The Observer was in South Arkansas for a funeral on Monday, that of Spouse's Great-Aunt Edith, who had lived a good, long life before shuffling off her mortal coil in a nursing home down there. The Observer has fears, and one of them is living so long that all the people who really knew us have passed. That's what apparently happened to this ol' gal in large measure. After a life that was surely full of passion and anger and love and laughter, the most anyone could recall about her by the time the coffin was closed was that she was kind. There are worse things you could be recalled for than kindness, of course, but to The Observer, it was still a minor kind of tragedy.
Monday found us in our Sunday best, sitting in a chapel before a coffin, listening to a preacher offer vague homilies because he'd only met the deceased twice in his life, and never for more than a few minutes. As The Observer later told Spouse and Junior: If it looks like that's going to happen when we die, put some rocks in our pockets and dump us in the river. Because, The Observer warned, if we have to sit through listening to someone talk about how great a guy we probably were, we're going to come back and haunt their asses.
Unpacking once we got back to Little Rock, Spouse tossed her bag on the bed, and a pulp romance novel popped out, one of those numbers with a frilly-bodiced young lady and a shirtless hunk on the cover. "An Impossible Woman," the title declared. Being a nosy sort and never knowing Spouse to indulge in flowery novels, The Observer couldn't help but inquire.
Spouse had gone with her sister and mother to the nursing home the night before the funeral to clear out her great-aunt's personal belongings. Beside the bed, "An Impossible Woman" was on the nightstand, half-finished. Spouse, a great lover of the written word herself, decided that it was too poetic to leave. While the rest of the books in the room were carted off for donation, this is the one she kept: an unfinished book with dog-eared corner, never to be completed by a woman who had lived so long that her past had drifted right out from under her like smoke.
And so, "An Impossible Woman" will go into our big bookshelves in the dining room, and there it will stay: Aunt Edith's last book. Years from now, we will touch the spine sometimes while scanning the shelves for something else. We will see the title. We will remember the reader, and the story, and we will wonder what drew her to that particular book; whether she saw something of herself in it, or someone else, or someone she wished she could have been. And just for a second, while our fingers hover there, she'll live again.
Over on the Arkansas Blog, Yours Truly is helping ride herd over a new semi-regular feature called "L.R. Confidential." The idea is simple: we give total anonymity to our fellow Arkansans so they can tell the truth about their lives that they would normally never tell. We interview them, type it all up, fold it together into a narrative in the style of our ol' pal Studs Terkel, and then we'll serve it sans byline. On deck this week: what it's like to be a Hooters Girl, they of the skimpy orange shorts, tight T-shirts and Olympic-level wing deboning skill. Go check it out. It's enlightening.
There is power in anonymity as The Observer. Ours is a society that has enshrined the doctrine of free speech, but we are also a society that has enshrined the Binary Doctrines of Free Shame and Plentiful Repercussion. If you can think it, do it, speak it, work it, make your no-no places tingle with it, wear it or whisper it, chances are there is somebody, somewhere who thinks you're a bad person for doing so.
That said, we know that understanding is built around the bones of honesty. And so, as a public service, The Observer will extend the wide cloak of our anonymity, so that those souls in our society who could never tell the truth about their lives, their jobs, their kinks or their struggles can do just that. All we require is complete honesty. In exchange: confession, and as much absolution as we can offer.
Interesting and interested? Drop us a line at the Arkansas Times (firstname.lastname@example.org).