Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Sometimes a Little Knowledge...

Many years ago, when I was new on my job, I was invited to attend a retirement luncheon for one of my co-workers.

The event was held in the banquet room of a local restaurant and, as the afternoon wore on (and the drinks continued to flow) some of the more senior employees began to reminisce about co-workers from the past -- many of whom had retired ten, fifteen or even twenty years earlier.

What happened to this one? "Oh, she's been traveling all over the country since she retired."

What happened to that one? "He moved to California to be near his son."

What about W_____ M______? "She's still in prison." (Followed by nervous laughter. And, yes, this IS a true story!)

Several times during the conversation I heard references to a former employee named T_______ R______. Finally I asked, "What about T______ R______? What happened to her?"

There was a brief sad silence around the table, then someone explained that a few years after she retired, T_______ R_______ had killed herself by driving her car into the Detroit River.

"Why?"

"She was getting old and had a lot of health problems. She was all alone. So one night she drove her car into the River and ended it."

From the moment I heard the story, I never could shake that image from my mind.

Many years passed. I attended many more retirement parties. No longer the "new kid on the block," I could now share my own stories about former employees who had retired and moved on.

A couple years ago I visited the big used bookstore downtown -- four stories of books stuffed into a former factory or warehouse building. While browsing through the fiction section, I came across an elegant old copy of THE BIRDS' CHRISTMAS CAROL by Kate Douglas Wiggin. I opened it up and, scrawled across the front endpaper in childlike printing, was the name T_______ R_______.

I knew T______ R_______ was the same woman who had driven into the river (she had a very uncommon name.) I could imagine her receiving this book, perhaps as a Christmas present, when she was seven or eight years old and laboriously printing her name inside the front cover. I've always liked finding notes and messages in old books. When the writing is in a child's hand, I think about that young life and all the possibilities that lay ahead as he or she scrawled their name across the blank page. I always wonder what happened to that kid, how their life turned out. It's intriguing to ponder -- a mystery story in which we never really know the ending.

But this time, standing in a bookstore just a few blocks from the Detroit River, I knew the ending.

I left the book on the shelf so it could be found by someone else. Someone who might look at T_____ R______'s signature and ponder the possibilities, innocent to how this particular mystery really ended.

3 comments:

worththetrip said...

What a haunting story! Thanks for sharing it with us.

I had a college roommate, an English major who struggled through a course on William Butler Yeats. Years later, long after graduation, I came across a collection of Yeats poetry in a used bookstore that had my former roommate's unmistakable scrawl on the end paper: "This man did not know when to quit!"

Peter said...

And thank YOU for the comments! I think between us we could start a new blog on what we've found written in books.

buy jeans said...

The permanence of the internet makes this kind of joke even more amusing. I just saw this today, and it wasn't until the photo was MENTIONED in the post that I looked at it closely and scrolled back up to the date to see if it was an AF.