An unplanned lunch

This has nothing to do with cycling, but this is where I’m going to start putting things like this that I want to write.

Around 10 this morning, a woman stopped by the front desk and said she wanted to talk to someone in the newsroom. That someone ended up being me.

Her name is Mildred, and she can’t hear or talk, so communication with her is limited to handwritten notes. She said she wanted someone to write a story for her, so I tried to figure out what that story might be. I don’t think I did a very good job of that, though.

Here’s our conversation from this morning. Read left to right, then down. Click on the image to enlarge.

morning note 1

morning note 2

morning note 3

At noon, we met at China Star for lunch. I didn’t know what to expect, or what I hoped to learn from Mildred. I guess I was just in a frame of mind today that made it so I wanted to sit down with her and try to understand her.

Mildred 1 (2)

But I couldn’t. I don’t think it was a communication barrier, because the written word is where I do best. I understand it, generally even when it’s not clearly written. And despite whatever trouble I might have sharing my thoughts verbally or any other way, I’ve not ever had much trouble doing so in writing.

But this is what I think she told me: I get angry sometimes, and when I get angry people want me to be better, to not be angry. I want to tell my family and my friends and the people that I’ve hurt that I’m not angry any more. I’m on the right medication, and I’m going to therapy, and it is helping me. I love my brother and sister, my children and grandchildren, and I love the world. And I miss them, too.

There was this thing about a radio that I couldn’t get my mind around. She kept talking about hearing the radio, but I couldn’t understand what she was trying to tell me. I think there must have been a time recently when she thought she heard the radio, or people thought she could hear the radio or something. I don’t really know, and it bothers me that I couldn’t understand that, because she brought it up several times.

I learned that her name is Mildred Trass, formerly Mildred Miles. She is 46 and is originally from the Bronx, though I think she might have been born in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She lost her hearing and speech at age 7, she said, because she got sick with a bad fever. Her mom died in 1993, and her dad died in 1980. She has two daughters, Evelyn and Felicia, and they have three boys between them. Maybe another daughter, and a son, Lee.

She lives in an apartment with her boyfriend, whom she says is very good. I know, though, that both her and her boyfriend used to be homeless, because they would hang out in front of The News before the homeless shelter opened for the evening. I talked to them both briefly once before.

She said her children love her and they make her smile.

She last remembers the radio people, and she is forgiving them. She has made mistakes and she is sorry. She gets angry and stressed out toward people.

She was 23 years old when she first got really angry. Her ex-husband made her angry. Her aunt and uncle got angry seeing her so angry. She understands that she needs to change, to be “straight, nice, friendly.” She’s on the right medication now. Something for depression and something for her mood.

There was a falling out with her best friend, who is also deaf. Her friend wanted to see her change, but didn’t really explain it to her until she was angry. Counseling has helped.

After we finished eating, we each grabbed a fortune cookie. Her fortune said: “If the fates seem against you, they probably are.” Mine read: “In life and in dreams, nothing is impossible.”  We agreed that her fortune wasn’t very encouraging, so I gave her my fortune instead. She put it in her shirt pocket.

I asked, if I was to send a message to her family, what would it be? This was her answer.

“OK. Myself said contact family. OK. And no worry. Radio People can hear. I am deaf. OK. I no worry. OK

I asked about her kids, if there was anything she’d want me to say to them.

“OK. You try contact them. Myself send picture my family in P.R., Ark., Tenn., Florida. Finish. OK.”

She got emotional here, and began to cry. I asked a few more questions, but I knew our conversation was coming to a close. I told her that I didn’t know what to write, but that I’d try to write something.

“Myself positive. Thank You :)” she wrote. “Myself very upset. OK. I go to home. I love brother/sister. Hutchinson, KS. OK.”

I asked if she wanted to go home. “Myself walk quiet peace. OK,” she answered.

I told her I understood mistakes and hurt and anger.

“I leave. Thank you 🙂 God Bless 🙂 Hutchinson, KS. OK.”

I left this meeting more sad than I came to it. Like I said, I don’t know what I expected from it, or what I hoped to learn. But I know it’s a terrible thing to not be understood. To not be able to make people understand the thoughts in your mind.

I guess I’ll just go with the idea that she has been angry for much of her life, likely because she lost her hearing and speech at such a young age – and clearly affected every other facet of her life. She needs a job, but probably will have a hard time finding one. It’s probably affected her relationships, and it’s probably tainted her outlook on life. And that’s probably led to her being angry sometimes, and taking things out on people she loves. And now they’re mad at her. And she’s sorry, and she misses them.

And I should put this caveat on here: There’s no real way to know if Mildred is telling me the truth about anything. If there’s a mental illness, or long term homelessness and displacement, there’s a good chance that she’s created a number of different stories to protect herself. I’ve experienced this before. It doesn’t make them bad, or liars, or anything like that. It’s something people do when they have to navigate a world most of us couldn’t begin to imagine. But it doesn’t really matter to me if all the details of the story are true. Some are, even if others aren’t, and at the least that’s the story Mildred told me today. I regret that I couldn’t understand it better.

Here’s photos of our conversation.

lunch note 1

lunch note 2

lunch note 3

lunch note 4

lunch note 5

lunch note 6

lunch note 7

lunch note 8

lunch note 9




7 thoughts on “An unplanned lunch

  1. Thank you for sharing, Jason. How frustrating life must be for her. Have you considered looking for her at the library when she is using facebook with her children? Have you considered this might be the germ of an amazing novel or movie? Have you figured out why she came to the newspaper office instead of to someone closer to her?

    • I see the makings of a novel or movie just about everywhere I look. The key, though, is getting under the surface to some of these things and understanding how a person ended up from here to there – and that in large part depends on what they’re willing to tell you.

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