When I met my future husband, we took Annette to lunch down in the Marina. I wanted her to meet him, and she had been wanting crab cakes. Afterward she said I was damn lucky to have found him. ”He has a good heart, honey,“ she said contentedly, a little knowingly, as if she‘d had a hand in our meeting. She came to our wedding and was more hopeful than ever she’d find somebody, reasonably certain that now that I had a husband with a wide circle of male friends, he could make a match. In the meantime she prevailed upon my husband, a high school teacher, to let her come to his class and ”speak to the kids“ because she said the world was as dire as she‘d ever seen it, and she wanted to minister to any bad feeling out there among the young people. My husband liked Annette and agreed, though he admittedly expected little from such a visit except the timeworn admonitions of an old woman. He told his students to be courteous. He didn’t need to.
Annette had no speeches, no coherent stories to tell or advice to dispense; she stood with her cane before the class and confessed that she had no idea what was wrong with people these days or what to think -- did they? The students were startled to see an adult, an elderly one at that, not directing them but doing something quite opposite, laying bare vulnerability and an exasperation with the world that was almost adolescent. The students dropped their polite indifference and started giving their takes on the world‘s problems and their own; one girl, plain and overweight, broke into tears. ”It’s okay, honey,“ Annette cried sympathetically from her stool at the front of the room. ”Go ahead, let it out. I don‘t blame you a bit. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.“ She stayed another period, and worked similarly mundane magic. The distraught girl ended up calling her at home later.
Now Annette was terribly excited; here was the new beginning she sought. She wanted to take this act on the road, book regular gigs, launch a mobile School of Transformation for the millennium. But as her sense of destiny soared, her health took a dive. She didn‘t have a single disease, just too many conditions for one body to bear: diabetes, stroke aftermath, depression. She still longed for a male companion. She complained more vociferously about a stroke-stiffened hand and gripped my arm tighter as she walked fewer and fewer steps. Over the course of several months the cane gave way to a wheelchair, the wheelchair to bed, the bed to a curtained spot at a euphemistically named county health center that was really a hospice. For some reason I never quite understood, she lost the ability to speak; doctors said it was due to a diabetic shock. I surmised Annette didn’t have the energy, finally, to recuperate and put herself back in play. At the end she was thin, nearly bald and terrified of what was coming next -- I don‘t want to be here, her eyes said, and This is not it at all. She wasn’t done. I could say nothing back except, Yes, I know. Not comforting but true, and I think Annette, for all her espousing of the good life, preferred the truth. She died last month on a brilliant day. I miss her cracked voice, her diatribes, her battered but unburied plans for the future. I suppose I never wrote her story because, as she demonstrated, there were always better things to do.