I met Liddie right before Easter. Well, that’s not exactly true. It was actually right before Valentine’s Day. I was hiding a broken heart and she had a bad heart. We were a perfect match.
I’d just broken up with my boyfriend. Okay, that’s not quite right either. He’d just broken up with me. And broken up’s probably not the best way to put it. He’d just decided to stay with his wife. A girl can’t really argue with that. At least this girl can’t. I may be a lot of things, but I’m not a home wrecker. I would’ve never even gone out with Allen if I hadn’t already known him.
It started innocently enough. He needed someone to talk to about his bad marriage, and I was lonely. It didn’t help that we had a history too. He was the one. The ONE. But then he went off to college in England of all places, and I stayed here. And he met her, and I was old news. Old news, that is, until things went south. Then we moved from old friends to very good friends.
But not good enough.
Liddie sat next to the window, her face soaking in the warm rays. Despite the snow outside, the sun could still do its thing. Even though her eyes were closed, they seemed to be smiling along with the grin on her face. I almost missed her room. The door was shut. It looked like a closet or something, but then I noticed the name plate with the Sunnydale Sheltering Arms logo. Lidya Melanore Carter.
“Ms. Carter,” I whispered. They said not to wake them if they were asleep. My job was to be a companion not an alarm clock. “Ms. Carter.” I took a step back. It had been a long day. I’d worked at the art store, gone by the library, and come straight to the nursing home. My stomach wasn’t happy with me. So if little Ms. Carter showed no signs of stirring, I figured I’d cut out and grab a bite on the way home.
Just as I turned to leave, she let out a guffaw. I nearly jumped out of my knock-off Uggs.
“Did I git ya?” She was grinning like the Cheshire cat, but her eyes looked more like the guy from The Shining. “Did ya think I was a gonner?”
“Oh, fiddle. No one’s ever going to fall for it.” A grumpy face replaced her grin and her wrinkles seemed to sag a little more.
“Fall for what?”
“You know, that I kicked the bucket.” She shook her head and muttered something under her breath.
This wasn’t going to be a normal a chat.
“Do you really think you should be pulling pranks like that?”
“What do you mean?” She went from crazy laughter to haughty indignation in the space of two minutes.
“Oh, nothing really. It’s just that maybe a person…like you…shouldn’t…” As I spoke, the error of my correction to her made me not feel so good about my abilities to offer encouragement. Fortunately she let out another guffaw, and then I knew this was going to be my favorite stop.
I stayed longer than I was supposed to that night. Liddie, she goes by Liddie which really fits her perfectly, and makes all my jokes about her flipping her “liddie” get a laugh out every time, she offered to share her pork chops and mashed potatoes, so we sat there and complained about the food until it was all completely gone.
The next week, I told her about Allen. I told her EVERYTHING about Allen. She wasn’t the best listener either. She’d interrupt with questions and make comments and then ask me another question. At the end of it all though, she just sat there, silently. I almost thought she was trying to pull another prank. Then she turned, took my hands, and said “Veronica, you can do better.”
That was Valentine’s night. I remember it not because it’s when I told her my sad story. I remember because that’s when she told me hers. Her story was a real love story. She told it with the passion of preacher standing at the gates of Hell. They were together 45 years. 45. I wasn’t even born when they got married. I don’t even think my mom had been born when they got married.
I left that night replaying her story in my head. How they met, how she left him, how he waited. If two people were ever meant to be together, they were. And the whole love affair didn’t end when they said “I do”. That was just the beginning. I cried myself to sleep. Two feelings twirled inside of me—a profound thankfulness that such a love exists and a deep sadness that I might never know that for myself.
When I awoke the next morning, I had an idea. It was a sliver of an idea, but I liked it, and I thought Liddie would too. So I left for work early and stopped by the home. She was awake. Every time I ever went to see her she was awake.
When I told her, she started to cry, bowed her head, clasped her hands together, and said a quiet thank you. I wasn’t sure what that was, but when she focused her graying, blue eyes on me, I knew she was all in.
“Can we start soon?”
“How ‘bout tonight?”
“It’s not Thursday?”
“Liddie, I can come on other nights you know.”
