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28 November 2012

The Memory-Box (Beauty in Discomfort)

I was in college and my girlfriend had made plans for us to go to a dinner party with one of her co-workers, Lavonne.  I had heard how mean Lavonne was for months.

Cathy said, "You know who I am talking about, right?

I said, "Yes, no one likes her, including you.  Why are we being invited, much less going?"

"It seemed really important to her, and that I bring you.  I don't think she has any friends-- I mean, if she asked me.  I was kind of on the spot, so I accepted.  I'll make it up to you."

"How does she even know about me?"

"She has heard me talking in the office about you.  This is so weird.  I never speak to her at all-- about anything-- and she just comes up and says she is having a diner party and wants me to come and to bring you."

So we went.  We were the only guests.

Lavonne served a horribly burned sauce over spaghetti, stale bread, and iced tea to us in her small apartment.  Cathy and I shared a smile after the first tastes of the meal and politely ate everything on our plates.  It was excruciating.

We were not expecting to be the only guests, and had planned to be among the first to leave, but we felt trapped.  Cathy cleverly and seamlessly brought the conversation around to the movie we were going to see that night and Lavonne stated, flatly, "You cannot leave yet."

She rose from the table, stepped to the bar which opened to the kitchen and retrieved a large hat-box, returning to the tabel with it and sat.

She opened the box and it was full of hundreds of photos of people we did not know (nor ever would).

Image from Pack Peddler's Place
For another two hours, Lavonne pulled out one picture after another, telling us all she could think about those in the picture and adding side-stories which did not form a coherent thread for us to follow.  But she narrated each old photograph (and some new), in such a way that she seemed to be getting to a point.  I was trying to follow.

"Now wait," I said, "Malcome is your Uncle, right?"

To my astonishment she answered, "No.  A cousin, but it doesn't matter if you can keep up-- I'm just going to go through these and say what I remember."

It was confusing.  She knew it was awkward, she knew she was being rude, and she did not care about that.  We were captives unless we were willing to be as rude, and we were not willing.  I was praying for the bottle of wine we had brought to be opened, but Lavonne had already told us she was Baptist and did not drink nor did she allow others to drink in her home.  For this, someone invented hip flasks, but I never have owned one.

Lavonne got to the last picture, and she was visibly tired.  She closed the box, and stood to start taking our plates to the kitchen.  She refused our help, but instead, ushered us to the door  and thanked us for coming.  Whatever Lavonne had intended, she had accomplished.

In the car, Cathy and I laughed about the awkward experience as we rehearsed the evening.  We had missed our movie and the start of the showing after that one.  It was so strange, and we could not fathom what part Lavonne thought we had played in her evening-- we certainly had no idea why we had been invited, or what possible enjoyment Lavonne might have derived from it.  We could have been complete strangers-- and practically were. 

Two weeks later...

Cathy called.

"Remember Lavonne?"

"Of course, but I am not sitting through another one of those dinners."  I was joking, but was filled with dread that was exactly what Cathy was going to tell me.

"No.  It is not like that.  Now it makes sense what she did.  Lavonne died."

"Died?!  How?"

"Cancer.  She has known for months.  She knew she only had a few weeks when we were there.  She went to the hospital the next morning."

"And so she wanted to go through her box of memories, but did not want to be alone?"

"Yes.  I feel... well, honored."

"Me too.  I also feel like a jerk."

"I did, at first.  But, she was not likeable.  She was rude, knew it, and did not care.  We are just the only people that did not turn her down.  She asked a lot of people before cornering me.  She really was desperate for company that night.   If she thought we were important to her, she would have told us what was going on.  We were not important."

"No.  But we were there; and for that, I am thankful to have served that purpose."

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