Monday, December 12, 2005

When I worked in social services for the elderly, one of my special residents was Martha, who would pop into my office several times a day to ask what time it was, what she should make for dinner, if the mailman had come, to tell me the story of the neighbor kid whom her mother paid 5 dollars to take her old dog to the police station to be shot, to tell me how she called the bank president the second her widower father walked out the door to empty his savings for a couple of scheming cousins in California. She was an iron-willed woman who suffered from dementia, and got her feathers up if anyone took issue with her version of events. I was the only person in the building who was agreeable to her version of events, even when I had myself witnessed things transpire otherwise. I was daily brokering peace with the other residents who resented the slightest inaccuracy of her perceptions, whether it was claiming to have seen the postman on a Sunday or that her hallway on the first floor had once had stairs. After a few too many memory lapses compromised her safety and ability to live independently in her own apartment, she had to move to another retirement community, one with roommates and supervision, things she despised. Before leaving, she brought me a bunch of her books, concerned that they have a good home. I gladly accepted them and gave her comfort that they would be my beloved charges: moldy hardcover editions of Jewish folktales, a scholarly (and glaringly Eurocentric) chapbook on a Chinese temple on display at a 1950’s World Fair, The Last Days of Socrates, and The Little Prince. My reading habits being what they’ve been, I haven’t yet had the occasion to investigate any of these volumes deeply, until last night, after finishing Inner China, I decided to see what I’ve been missing all these years with The Little Prince, a book I don’t remember from childhood, a story that my friend Q once wrote over as a play involving 5 Andy Warhols. The serendipity of when and where something is read, like what a book will fall between in the alphabetical order of my shelf, has always fascinated me. And happily, it is now- and via Martha- that I encounter this read. The little boy on his own planet the size of a room asking wholly different questions than the rest of the world, how can this not echo with her life as I knew it? How can it be that I would read this on the train to work and then read 12 consecutive emails in this form? “Effective __, __ is no longer an employee of ***. On behalf of the __ Dept., we wish __ the best in all of his/her endeavors.”


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