GETTING TO KNOW YOU


BY DON NOEL


“Rebecca, I’m glad you’ll spend the week with me here at Harmony Acres! I hope you won’t be bored stiff, surrounded by ancients.”


“You’re not so ancient, Gram. And I’m happy to be here. For a while it looked like Mom and Dad were going to leave me at the house with a babysitter while they went vacationing.”


“To be honest, she mentioned that, so I invited you. I couldn’t imagine my sweet 12-year-old Rebecca, only a few years from menarche, with a babysitter!”


“Gram, would you mind calling me Beck?”


“Becky? That’s nice.”


“No, just Beck.”


“Goodness! Of course, dear, if that’s what you like. But I’m not sure if that sounds like a boy or girl.”


“That’s the point, Gram. And what’s menarche?”


“Oh, I’m sorry, you wouldn’t have encountered that word yet. It means the onset of puberty, and your first menstruation; moving from childhood to adolescence.”


“You mean having my first period?


“Yes, dear.”


“Gram, that happened last month.”


“Last month! I can’t believe it! I think I was 16! Yes, just before my junior prom.”


“Mrs. Murphy – she’s our health teacher – says it’s happening younger and younger.”


“Extraordinary! You’ve hardly had time to assimilate arms and legs getting longer, and hair, too – and suddenly organs you’ve never thought about demand attention.”


“I think that’s right, Gram. What’s assimilate?”


“There I go again! Poor girl, whose grandmother spent a career writing. It means to take in . . . absorb . . . understand fully.”


“I get it. Yes, that’s exactly right. I’m not sure I want to become a baby machine, Gram.”


“My! That’s blunt. Negative. That’s what the Beck name is all about?”


“Yes.”


“Now it’s me who gets it. Someday you might yearn to have a child of your own, but not in junior high school. Does all this change depress you sometimes, dear?”


“Yes, Gram. A lot. Do you ever get depressed?


“A little, sometimes. Well, I don’t know the clinical definition of depression, but there are times when I really miss your Gramps, you know?”


“I miss him too, but it’s nice having you all to myself. I’m sorry, that’s a terrible thing to say, but it’s true.”


“Does your mother know about your depression?”


“I don’t think so. Gram, when you’re really feeling down, do you sometimes think about . . . I mean, consider . . . do you want to hurt yourself?”


“No, dear. I guess that’s a sign of very deep depression. Sometimes when I’m feeling down, I go for a walk. It does my heart good to be out in the meadows and woods, admiring the wildflowers and listening to birds sing. Beck, dear, late afternoon is a perfect time. Let’s go for a walk right now.”


“Okay.”

“Gram, it’s nice out here. I can see why you come.”


“It’s relaxing, child. I forget myself.”


“I like that. What’s that purplish plant, Gram?”


“Good for you! Not everyone notices. It’s a New England native and loves the shade. A trillium, but mostly it’s called a jack-in-the-pulpit.”


“That’s cute. I can imagine a little man standing up in that tiny pulpit. What does he preach?”


“Let’s be quiet and listen.”


“Gram, that’s not the jack-in-the-pulpit. It’s a bird!”


“Yes, dear. Can you imagine it’s singing ‘Cheer, cheer’?”


“That’s perfect! Is it called a cheer bird?”


“Maybe it should be. We call it a cardinal.”


“Do you know all the birds by how they sing?”


“I used to know a lot, but I only remember a dozen or so. You could learn that many in the week you’re here.”


“That might be fun.”


“The cardinal is ahead of us. It’s a bright red bird, maybe on a tree branch 10 or 15 feet above the ground. You tiptoe toward it, looking up; I’ll just sit here on this bench.”


“Okay. . . . . There it is! Wow! Is it ever red!”


“That’s the male. The female is quite different, almost green.”


“So, you know who’s Beck or Becky?”


“Maybe, dear. Now that you’re at a distance, I see that you’re limping! Have I gotten you out here to turn your ankle?”


“Oh, no, Gram, it’s nothing.”


“There’s blood on your sock! Come sit here next to me so I can look!”


“It’s nothing!”


“Sit! Let me look! I’m going to pull your sock down so I can see . . .”


“Gram, I cut myself.”


“Today? Just now?”


“Yesterday.”


“With what? A knife?”


“A blade from Dad’s razor.”


“Deliberately? On purpose?”


“Yes.”


“Good heavens, Rebecca! I mean, Beck. Why? What in the world for?”


“I wanted to hurt myself.”


“You were hurting inside, so wanted to hurt outside too?”


“I don’t know. Maybe. I guess so.”


“And your mother doesn’t know?”


“I don’t think so.”


“Child, I’m having difficulty absorbing this. Assimilating it. You’re going to have to help me understand. Have you ever thought of ending your life?”


“Yes, Gram. To stop hurting.”


“And neither your mother or father knows?”


“I don’t think so. I hope not.”


“Beck, help me up, please. We should start back.”


“Okay, here’s a hand. My, you’re light as a feather.”


“I’m an old lady, Beck. But I’m glad I’ve lived long enough to get to know my granddaughter a little bit.”


“Me, too, Gram.”


“And you’re here for a whole week. That’s wonderful! Maybe that’s long enough that you can help me understand your generation. Can you do that?”


“I’ll try, Gram. Maybe you can help me understand myself.”


“Good. Let’s go have dinner.”


“I hate to leave the cardinal and the jack-in-the-pulpit. Can we come back out here tomorrow?”


“Or even after dinner, if you’d like.”


“I’m glad I came, Gram. Here, take my arm.


“Thank you. After this week, if you’re feeling depressed, might you call me?”


“I’ll have to think about that, Gram. Probably. Maybe I could come walk in your woods.”


“Beck, I hope you will. That would be wonderful!”



Don Noel is retired from four decades' prizewinning print and broadcast journalism in Hartford CT. He took his MFA in Creative Writing from Fairfield University in 2013, and has since published more than five dozen short stories, including two in OpenDoor. All can be read at his website, https://dononoel.com

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