She started talking to me while I was browsing in the recorded books section of the library. Of middle height, small boned and lean, her sharp pixie face was framed by short brown hair. She looked to be in her 50’s or maybe early 60’s – like most of the library patrons on this Friday afternoon. She reminded me of an aging Joan Cusack character in her abrupt movements and earnest anxiety.
She spoke quickly, brown eyes holding an unwavering gaze through wire rimmed glasses and asked me how these books ‘worked.’ Are they actually CD’s and how do you listen to them? Do you lie down and put on headphones or do you listen to them while doing housework?” I responded that I usually played them in the car while driving around on errands.
“I couldn’t do that,” she said, emphatically. “I can only do one thing at a time.” She followed closely behind as I continued down the aisle and asked if I could I recommend any? I could and did. She wrote the book titles down in a little tablet she carried in her purse. “Maybe I’ll take one out next time I come but wonder if I pick one I don’t like,” she said in a worried voice.
I said that often happened to me in which case I just returned it and tried another one. “You mean you just chose one even if you don’t know anything about it?” her eyes and mouth an O of astonishment. Yes, I replied. I often tried things and then didn’t like them, and silently remembered a few early boyfriends. By this time we had passed the fiction section of the audio books and were into non-fiction.
Picking up a CD of a nationally known motivational speaker she asked if I had heard that he had developed leukemia. No, I answered. “Well, he was always telling other people to snap out of it. Now we’ll see if he walks his talk,” she said setting down his latest CD on the shelf with a thump. “I listened to some positive thinking tapes a long time ago but when you’re depressed it’s hard to be positive.”
Maybe it is negative thinking that makes you depressed in the first place, I responded. She agreed, then added, “When I feel bad I think depressing thoughts, like the other day when I looked at my niece’s Facebook page she had 643 friends and lots of photos of all the places she visited and I felt jealous and I thought my life’s not like that and how come I don’t have that many friends. But then she’s still going to college and her parents pay for everything so she’s not in the real world, really.”
I wouldn’t want to be young again, I commented as I randomly picked up an audio book and stuffed it into my bag. “Me either,” she agreed. “All the boyfriends who lie to you and the hangovers in the morning and learning how to have a real job and finding out how you can’t trust everybody and being all alone. It’s not easy being young.
I made my way to the automatic check out area and she followed closely behind. “Maybe next time I’ll see if they have an audio book on learning Russian,” she said casting a look over her shoulder.” My apartment complex is at least 80% Russian immigrants and I can’t understand a word anybody says. Do you think any of them have a job or are they all on welfare?”
Not knowing how to respond, I packed up my books and started towards the door. “Do you have a job,” she asked. “I’m trying to get back into the state government. I have ten years there in the accounting department but most of our department got layed off a couple years ago. I’m tired of not having any money.”
A few moments later as I stowed my bag of books in the back seat. I offered her my hand and said, “It’s been nice talking to you.”
“You, too,” she replied, her eyes bright. “By the way, my name is Barbara. What’s yours? Do you come here often? Maybe we’ll meet again.”
As I pulled away I glanced into my rear view mirror. The scene looked like an faded photo from the 1950’s. She was standing near a tan car with a dented fender waving goodbye with a sweet smile on her face.