I was walking my dog and listening to The Moth Podcast. It was November, but the Valentine-themed episode was playing. Three love stories, none of them with a happy ending. The Moth is where real people get to talk.
I was wrapped up in a wool coat and a scarf the size of my blanket, trying not to move around too much to preserve the heat. Meanwhile, my dog was sniffing grass instead of pooping. The host of this episode of The Moth was talking about how he was gonna spend his Valentine’s Day. Eating pizza by himself. It got me thinking about pizza.
Suddenly I saw this old lady coming my way. I wasn’t wearing my contacts, so I had to squint to see her facial expression. From where I was standing, she looked like one of those lonely grannies who ought to have had grandchildren but didn’t. The type who makes chocolate chip cookies and uses salt instead of sugar by accident. A bit senile, but very sweet. She was probably coming my way to have some small talk. I smiled, trying to look welcoming.
Until the very last minute, I couldn’t see her face, but when I did, I noticed that she wasn’t smiling back. In fact, she looked mad. I looked around to reassure myself that I was the only person standing there. Her anger was not directed at anybody else. I paused my podcast when she got closer, although now I wasn’t sure I wanted to.
“You never clean up after your dog, do you?” she yelled. I wasn’t sure whether she expected me to answer that question. She was shorter than me, but all the fragility she had projected earlier, was gone. She looked like one of those constantly yapping chihuahuas, not scaring me, but definitely making me feel uneasy. “I can see you’re enjoying your walk,” she continued and I had to fight the urge to reply: “Well, not anymore!”Now, my dog was just as uncomfortable as me and had looked for refuge behind my legs. “How about cleaning up for once, huh?” Now I was worked up too.
“I do clean up! I do! I always carry poop bags with me, even when I’m not walking my dog!” Sadly, this was true. I would find them stuffed in my jeans pockets, my handbag, my coats… The week before I had accidentally brought three of them to a party. So I didn’t deserve this.
“Sure you do,” replied the devil woman sarcastically.
“My dog hasn’t even shat yet!” Desperation crept up on me. This was so unfair.
“Yes, but when it does…” the woman paused dramatically. “You won’t clean it up. I know. There’s no talking to you people.” And then she just left, as if nothing had happened.
Stunned, I resumed listening to my podcast. But I couldn’t put that conversation off my mind. How could someone who looked that innocent and frail, incorporate this much hatred? Where was the love?
I imagined this woman years ago when she was just like me. Maybe not entirely like me, maybe a slightly angrier version. But young and hopeful, when she had dreams occupying her mind, instead of thoughts about dog poo. I imagined her being beautiful. Not the kind of beauty you can see, but this beauty inside. When she still made inappropriate jokes, wore yellow dresses and hitched rides on motorcycles. But then again… Perhaps she never was that kind of woman. Perhaps she was always a bit bitter because she never dared to wear anything other than brown and grey and black. Or because she never kissed the boy on that motorcycle. Perhaps she didn’t even laugh that much.
And I decided that whoever this woman was, I wouldn’t be anything like her. I wouldn’t have regrets about things I hadn’t done. I wouldn’t regret the experiences I hadn’t had. I would, however, be the girl and the woman who laughs, loves, and lives. And that’s the only thing that matters, really.
When I Am An Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens And learn to spit.
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.
– Jenny Joseph