Wednesday, October 17, 2012


This morning I feel weary.  I did not watch the debate last night (these spectacles don't interest me) but it seems the noise found me anyway.  And I feel the way I do when there are sirens, when the subway screeches into the station.  I feel like a child, who has to stop wherever she is and hold her hands against her ears.

Growing up, I lived next door to a woman who has been the subject of many exasperating, now tucked-away stories and essays.  She did not leave her home and, as far as we could tell, she did not have any visitors. It has never been clear to us how she survived because a car sat dead in her driveway.  

Through rumor, I heard she had once been a scientist.  The mystery surrounding her became even more strange and fascinating when, one summer, we discovered that she had kept turtles marked with red dots on their shells because dozens escaped, or were let loose, from her yard. 

Through the years, it seemed the two of us were in a mysterious argument without words. While other kids in my group walked away with sweets, she silently refused to give me candy on Halloween.  In retaliation, I took pickles from a jar and, one by one, threw them at her window while she stared back at me from behind the screen. One morning I stood on a lawn chair to peer into her jungle of a backyard and she marched to the fence, sprayed me in the face with a hose.  The shock of it sent me falling to the patio and I ran away with bloody knees.

When she died, her house was emptied.  And by this, I mean, that multiple dumpsters the size of a U-haul were filled with nothing but books.  In all the stories I have tried to write about her, I have never been able to express the sheer magnitude of books that were relieved, gasping, from her home.  Just close your eyes.  Picture thousands, toppling over one another in massive heaps.

I think of her today because of this shut-my-eyes, hold-my-ears reaction.  It's hard for me to imagine shutting people out of my life the way she did.  But in the midst of all this noise, I can imagine wanting to be with stories and words and books, to sit huddled among them, instead of witnessing the tremble of the real world.


  1. I couldn't agree more! In those moments when I think I could become a hermit-lunatic, I'm thankful there are a few people in my life who'd knock down the door and invade.

    Her strangeness and your mutual animosity intrigues me. I hope your stories and essays come to light because I'd love reading them.

    Catherine Denton

  2. Wow! What great material for stories...the pickles thrown at the window, the water sprayed in the face. Wow. Fascinating relationship and yes, the books are interesting. Safer than real people? How very strange. As for the debate. I couldn't wait to watch, but came away weary. Much noise.

  3. Some days I dream of shutting the world out, living by myself and doing nothing but reading and writing. I don't think I could go complete hermit because I enjoy my family too much, still, it's nice to fantasize about.

  4. This stirs up great images. Pickles? Sadness hit me when her books hit the dumpster. Engaging post, Melissa.

  5. What a lonely life she must have lived...devoid of people, of the joys that come with the interactions between friends...

  6. You're telling me she gave the other kids candy but refused you -- even though you were in costume? How did she know it was you? Besides the pickles, what did she have against you?

    This is SUCH good fodder for a MG story.

  7. Great story, Melissa! With all that's been said and written about last night's debate, your post is absolutely the best.

  8. Your story made me think about those people that hoard stuff in their houses. They usually are trying to cope with some big tragedy. I wonder what her tragedy was???

    I get retreating into the magical world of books, but I know it can only last so long...before the husband and child want dinner or clean clothes. :)