Sunday, June 10th, 2018
It was around the time that this family picture was taken – posed for our upcoming Christmas card – that I used to see her. We had just moved to the lake full time and I was grateful for the faded but cautionary crosswalk that slowed drivers down as my then young boys would hop between our house and our dock. The first time I saw her was early in the morning as she was crossing over the yellow bars to take a look at the view before continuing on what looked like a devoted exercise routine, walking but with a kick in her step. From the distance as I approached, her attractive face looked serene and I gave her a quick wave and turned in my driveway to my busy life where there never seemed to be enough time nor sleep. Later that afternoon on the way to school pick up, I saw her further down on the lake walking with the same intention as she had that morning as though time had not passed. In my rearview mirror I could get a better look at her face which appeared to be fully made up, her bony arms and legs moving like obliging pistons in a well oiled machine. The next day I saw her again in the same outfit walking along the larger road that took me to yoga, Starbucks, CVS. Another night I was coming back from a dinner party and my beams caught a sudden movement along the road. At first I thought it was a deer until I recognized her shape. As my car momentarily illuminated her like a lighthouse beam she continued undaunted. l asked some of mothers gathered after drop off the next morning if anyone knew who she was: many have seen her over the past couple weeks in different places, always walking always alone, but no one knew anything about her. I remembered as a child looking out our station wagon window as a lone figure walked along the park wearing a full ski mask. It was summer. “I heard he’s crazy,” my brother said. “Vietnam.” I hugged my bare arms around myself as I craned to watch him fade. “Be careful,” my mother said but I wasn’t sure about what. The last time I saw her was during a tennis tournament. It had been weeks. I had run into the little bathroom of our club in between sets and suddenly there she was, applying lipstick in the mirror
(Cont’d: ) I could see all of her now up close: the faded nylon of her jogging shorts so worn you could almost see through them. Her legs and arms were brown in the way that suggested unrelenting sun exposure not leisurely tanning. Her eyes were coated in blue eye shadow and mascara and the outlines of her lips were blurred by so much pink. I stopped suddenly, shocked to have her so close, just her and I like girlfriends running into each other on a bright summer day. Her mouth broke open into a smile as though she were expecting me: “Tell me: who is winning?” she asked in a girlish voice, light with optimism. She waited for my answer, blinking, her lipstick poised. Here was my chance to ask her all my questions and yet, I couldn’t answer one single one of hers. “No one…yet,” I said and hurried into the stall.
“Well good luck!” she said merrily. and I could hear the click as she put her lipstick back in its case and then the sound of the door opening and she was gone. Where does she put her lipstick I wondered as I walked back to the match. She didn’t even have water. I lost that day, her voice bounced around in my head like a tennis ball whirling inside a hurricane. I searched the roads after that, expectantly at first as if she owed me her presence, then longingly then despairingly until my life coaxed me back into its demanding folds until she too became a memory. She had been removed from our landscape the way deer hit by a car are one day: at first a sorry accident, the next day their body a cautious reminder to slow down…. until one day gone and forgotten. “Whose job is it to remove the hit deer from the road?” my boys had asked me. I wasn’t sure. And now, after this week of so much unexpected loss, I want to shout: Why had none of us ever slowed down long enough to even ask her: “How are you?”