Thursday, May 29, 2008

He Had a Story

Victor was annoying. Every time I thought I was free of him the phone would ring and he would return. He was the monkey on my back that I just couldn’t shake.

The kindly, soft spoken voice on the other end of the phone line announced that she was from the local senior center. “We’re just checking to see if Victor would be joining us for our senior citizens’ Wednesday Lunch Bunch today. We can send the van to pick him up. We’d so love to see him. Josephine is looking forward to hearing more of his stories.” In the past 4 years I’d received a couple dozen of these calls. I told the lady the same thing I did every time.

“You have the wrong number. Victor doesn’t live here.”

She always apologized for bothering me and assured me it wouldn’t happen again.

But it did. A lot. When we finally got caller ID for our home phone, I was able to see on the display ahead of time when it was the senior center calling. Shaking my head, I let the phone ring. Later on I would check my messages.

“We’re just checking to see if Victor would be joining us for our senior citizens’ Wednesday Lunch Bunch today. We can send the van to pick him up. Please let us know if he would like to come. We’d so love to see him."

I never called her back. In fact, more than a few annoying Victor messages went by unreturned.

One night at dinner I told the family my frustrating story. I didn’t receive the calls every week so I ventured a guess that someone was an occasional misdialer. Or perhaps Victor’s number was correct on one list but not another.

“It is so annoying to me that they keep calling and can’t get his number right!” I complained to the family.

Between bites, the husband piped up, “You think you’re annoyed? Imagine how annoyed poor Victor is to not be picked up for the Wednesday Lunch Bunch. That Lunch Bunch could be the highlight of his week. The senior center lady thinks she’s left a message at the right home. When you don’t answer or call her back she just assumes Victor isn’t coming. Meanwhile, poor, lonely, and most likely hungry Victor is sitting at home wondering why nobody called him for Wednesday Lunch Bunch this week.”

I felt a bit guilty. I had never thought of Victor as a real person. To me, Victor was an annoying phone call.

The next time the senior center called, I answered. As firmly as I possibly could, I told them that this was not Victor’s phone number and they needed to find the right number because poor Victor probably DID want to come to Wednesday Lunch Bunch. But while I was pleading Victor’s case my main motivation was still to rid myself of my annoying Victor phone calls.

And then miraculously…the phone calls stopped. I was finally free of Victor…

…until a few weeks ago when I opened the local newspaper and my stomach turned. I saw that name. Victor. I just knew it was him. I was holding his obituary in my hands.

This time Victor wasn’t an annoying phone call. Victor was a real person. He had a story.

Victor was 92 when he died after a “series of medical conditions”. Victor had been married to the same woman for 56 years. He served in the Army in World War II. He went to college. He was a member of the Boy Scouts of America for 55 years serving for many decades as a Scoutmaster. Victor had 5 children, 16 grandchildren, 22 great grandchildren and 2 great great grandchildren. He outlived his wife and two of his sons. Victor loved crossword puzzles, Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy. In 1995 Victor was even named Citizen of the Year for my city.

Hmmm. I felt myself having to take a deep breath.

Victor had a family. He had a full life. He probably had an old Army uniform in the back of his closet. He had people who loved him. He probably had a 5 generation photo taken of him and his offspring. He had interests. He probably had a stack of crossword puzzle books next to his chair. He helped people. For goodness sake, Victor was Citizen of the Year. He probably still had the plaque on the wall.

Victor wasn’t annoying. Victor was a real person. He had a story.

The final part of the obituary stated that “Victor particularly loved the activities at the local senior center and always enjoyed all of his friends from the Wednesday Lunch Bunch. In lieu of flowers, Victor would be pleased if all donations were made to the local senior center.”

I sat there in silence staring at his photo accompanying the obituary. Then I began to read Victor’s obituary for a second time. This time though, I didn’t make it past the first line before I started to cry. I had missed it the first time.

“Victor passed away quietly on Wednesday, April 30th………”

It was a Wednesday. He died on a Wednesday. It really bothered me that he died on a Wednesday. I wondered how many Wednesday Lunch Bunches he missed because I ignored the senior center’s phone calls.

It was very easy for me to write Victor off. He was annoying. I didn’t know him. He wasn’t my problem.

I will always feel guilty, however, for not returning those senior center messages. Victor deserved to be treated better. Most people do.

It never dawned on me that Victor was a real person.

He had a story.

Check This Out!

The Slightly Exaggerated staff has recently been seen dancing like a fool and singing to the mirror the new Madonna/Justin Timberlake song, 4 Minutes. We've also devoured every book that author Augusten Burroughs has written. While not for the easily offended, his sometimes rated R(or worse) books and collections of stories will make you realize that your childhood and your life isn't that bad after all.


Anonymous said...

Hmmm...good post. It makes me think of a book that you'd probably enjoy (ode to all men, like Victor, who have a story), Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.

Echo Hill Phil said...

Nice story. Would like that ride to Senior center.

Anonymous said...

I haven't read any of Burroughs's books, but did read the book by his brother called Look Me in the Eye, which is about growing up with Asperger's. I'd recommend it for a unique look into his life.