did work hard.
Then she catches her breath, almost in pain. A memory has come, she’s not sure what to do with it. She looks at me, sips the beer. “ohgoddamn, ohgoddamn…” the loop begins. “… not one regret” the loop ends. Sip. She stares at me, wondering what to do. I let the silence linger, giving her time to consider.
She loops again.
She loops again.
“My daughter just graduated from high school..” she begins again. Now she’s speaking quickly, the words are punching out of her mouth. She’s decided to tell me, but she wants to get it over with.
To celebrate the graduation, her husband decides to take Miss Carrie and their daughter out for dinner. It’s a big deal, a night out is a rare thing in their home. As they drive into town they head up over a rise in the road. As they approach the top of the hill, a car comes over the top from the other direction…
Silence returns to the room in which we sit… the untold story just hanging there.
She loops again. The silence grows again. She loops again in an effort to fill it.
“The car is in the wrong lane. Head on. Killed my husband instantly.” she nearly gasps.
Now she’s staring blankly ahead. She’s gone back to that road. I let the silence linger. She sips her beer.
She loops again. “I’ve had a hard life. A really hard life. But I’ve got no regrets, nosirree, not one regret, I’d do it all again.” The silence grows again. My questions go unanswered. I sit sweating in the heat, waiting for her to process it all again–hoping we can change the subject to happier topics.
Suddenly she’s on her feet. She rummages through her dark trailer looking for something she wants to show me. She asks for my help. We re-arrange pillows and chairs in the dark while she pokes around looking for it. She finds it with a cry of glee, hands it to me like a girl showing me her Christmas present from Santa.
It’s an obscene stuffed doll. She hands it to me, cackling with glee, a stream of profanitiy laces the laughter. She’s sure she has shocked me. More importantly the subject is changed. Maybe its a way to cope–she’s trying to shock the pain away, to forget what we had been discussing.
I put the doll down on the couch, thank her for her time and start to leave. She’s been terrific, and I’ve been there close to an hour. She’s not done talking yet. She sits me back down with a motion of her hand.
“He was a cheatin sonofabitch you know” she blurts. She sees the question in the look on my face. “Oh yeah, he always had some whore he was with, cheated on me all the time. But I gave as good as I got. Oh yes I did @#$%. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”
And with this new information hanging in the air, she repeats the loop again… “I’ve had a hard life. A really hard life. But I’ve got no regrets, nosirree, not one regret, I’d do it all again.”
She walks me to the door, tells me to watch my step. As I walk away I can see her through the sliding glass, sitting in her small pool of light holding her beer and staring straight ahead. I wonder if her brain is still trying to tell her she has no regrets.
Now I look at my wife sleeping quietly next to me. Realizing that after 25 years I’m not sure where I end and she begins, she’s so much a part of me. To have that ripped away in a moment of violence– how would I process that? What loops would I build into my life trying to cope? My heart breaks for Miss Carrie and her sudden loss that still causes her so much pain decades later.
I hope she finds peace. I pray for Miss Carrie. My time with her made my life better, helped me appreciate what I have.
Miss Carrie died about 18 months after I met her – one of her neighbors let me know. I hope she’s found peace.