I asked Helen is she had ever thought of herself growing so old.
“I thought I’d live forever! When you’re young, who thinks of dying? Do YOU ever think of it?”
“I had breast cancer this year. I kind of thought about it then.”
“I had that, too.” She puts her hand on her right breast. “It still hurts sometimes where they did the lumpectomy.” She paused. “I’ll kick off one of these days.”
I have never been terribly fond of any of the usual terminology regarding death: passing, passing on, passing away. I have now officially adopted Helen’s vernacular, “kicking off.” It makes the event sound a lot less passive, more like something you might do at Mardi Gras.
“Did you travel outside the country much?” I asked her this after I told her about my trips to central and Eastern Europe to do the concentration camp project.
“Only to Mexico. I didn’t have the money to travel when I was younger. I can’t now because I’m old. Everybody knows how old I am. I’m old. Too old to travel.” (She pointed a crooked finger upward and lowered her voice.) “He is not a good organizer. And he is mean. When I was able to travel and could not afford it, I was stuck. Now that I can afford to travel, I cannot because of my age and health. There is something very disorganized and unfair about that.”
We looked at each other. We sat in silence for a couple of minutes. What she said made so much sense, and I could think of so many other people I’ve know who have experienced the same bad luck.
“Where would you like to go now?”
“I wish I had a place with a porch. Just a porch, that’s all. Like we had back when I was a kid. A place to sit and watch... and listen.”