Several years ago, on another site, I wrote a story about one memorable afternoon’s encounter with a remarkable young woman. At the time, I had a little furniture business that specialized in bringing old, American made furniture back to life. That particular winter afternoon, I was on the hunt for something really special and was exploring “junk shops” in an old mill town. Perhaps, it’s because looking out my window and seeing overcast skies and a construction dirtied street that I am now reminded in some way of that town and that day. But, what I found that afternoon has stayed with me all these years.
Would you tie this for me?
She held up a silver medallion hanging from a short, thick cord. It seemed an act of someone both innocent and yet filled with a nothing else to lose resignation. Annie has been around.
Sure, why not.
She stepped from behind the display counter, turned her back to me and lifted her long brown hair.
Why was I nervous? Maybe, because I feared for her vulnerability. I was, after all, almost a complete stranger. After a bit of fumbling, a decent knot was tied and Annie admired her new bit of flash. I could see, too, that she really had a thing for rings. Every finger of both hands had at least one. If hands could talk Annie’s would cry, See me, please. She had become invisible to everyone but herself.
With no one else in the shop it was easy to talk. She told how she displayed the furniture and bric-a brac and the care she would take in polishing the old wood. She loved having something to do. She loved making things that had seen better days look worthwhile again. If only she could get a few more hours or a bit more money.
It’s hard getting thirty dollars for an eight hour day, she said. And, only three days a week at that. No one else will give me a job. Heck, hardly anybody around here will talk to me. My sisters won’t. My brother, either. He lives only a few blocks away and he won’t talk to me. My boyfriend mostly yells at me and calls me stupid. Hits me sometimes. But, he better watch out. Someday…
Are you tired, Annie? I guessed what her tiredness was. I had seen it before.
No, she said, it’s my medication. Actually methadone. I take the train to Bridgeport to get it. It really makes me tired. But, it’s better than… You know.
Yeah, I do. How long have you been off the stuff, Annie?
Oh, for years.
Where is this conversation coming from, I’m thinking?
I started when I was nine.
Yeah. My parents were users and they gave it to me – my sisters and brother, too. We lived in Bridgeport, then. She told me the street.
I knew the place well, it wasn’t really a street. Annie had grown up in an alley and I had driven past it several times every day for three years. I didn’t recall seeing Annie, though. At least not this Annie.
So, my father molested me. And, then, so did his brother. I really hate him. He still tries to see me. I’d like to kill him. My sisters tell me to just let it go, it happened to all of us and, it’s in the past. But, I can’t let it go. Annie gets quiet and stares at nothing…but at something.
Well, at least I got off the stuff. No more heroin. Or coke. No pills. Just the meth. It makes me tired, though. I know I messed up my life.
But, Annie, you’re trying. You never really got a break.
She polishes a table top for what seems a long time, trying to hide the scratches and scars.
You know, no matter how much they beat me down, I’ll never completely break, she says.
No, Annie, never give up. Never.
Then, a customer walks in and I turn to leave the shop.
Wait, she says, and walks me to the door.
For talking to me. I won’t forget it. Really.
Neither will I, Annie. I hope you have a happy Christmas.
Well, at least I got one present, even if it is from myself. She lifted her new medallion and smiled.
She could not possibly know that she had also just given a gift to me.
Merry Christmas and may God protect you, Annie.