She Asks About Work
A Last Conversation
She asks about work. “Do you have a job, right now?” is the question. Do you have a job? She’s nearly 95 years old. Born in 1923. Born in Iowa. Childhood in Kansas and Louisiana. Came of age in Valparaiso, Indiana, more like a suburb of Chicago, even then. Nursing school during the war, in Nebraska, where her grandfather had been a reverend in the Lutheran church at the turn of the century, where her grandfather died in 1918 at 54 years of age; she herself was baptized by the Archbishop of Sweden, Nathan Soderblom, she’ll have you know. She worked at a hospital near Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago at the end of the war. Re-met her husband after the war; he was navy and she’d known him from high school. Kids in a western Chicago suburb. A few years in San Bernardino for her husband’s business; avocado trees and sunshine. Then back to Chicagoland, and the girls went to Purdue University and split with their families. She retired to the south, North Carolina. Spent time at the beach, walking beside the ocean, Cape Hatteras, Ocean Isle. Got used to being called a “yankee” and to being prayed for. Her husband passed away in 2000 and she moved back to Valpo. Back to family. Near her sister. Her sister developed dementia. She moved to Minneapolis. Near her daughter. She moved to Minneapolis. She cries when she looks at old photos. She can hardly hear. She cannot use the phone. She moved to Minneapolis, and this will be it.
“Do you have a job, right now?” is the question. She asks about work. She reads the response off a screen in her living room. A service listens to her calls, types out the responses from the other end. “Not. Right. Now. No. Job. Right. Now,” she reads. The connection is slow, disturbed by a confluence of opposing technologies; wifi calling on one end, TTY services on the other. Makes for awkward conversation. Makes her miss writing letters. People used to be able to get out what they wanted to say. Now people step on each other. Now thoughts have no end simply because they’re not allowed to finish.
“Oh. Okay,” she replies slowly, lugubriously, as if some sort of fight wasn’t worth it, as if whom she’d fought for doesn’t appreciate her fight. Fought is the wrong word. Withstood. Put-up-with. Weathered. Suffered. There it is. Suffered.
She asks about work because work will make things okay. Work provides meaning. Work provides life. Suffering provides life. She has proof of that. Children. Grandchildren. Great grandchildren. Life. Suffering.
Her fingers are knotted. Joints bulge around the phone. It used to be people could get out what they wanted to say. She can’t speak while she’s trying to read what the TTY service types on her screen. But she can hear the voice, wordless, careless, unhurried and unburdened. She tries to find joy in that, can’t. “Not. Right. Now. No. Job. Right. Now.”
She’s nearly 95 years old. She asks about work. She grows frustrated with the phone system. It’s too impossible to hear and read and concentrate on the conversation at once. It used to be you could get a thought out.
She tells herself she’s frustrated with the call. She lies well to herself. She’s good at it. She says goodbye. She says I love you.
Her fingers are knotted. Joints bulge around the phone. The phone is now quiet. The screen is now black. What was it she was just thinking of?