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Motorcycle Widow - cellophane — LiveJournal
the story of an invisible girl
Motorcycle Widow
I see the world in terms of stories. Geography, historical dates, economics, none of these stick in my brain. But stories... I can remember stories.

My mind builds stories and details out of the most insignificant snippets of information sometimes. My nature is to empathize, so I turn facts into stories with which I empathize. Maybe sometimes the stories I see are true. Often, I never find out.

Let me give you an example. I was listening in on a conversation among friends on Saturday. A friend said, "I might just have two new motorcycles! A friend just called, and he knows somebody whose husband just died. She just wants all of the stuff out of the garage, so he's going to empty it out for her and get a bunch of motorcycles for free. He said he might give me a couple of them."

Several people were intrigued by the story. A garage full of free stuff! "Why don't you just head over there with a van, see what you can find?"

"Oh if it were somebody I knew, I'd totally go over and loot. I'd head over there tonight! But she's just a friend of a friend...."

The conversation continued along those lines, talk of looting through the garage, speculation about what other treasures might be buried in there.

Let me reiterate, because it caught my attention. Everyone involved in the conversation heard the initial story, and they thought, "Cool, free motorcycles!" Or at least that's all they voiced.

I remained still and listened silently. Because what I thought on hearing the story was, "Oh... a woman has lost her husband."

My mind fixated on her story, the Motorcycle Widow I named her. I guess my mind just works different than others', wanders in peculiar directions.

As the excited gear and looting talk continued, I found that - if i were me - I couldn't imagine taking one of these items without at least making an effort to give her some money, some help, something.

It didn't seem right, that I should benefit from her tragedy, however indirectly.

All day, even the next day, my mind kept coming back to her, my Motorcycle Widow. I wondered about her story. Are the funeral expenses large? Does she have family to help her out?

How long had they been married? What sort of vacations did they take together? How did he die, was he alone, and can she still sleep only on her side of the bed?

I imagined this grieving woman, staring at a garage full of toys loved by her love. Just wanting them to be gone, gone, she didn't care how. Turning her back, unable to look.

But will she miss them, someday in the future when she misses him more? Will she regret giving away so much, someday if she has medical or financial problems to face alone?

Who will stay to help her pick up the pieces of her shattered life? Or will everyone simply grab a motorcycle and run off to play?

This is what I do. I don't criticize; there is no reason to, and this is actually none of my business. I just listen. I stand on the fringes of conversations and listen to the storyteller inside my head. Maybe the stories are just made-up. But they bear a certain poignancy and a certain reality.

I may be on the outside of a gathering sometimes, but my heart is often deep in your center. The stories I hear are raw, and they help me see more of life - in all its pain and splendor.
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ellison From: ellison Date: April 5th, 2006 09:13 am (UTC) (Link)
Beautifully written. I know exactly what you mean, too, because I tend to do the same thing. I'll hear a story and it'll stay with me, or I'll just see someone in a car and wonder about their lives (I do this a lot). Today in fact, there was a small car with lots of people in it that passed the bus stop. They looked like a Latino family, a woman driving, someone next to her, and in the backseat, an adolescent boy, an old woman, and a middle aged woman. I wondered how they were all related, if they were close, or if they drove each other crazy. I wondered where they were headed, if they were happy, or in a hurry, or even if they all lived together in the same house and what that might be like (I've never lived with anyone other than my nuclear family, so multiple generation households are fascinating to me).

I told my husband that I do this, and one time he said to me, "You know, that's what writers do. Or at least, that's what they tell you to do in writing class. You practice writing the stories that spin out from just seeing people on the street and sometimes you develop something really nice." I was surprised by that response, because that had never even occurred to me. I just love stories, listening to others' stories, or speculating on them all by myself. I think that's why I love online journals so much - I love knowing the stories of regular people and their lives, from all over the country and the world. It's so fascinating to me.

Anyway. I definitely had the same reaction when reading what you wrote - that I could never take that woman's stuff (at least not without compensation, but even then it would be hard), that I couldn't bear to be like, "Woo, what can I get?" knowing that someone is grieving so much and that's why she wants to get rid of the stuff. It's so sad. I hope she is okay and has support and will heal, in time.

Thanks for sharing this.
rmeidaking From: rmeidaking Date: April 5th, 2006 09:47 am (UTC) (Link)
There was a lot left untold in that story.

