The meaning of life, more or less.
| Shortly after one in the afternoon on a breezy, cool First of September, the little blue car toting the mail stops at our box out at the road. I see the car from the couch; the dog must hear it for in a second she is at the window barking. I wait until it passes and then walk to the door, telling the dog it is mail time. We march the ninety feet to the receptacle on the post under the berry-laden tree that hangs heavy over it. |
Saturday's delivery is rarely large, and this one is no exception, but I spot one piece of mail with a stamp showing old Crosley Field in Cincinatti. I riff through the envelopes and find it is from my sister. Two letters in one week, what is happening? The first arrived Tuesday. It was about the wolf's twice-postponed funeral that finally took place the Saturday before. The news in this letter isn’t as cheery.
While driving in Lafayette this past Monday, she met an eighty-six year old woman at an intersection. The senior citizen turned left into the driver's side of my sister's 1984 Ford Escort. No one was hurt but now the door won't shut. $1,300 is the cheaper of the two estimates given to fix it, but that price surely does not include the cost of replacing the duct tape that held the car together the last time I saw it.
I pondered her story all afternoon, and then the dog and I took our early evening ride to the rest stop on the interstate, where she walked and did her business. She jumped back into the car. I pulled back on the runway for take off. The engines revved up to speed and down the on-ramp we hurtled. I looked over my shoulder and saw a green Neon coming and not giving up the right lane. Other traffic was far back.
I knew the Neon would clear my entry spot before I got there, but I kept checking my left side mirror and glancing back over my shoulder. I punched the gas pedal and accelerated and within seconds was on the tail of the Neon. I flicked my left turn signal and began to pull out. A horn blared, I pulled back in and a Taurus station wagon roared by me in the left lane my car was going to occupy.
In my haste, I had omitted looking in my rear view mirror as I throttled towards takeoff. The Taurus must have been following me. I had not seen him because of the angle of the turn. I had done everything wrong and nothing happened. Janet drove through a green light and was slammed. There is a lesson to be learned. Someone is trying to tell me something! They're banging my head against a wall and shouting loud and clear, “Life’s an accident, stupid, nothing more, nothing less.” The picture begins to clear for me; I have been lost for the past few months trying to figure out what it all means when it never meant anything.
“What is the purpose of all this?” he asked politely.
“Everything must have a purpose?” asked God.
“Certainly,” said man.
“Then I leave it to you to think of one for all this,” said God. And He went away.’**
I knew this all along. Back in May I wrote "ENCOUNTERS WITH GREAT MEN" about chance meetings, but I forgot my own wisdom. These discoveries are all around us. That same Saturday afternoon an Internet search revealed that my last name could be my first name also, as in Lidle Quillen of turn-of-the-century Tennessee Quillen’s. Had my parents known, could I have been Lidle Lidle?
Then I came across an item under “Lidle” titled ‘Chatham Four Corners’, and it ranked in the top fifty of over 24,300 sites that mention my last name. It was my wife’s obituary, written by me and given to the undertaker. She lives on in the ether, more popular than many of the accounts of the triumphs of Oakland A’s pitcher Cory Lidle and the exploits of his brother, Kevin.
How many hits did ‘Chatham Four Corners’ take to vault it above the story of a Tigers-A’s game? If I reference the site every hour on the hour for the rest of the day, could I push it up to number one on this Google search? And who has been clicking on her name? Could it be another eighty-six year old woman plowing through an intersection hell-bent on getting to the other side?
My essay is beginning to lose its way. It is chilly today. My blue denim shirt will need its own obituary soon. Its collar is ragged. I look in the closet and take out a similar shirt of Morgan’s. As my weight declines, her shirts fit. The buttons on this one are on the right, in male fashion. Could it have been mine originally? Does it matter? This encounter has liberated it.
Warming up, I wander about the house, looking through bookcases for other accidents and find her diploma from Tufts, along with ‘books’ written by my daughter. “Black Magic,” which is about a cat, was penned by her in fourth grade and illustrated by my Tufts’ graduate. “One Rainy Saturday” is from 1988 and is dedicated to her ‘Aunt Cindy for helping me in my writings and being a great writer’.
Lixie would have classified me as a rank amateur. She would be right. She wrote rings around me. She never got lost. Her grasp of plot as she is kidnapped along with Drew in ‘Rainy Saturday’ was so impressive. In her story, the kidnappers call the parents demanding ransom. The "prices were still in the hundred thousands when our parents gave in. Thank God, I’m worth 35 million." She thought the ship that sank could not carry her.
I put the books back on the shelf next to a book of early American photographs from a client’s collection, which is now housed at the Smithsonian. I take it out and leaf through it. I don’t recognize anybody, but there is a photograph of three pre-teen girls sitting on a stoop in Philadelphia in 1925. An accident of history drops on me. One of these youngsters surely married and moved to Indiana, and in the year 2001 ran into my sister at an intersection in Lafayette.
** Cat’s Cradle, K Vonnegut
Valatie September 3, 2001