“But it’s Friday. Don’t you have some place to go? Some hot date?”
“Yeah, with you, my tape recorder, and my laptop.”
“Oh…” She shook her head. “That’s just a little bit sad.”
“See ya later.” I leaned down and pecked her cheek. She smelled like lilacs and baby powder.
That’s when it started. For practically three weeks straight, I visited her every night and she told me stories from her life, and I wrote them down. I’d work on them at home too. And then I’d read them too her. She would laugh and get misty and get that look in her eye like she could see it all happening.
I loved her. When the nurse told me she’d been taken to the hospital, I left work without telling anyone. I just went. All I could think about was getting to her, and that I didn’t want her to die. I was there, alone, waiting when they called me back. I halfway expected her to scream “Gotcha!” as I walked in the room, but she didn’t.
She gave me a little smile and waved me over.
“I have a few things I need to tell you,” she started. I couldn’t talk, so I nodded my head. “First, of all stop it.” She waited until I tried to smile. “You can do better than that, but I won’t fuss right now. My kids are going to be here soon. They’re selfish and whiny and you’re not going to like ‘em. They’re busy. You know what I mean.” Her hand reached out for me. It felt like a feather. “I want you to give them the stories.”
“Yes. You wrote them out beautifully. They don’t know the stories. They don’t know. That’s my fault I never told them any of it. I always waited for them to ask, and they never did. But I want them to know where they came from. How it is they got here when others didn’t. Will you give them the stories?”
I didn’t want to. I didn’t know her family, but I did know they didn’t deserve her, and those stories were part of her. I didn’t want them to just be tossed aside, forgotten. She deserved more than that. I guess she could see that in my eyes.
“I know. I know Veronica. I know what you’re thinking, and that’s why I trust you so. You’ll know who to give them to. You’re a smart cookie. I love you my dear. I thank God every day for you.” Her feather touched my cheek. She’d never pushed her God talk on me, but I knew he was there for her. It made me glad she thought I was some sort of gift. “Now I have one more request for you.”
“Please stop this. You’re talking like…”
“Sweetie, look at me. I’m not going back to Sunnydale. I’m going home. I’m ready. My William’s there. He’s waiting. And Jesus too. It’s you I’m worried about. Will you do one thing for me?”
I nodded. Defeated.
“Will you go to church on Easter?”
I nodded again. Defeated again.
Her daughter came in soon after that, and I left. Family only, you know.
At the funeral, I couldn’t find one single person in her family who I’d trust to give the stories too. So I kept them. I kept them and told myself I’d track down her granddaughter, Leslie, who was off in Colorado at school. Maybe she’d be worthy.
I didn’t though. I didn’t want to let them go. Leslie could come and find me if she wanted them. I sent her a note with my address and told her what a wonderful woman her grandmother was. I left off the part that it was too bad she couldn’t tear herself away from skiing and school to come for a visit or even to the funeral.
Easter came, and I went to church. People thought I was crying because of the music which would’ve made Liddie laugh, so I felt okay about that. They invited me back despite my waterworks. It’s been something to do. I can understand what she sees in it all.
It was Sunday afternoon when my doorbell rang. Usually I nap, but I was putting another part in Liddie’s stories so that they would have the time I spent with her too.
“Veronica Chastin?” A tall, dark-haired, blue-eyed flannel wearing wonder stood at my door and knew my name.
Suddenly, I was grossly aware of my sweat pants and pony tail. “Yes.”
“Hi.” He held out his hand. “I’m Leslie Carter. You knew my grandmother?”
Now all those stories she’d told me about little Leslie made much more sense. Leslie wasn’t a gender confused female. She was a handsome, wonderful man.
“You were expecting something different, weren’t you?”
I nodded and grinned.
“I get that a lot. May I come in. I miss her so much and I thought you could maybe fill in her last few months for me. I was in training and they wouldn’t let me out. Six months. Six months you go away, and you can’t have any contact with home. If I’d known….”
I opened my door wide. He has her eyes and her guffaw, and before he left that day, he took my hands in his and said he was thankful she had me.
We share her stories now with our kids, and they will carry them on.