October 17, Continued (March 2020, Week 1 Day 7)
I’m not supposed to be here. My last day of life should have been October 17, 1983. 10-17-83, a collection of numbers that couldn’t organize itself into anything interesting. Maybe the sheer blandness of the date is what saved me, or maybe it was “fate.” Trust me, I’ve looked for “The Answer” every day since and am no closer to a eureka moment. That’s why I left home, how I ended up here.
Have you ever started over? Sure, you’ve probably gotten a new job or maybe a new husband. Or maybe you’ve even moved across the country to “start over.” But have you *really* started over? With a new name? A new personality? A new body?
It’s been easier than I expected, to be honest. I had told myself story after story about why I couldn’t leave, why “home” was the only place for me. What a joke. And by joke I mean tragedy. And by tragedy I mean – I don’t really know what I mean. What I do know is that I’m never going back. Of course, that was part of the deal. The ultimate one-way ticket with my memories as my only carry-on item.
The me here gets much more attention. I went from being almost as bland as the date I should have died to being downright striking. That wasn’t a guarantee. I could have ended up some homely child with a limp and stubby thumbs, or an accountant. Old me blended into the background of most rooms. Old me had to get others to share my ideas if anyone was going to hear them. Old me knew that taking up space was all I had to offer. Old me – well, anything else needs to wait. What you need to know is that for once I pulled the right card and arrived in this body. This body topped with luscious hair, good fashion sense, and enough height to be intimidating without intent. This body with eyes you’re having a hard time avoiding, with skin you want to touch, and with a smile that rewards you. This body that is strong enough to do for itself and compelling enough to not have to. This body is all mine. No complaints.
Forgive me – I neglected an important something. You’ve come all this way and I owe you an introduction.
My name is Melody and I am here to share my story. You could call it my job though I prefer calling. Whatever you label it, sharing my story is what I agreed to do so I could start over. Would you make the same choice? Or would you push forward, living on borrowed time, knowing you shouldn’t be there and that no one would have missed you if you *had* died on schedule? Perhaps hold that answer until after you hear my tale of woe? Ah, you’ve already decided. So be it.
My first story ends quietly on October 17, 1983 – it’s not like there was a line of people concerned about my fate. That’s one thing most of us here have in common. Sure, there are a few who made the choice to leave because they’d done all they could, had all the impact they’d intended, and wanted to create a new life for themselves so they could be amazing all over again. That seems exhausting and selfish to me. But it’s not up to me to yuck someone else’s yum. I just distance myself from those ones. They’re easy to spot.
My second story starts on January 18, 1984. Why the gap? Well, 01-14-84 is a date with much more going for it and these things take time. How quickly do you think you’d work through the feelings of being alive the morning after you were supposed to have died? For me, waking up on October 18, 1983, sent me into a tailspin.
Back there you’re taught from the beginning about the order of things. About how its an honor and a responsibility to die on your day. How the death of some is important for the continuation of many. How questioning our place and time is akin to questioning the existence of God. I’d known my day since I could remember – it’s actually my first memory – and had expected to go as planned. I’d heard whispers about people who didn’t die. I’d heard the grumbles about the drain they placed on the community. It wasn’t something I wanted for myself and it’s not like the old me had anything in particular to live for.
If you’d asked me then I would have said waking up on the 19th was the worst thing in the world. I spent some time alone before outing myself. Agers – that’s the polite term for people like me who don’t die on schedule – aren’t exactly shunned but they’re not celebrated, either. Maybe if I’d been more liked or even noticed things would have been different. As it was, emerging back onto the streets three days after I was supposed to be good and dead didn’t win me any friends. No one wept with joy or threw a party. No one offered me a place to stay or a seat at their table. If I’d been bland before I was as good as invisible after. Well, not invisible – unwanted.
At first, I attempted to go back to business as usual. That only lasted a day. All of my things had been cleared from my workspace and, while they begrudgingly found somewhere for me to sit, it was clear they’d moved on and didn’t need or want me in the mix. I went through the motions of building components for the project I’d been working on but when I dropped off my completed set at the end of the day they didn’t even touch it. It sat, ignored, at the end of the line. It didn’t matter that it was perfectly constructed. Agers’ work wasn’t sellable.
It was on my way home that I saw the Change Stand. I’d passed it many times before but it was only on this day that it caught my eye. The stands were scattered around town, each the same in set up: A portable table weighted down with sandbags, a white tent with three walls and a roof, pamphlets and clipboards covering the table, and an ageless man or woman standing smiling at passerby under a large sign with “READY FOR A CHANGE?” in deep blue, red, or yellow lettering. It was rare to see anyone stop and talk to them, and they never called out or made a fuss. They had information to share only if you asked for it. That was the agreement they’d made with the officials and they stuck to it.
Since I’d never stopped to talk to them and had never gotten close enough to see what was on the pamphlets, all I had to go on was what the rumor mill could supply. Some said they were a cult, others that they were simply a religion. Some said they were charlatans looking to steal your resources. No one said you should talk to them.
I’ll be honest – I knew which routes to take to avoid the Change Stands. It wasn’t accidental that one “caught my eye.” That day, I aimed myself towards one. As I made my way down the block I watched the woman under the sign. She was wearing what I assumed was a uniform because it didn’t seem like something anyone would put together without direction or obligation. I’d come to associate the Change Stands with blue, red, and yellow because of the signs but the people in the stands were never dressed in those colors. This one was wearing a purple top with a plunging neckline made more obvious because of the shocking paleness of the woman’s skin. Since she was leaning on the table I could see that she had on a pair of green pants that left no mystery to her contours and a pair of tall, strappy boots in creamy brown leather. To top off this colorful ensemble she wore an orange beret. Taken together the effect was striking. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to talk to her or keep going and find some rainbow sherbert.
She didn’t make direct eye contact with me until I stopped just out of her reach. I don’t know if I thought she might reach out and grab me to spirit me off somewhere or make a grab for my wallet. The rumor mill hadn’t specified what might happen to you if you did stop to talk to one of them. I suppose I was hedging my bets while satisfying my curiosity.
When I stopped walking she turned to me and shared a smile. I found myself smiling back, feeling warm just at her acknowledgment of me after days of silence.
I stuffed my hands in my pockets and looked down before letting my “hello” escape.
“Are you ready for a change?”