Her tiny, diminutive form slipped out the door of her apartment and into the hallway. In the prime of bone density, she might have claimed the height of 5 foot (in shoes). Time and osteoporosis (or something of that ilk) whittled her away to a size that put her, uh, well, approximately at eye level with my breasts. This, combined with the worry that even abysmal upper body strength could crush her, made the hug she gave me the first day I was back especially awkward.
Her Cinderella-sized feet padded down the carpeted hallway, coming to a stop just outside my parents’ door. One hand clutched into a bony fist, poised to knock, the other hand wrapped tightly around a jar. A new jar every night. A jar for every day of the week. Today perhaps of tomato sauce, tomorrow perhaps of apple sauce, maybe Wednesday would be olives.
She knocked on the door and waited. Could she sense the feeling of annoyance from those of us behind the door? Could she hear the audible sigh from my father who had just finished making dinner? Who had only a minute before finally sat down to enjoy a meal with his family? No, no, of course she couldn’t, I tell myself, hoping beyond hope that’s the truth.
Growing up, we always ignored calls that came in at dinner time. “Dad-burned telemarketers!” my father would say, censoring his language and making no motion to answer the imploring rings of the telephone. A call left unanswered is easy, a door, not so much. My father muttered and stood up from the table.
The door of the apartment opened. “Hi Marilyn,” my father’s gruff voice addressed the little old lady standing in the hallway. “So sorry to bother you, I just can’t get this open.” She held up the jar. My father opened it with a swift turn of the wrist. “Here you go, have a good night.” A profuse expression of gratitude and she turned to go back down the hall. He shut the door.
This scene took place, as if by wrote, nearly every night of the two weeks I home for the holidays. I’ve thought about it a lot. I’ve felt about it a lot, in an all the feels sort of way. I find it heartbreaking and terrifying, but also kinda amusing and uplifting at the same time. See? All the feels. I’m also left with a lot of questions.
Was this really about opening jars? Or was the whole “jar” thing simple a ruse, a way to satisfy a craving for human contact? Does she not know the trick of breaking the suction with a can opener? Were all the jars previously unopened? Or at that age is it a struggle to even re-open jars? Was there some vague hope of a dinner invitation? Would another family have invited her in?
And then the big one- is this what my future holds? “Marilyn” is awfully close to “Mary Lane”…
I admit it, that scares me. It’s January. I turn 30 in exactly 6 months. I’m single as fuck, in a string of bad dates, and I admit thoughts of I’m going to die alone swarm my mind when his kiss is like a dementor’s.
Does it scare me so much that this will this be a story I tell my grandchildren?
“And that’s when I decided I had to settle: settle down, get married, and have kids. I couldn’t bare the thought of growing old alone and not being able to open my own jars.”
Or will this be an ad I post to Craigslist in the year 2060 or so?
“WANTED: Jar Opener [Manhattan]
Looking to hire individual with above average upper body strength to open jars for elderly, eccentric AF woman. Must be comfortable with all kinds of jam, sauces, salsa, pickles, and peaches. Mason and Bell experience preferred. In-person demonstration of skills required.”
I couldn’t help but wonder: what would my neighbors do if I knocked on their door with the same request in NYC? Is it just me, or would all New Yorkers rather break a jar open and risk consuming glass before admitting to those down the hall that they need help?
And while typing that, I just realized something. While I would prefer not to grow old alone, should it come to that, as long as I’m in New York City this won’t be a problem. Because door men. There are thousands of door man buildings in this town and as long as I live in one, there will always be someone to open my jars (and ya know, discover my body before Pip eats my face off). I feel so much better now. And also super motivated to do arm exercises.