Growing up, I lived next door to a woman who has been the subject of many exasperating, now tucked-away stories and essays. She did not leave her home and, as far as we could tell, she did not have any visitors. It has never been clear to us how she survived because a car sat dead in her driveway.
Through rumor, I heard she had once been a scientist. The mystery surrounding her became even more strange and fascinating when, one summer, we discovered that she had kept turtles marked with red dots on their shells because dozens escaped, or were let loose, from her yard.
Through the years, it seemed the two of us were in a mysterious argument without words. While other kids in my group walked away with sweets, she silently refused to give me candy on Halloween. In retaliation, I took pickles from a jar and, one by one, threw them at her window while she stared back at me from behind the screen. One morning I stood on a lawn chair to peer into her jungle of a backyard and she marched to the fence, sprayed me in the face with a hose. The shock of it sent me falling to the patio and I ran away with bloody knees.
When she died, her house was emptied. And by this, I mean, that multiple dumpsters the size of a U-haul were filled with nothing but books. In all the stories I have tried to write about her, I have never been able to express the sheer magnitude of books that were relieved, gasping, from her home. Just close your eyes. Picture thousands, toppling over one another in massive heaps.
I think of her today because of this shut-my-eyes, hold-my-ears reaction. It's hard for me to imagine shutting people out of my life the way she did. But in the midst of all this noise, I can imagine wanting to be with stories and words and books, to sit huddled among them, instead of witnessing the tremble of the real world.