Character Sketch I


Janice is strong.  Janice is lean and tall.  Her brow is always furrowed.  “If Ms. Janice ever tells you to do something,” I was told, “just ask someone else what you should do.  No one ever understands what she says.”  I believed this.  Over the incessant whirs of machines and clashing of plates could sometimes be heard the piercing yet unintelligible commands.  I was afraid of Janice.  She ran the dishroom with an iron fist, a fist that always missed its target, pounding on our ears with no effect.  I thought she must hate us since we probably never do what she says, or if we do, it’s completely by accident.  I learned to tune her out.  It was unimportant.  No use trying to understand.

At the end of a particularly demanding shift, I heard her say, “Y’all should jest go back. Goooo back to school,” by which I thought she meant that she had come to the end of her rope with us, that there was no hope for us idiot student workers.  She then yelled the same mantra over and over and over.  I couldn’t comprehend it, but it was beautiful.  It was songlike, no, chantlike.  A call and response to which no one could respond.  A stab into a dumb darkness.  “Uh meeeeen woot. Uh haaaawt woot.”  I focused on the sounds, the mere sounds, the raw sounds.  She shook her head and mopped.  “Uh haaaaawt wort. Mmm.  I knows.”  Suddenly I understood.  It’s a mean world.  It’s a hard world.  I know it.

Her battle cries were with us, not against us.  Suddenly this rough woman was important.  Suddenly it mattered what she said.  She was not yelling at us.  She was empathizing.  She was railing against the cruelty of the world.  She knew our struggles.  She knew we were tired.  She knew.  She had hard-won knowledge.  And she was on our side.  It’s hard.

I started listening every chance I got.  No one else seemed to know Janice.  No one else saw her deep compassion for us.  But I kept listening.  She said that times have changed.  She said she couldn’t keep up with us kids.  She couldn’t understand.  “Y’all’re so touchy-feely.  Men with men, women with women,” she would sometimes remark.  “But it’s jest that times are changing.  You gotta accept that.  They aren’t doin anything wrong.  It’s jest not for me, that’s all.” 

“I know it’s hard, going to school and working.  I know. I know.” “You just gotta accept it.”  “It’s not for me to judge.”  She was personified.  A person who had been made into a caricature, into an object, was made human again.  Of course, I didn’t understand everything she said.  Sometimes her words were still just sounds to me, but I wanted to listen.  I wanted to catch on to the glimpses I could grasp into her mind.  How much I might have missed had I dismissed her. 


~ by falleninparadise on December 11, 2012.

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