(Image "Masquerade" by Thomas Barbey)Last night I had the strangest dream. I woke up from it sobbing in grief, but it wasn't my dream.
Of course, it was a bubble from my own subconscious, but it's just flotsam, or empathy, for an old acquaintance I spoke with last night on the phone.
Should I tell you my dream, or should I tell you the horrible Job-like story of my acquaintance's life? Let's start with the dream.
I was in a hardware store talking with a friendly old man wearing little, round, thick-lensed glasses. He and I traded glasses and I realized I could see through his. We were laughing about that, but I was thinking, "Wow, my eyesight is as bad as an 85-year-old man's!"
Then his wife came up to me then, peered at me closely and said, "What are you, about 50?" All I could say was "No!" but instead of volunteering my true age, I walked away, into the back room and burst into tears.
That's when I woke up crying.
I have always looked younger than my true age. The paradigm I am used to in such encounters is that I volunteer my age and people don't believe me, they think I am much younger.
My mother was the same way, so young-looking she could get away with lying about her age by 10 years or more. Which she did until the time came when she was prouder of her good health than of her beauty.
Whose Dream It Really Was
This acquaintance of mine is someone I knew in junior high and young adulthood. I lost touch with her or a decade or two and then found her again about three years ago.
I know it's not possible for someone to be cursed, but this woman's life is a string of such terrible stories that it seems almost supernatural.
I do know that we bring many things upon ourselves through the choices we make. And that our attitude dictates how these experiences will be processed into our identity.
Many of the things that have happened to her over the years were her own fault, but the consequences now are so tremendous it seems like overkill, like the Biblical story of the boils and griefs that God and the devil afflicted Job with to test his faith.
Now she lives a quiet life and isn't harming anyone, but her health problems are overwhelming. The latest chapter in her saga is, all at the same time, congestive heart failure, an unsightly skin condition, an antibiotic-resistant staff infection and now, allopecia. Her hair is falling out.
A Wake of Tragedies
Her life history consists of a trail of sudden deaths and suicides in her wake. I could tell 10 tragic stories here, but this post would be too long.
She visits someone, she begins talking to them, she gets involved in their lives and starts giving them her twisted point of view, overriding their own opinions, giving them books to read, generalizing about men, society, politics, religion.
Her views are encased in wry humor, she seems simply edgy, but she is twisting the knife, digging out insecurities, finding evidence to support her view.
If the person she is talking to is vulnerable or wounded (they always are), their hope begins to dwindle.
If they don't get away from her as fast as possible, they soon die, either in an accident or by their own hand. In one case, someone murdered someone else before they committed suicide.
I'm not making this up and I am not exaggerating.I have seen it with my own eyes, over and over. She leaves a trail of death in her wake.
Beauty as a Weapon
Once she was rather pretty, not overly so, but.attractive enough that she made extra money as a prostitute for a few years.
Maybe that is how she managed to do so much damage. Maybe it was hard for people to believe that evil could reside in a pleasant-looking young woman.
Maybe she used her beauty as a weapon so much that destiny saw fit to divest her of it. Life has not been kind to her. What beauty she may have possessed has been stripped away. She looks 20 years older than she really is, her health is failing and her hope is fading.
She has been left all alone with no family, no friends, no lover.She lives alone in a house in the mountains, with no companions, only 3 dogs and a TV.
She has swindled her way into a life without work, but that has left her also without purpose, and her false disability has now become a true disability; now she is not healthy or strong enough to work.
Does evil know it's evil? Because she truly doesn't know. Is she a sociopath? Maybe so. She thinks all these things have happened to her, through no fault of her own.
She is in despair, asking Why? But not listening to the answer.
Seeds of Discontent, Web of Sympathy
Part of me fears connecting with her. My instincts tell me she is dangerous. Last time I went to visit her, my son's terrible accident happened while I was away. Every time I talk to her, seeds of discontent are planted in me.
Yet I can't bring myself to stop talking to her. I feel like I am the last thread that tethers her to humanity. I try to offer gentle advice about doing things differently, changing her attitude, but I see that is not possible.
My suggestions-- move into town to be around people, get involved in activities to make friends, stop smoking, change your diet, take up yoga, get a counselor-- only make her angry.
If I stop taking her calls or if I break our connection, what if she does herself in? Then there would be a suicide in my own wake.