If you knew some of my cousins, you could empathize with someone just wanting to clean out the garage, even if it's filled with stuff that's worth significant amounts of money. I can seriously understand not wanting to go through the auction process of putting a price tag on someone's life. The survivor doesn't want that stuff around, because they hated it when the spouse was alive (typically, the spouse liked the stuff better than he/she liked the survivor - this goes for vast collections of knickknacks as well as tools and various motor vehicles). Or, if they did get along well, it's a constant reminder of their absence.

Of course, there is the flip side, where people refuse to get rid of any belongings at all; that's just as insane, actually.

And, if a person is wealthy (as this person must have been), it can actually be advantageous to have some of that stuff just disappear before it can become part of The Estate. It can be really complicated if someone with significant assets dies without preparing sufficient legal paperwork beforehand. Would you rather just give that motorcycle to someone, or have the IRS seize it for inheritance tax? Hmmmm.....especially if you're not planning to ride it yourself?

I had a definite sense of not having the whole story, so I was just going along with the story that I had. To do anything else is to venture into the realm of Wild Speculation.
renniekins From: renniekins Date: April 5th, 2006 01:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, what I wrote just now is absolutely speculation and imagination. That's why I stayed silent, and saved my thoughts for here - the place I muse about things.

I am intrigued by these kinds of processes: imagining the lives of people. It makes them real to me.
jeffreyab From: jeffreyab Date: April 5th, 2006 03:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
Silence is not always golden and it helps to put things in persepective.

Maybe you should become a part time cleric.
jkling From: jkling Date: April 5th, 2006 03:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
What an interesting story. Do you write? It would make a good short story.

Speaking of which, do you mind if I borrow it? I'm thinking of writing a novel based on my family history (my great grandparents were miners in Cornwall who moved to the Upper Peninsula to be copper miners there). Something like this (a widow giving her husband's stuff away because she can't bear it) would make an interesting subplot.
marsgov From: marsgov Date: April 5th, 2006 09:53 am (UTC) (Link)
I hear a great deal of personal history in your voice.

Most young people do not have experience with the death of a spouse or significant other, and as such they will lack the empathy to understand the Widow's situation. What they heard was "free stuff."

And, of course, lacking any personal connection to the Widow, they can hardly be expected to put themselves in her shoes. Dozens of people die in Chicago every week; were I to brood on it, I'd go mad.
elizilla From: elizilla Date: April 5th, 2006 02:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think that talking about death makes people nervous. They would rather slide around the subject. When it's someone they are close to, there's a social requirement to display sadness in certain ways. But when it's a stranger, there's no social litmus test, so they can slide easily into full-on avoidance mode. Avoidance may take the form of talking about the garage full of free stuff.

There's this corner of your mind where you put all the demons. Then you make a whole lotta noise about something fairly trivial that's right next to those demons. That way you don't have to look at the demons and maybe no one else will notice them at all. It's easy to slide past a relative stranger's death in this way.

But if you're the widow, you have to come up with some sort of socially appropriate grief-stricken behavior to placate the nattering gossips. Inventorying the garage yourself and selling the contents would not only be emotionally difficult, it would also require you display the appropriate sadness while doing it, and you'd have to be able to tell the story of how sad you were, later. You'd have to put on a show. Better to have a friend come over and take it all away, sometime when you're not there. "Not being able to watch" satisfies the social forms without requiring you to come onstage and display the proper level of grief, and it gets something done that must be done. I think the widow is smart; she is protecting her privacy and avoiding things that might bring extra pain.
mrs_sweetpeach From: mrs_sweetpeach Date: April 5th, 2006 02:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
Reaction #1: Ah sweetie, no wonder I love you.

Reaction #2: Free stuff! I wonder what else is in that garage?

Reaction #3: Are you sure the widow doesn't want/need compensation?

Reaction #4: But would it fit in my 12' house*?

*We've been watching Offbeat America on HGTV. One of the show's segments was on a guy who built himself a 12' house. It's a tiny bungalow on wheels, big enough for a galley kitchen, a desk and chair, a minuscule bathroom, two small closets and a sleeping loft at the top. I keep imagining myself trying to live in that space -- as it is, my craft supplies wouldn't fit, let alone my computers, cats, favorite books and clothes. But I keep thinking about it and I have noticed my acquisition of new stuff has declined since seeing that episode.
simplykimberly From: simplykimberly Date: April 5th, 2006 08:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
*smiles* I think that's a perfectly YOU way to look at the world, and hear about life, etc.

I think I'd be thinking about the motorcycle widow too, though. (hugs)
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