Sherri Winans
Whatcom Community College
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Sarah Fowler
Sherri Winans
English 101 OL1
Essay 4
(Note: References to names in here have been changed to protect privacy.)

When He Called Her She

When I first started high school at home I think one of the things I dreaded most was learning how to write essays. English was my favorite subject, but learning about essays worried me. I remember when my older sister went through them and at times her tutor gave her so much homework that she got stressed. Before I met with my tutor, my mom had me go through the book we used to learn how to write essays. I wrote several very short essays and found it to be easier than I anticipated. Then after meeting with my tutor I lengthened my essays and learned many types – explanation, contrast, research, and speech. After one year of writing essays and being told I was an excellent writer I felt confident as I signed up for English 101 class at Whatcom. “Essays aren’t that hard. Especially with a certain number of paragraphs and a great direction,” I told myself. Then I learned something. College essays are different than what you learn in high school. There aren’t five paragraphs – you have many more. Your essays increase in length as well. You have your intro, thesis, main body, sources, conclusion, and your works cited page. For a second time, I was scared. “How do you write a college essay?” I nearly panicked.

I found out I didn’t have to worry. Over the quarter my teacher helped me with each essay and asked me several questions to get me thinking about what I wanted to write. How is this essay my own? Why did I choose to write about this? What is it about this that’s compelling to me? Why am I interested? How is mine different from others? What things here interest me as a writer? What is this adding up to for me? How could I get involved? I took those questions and answered each one before I started writing my essay. This gave me a clearer and better picture of what I wanted to write about. But what if I took these questions and used them to show me a better picture of what I want to write about for my stories besides schooling? Deciding to give it a try, I set out to answer these very questions to help me write a short story I call, “When He Called Her She.” This is a short story that happened to me over the past few months. One that is near and dear to my heart.

How is this story my own and how is it different from others? Looking at these two questions combined I sat back and stared at them for a minute, knowing what I wanted to say…but how I wanted to say it was another matter. Finally, I answered with a simple – because this story is my own. I experienced it and saw it happen. It didn’t happen to those reading this story. It happened to me. It’s my story, not theirs. This story is about older man I sometimes served dinner to in the retirement center I worked at. All of the residents I serve are a part of my life and I love each and every one of them. They give me joy and comfort and make me happy when I’m having a bad day. The people who read my story don’t know these residents, but they know I do. They know I’m close to them. I can be there for a resident and help to bring a smile to their day. I see many stories just working there.

Why did I choose to write about this? Answer – Because this story means something to me. It means a lot to me. It’s part of me. This story may not have happened to me directly, but I saw it and I feel like through it I know this resident and his wife better. But why was this so compelling? – Because people mean everything to me and this happened to someone I knew. I may not have known him that well, but I felt like I knew her. This story is about this older man’s wife who never came down to dinner, but her husband lovingly and faithfully took her a plate of food every night. I never saw her, didn’t know what she looked like, or what her voice sounded like. But whenever Mr. Boyd ordered his wife’s dinner I found out her favorite drink which made me feel just one step closer to knowing her. The way he tenderly mentioned what his wife wanted for dinner showed to me that he loved her.

Why am I interested? What things here interest me as a writer? – Because this story actually truly happened that I feel a need to write about it and share it with others. As a writer I find a story like this sentimental and sweet. It’s the story of a loving husband who faithfully brought his wife dinner and referred to her with affection and love. Mr. Boyd is a sweet kind old gentleman who always says his thanks and smiles up at you if smile you at him. Not once have I heard him say a mean word. They are always short and polite.

But what is this adding up to for me? – I hope that over the years I can look back at this story and be reminded of my experience at the retirement center and what I learned from all the residents. All the joys and sorrows I saw while working there. But how can I get involved? – I can do this writing the story because I saw it, I heard it, I experienced it. This story means a lot to me because it is not only Mr. Boyd’ story, but it is also partly mine. Well, maybe it’s not exactly my story, but I sure feel like I was a part of it.

Before I took these questions to help me with writing this short story I actually wondered if it would work as well with my story writing. I loved how it really seemed to help with my essay writing but I wasn’t sure about my stories. It wasn’t until after answering the questions that I looked back over them and realized that it did help me. It helped me to feel more of the emotion and see what I was really thinking about it. I saw things in the answers that I added into my story that I wouldn’t have otherwise. These questions helped me and I know I will reflect back on them many times with my future in writing stories.

In the end, just having the opportunity to be able to work in a retirement center and interact with all the residents brings me one step closer to knowing them and some of their stories – why they came to the facility, if they’re married or single, what some of their favorite foods are, and so on. It’s special for me to work there and be with the people who live there. Several times I have arrived there feeling down – just not the best day for me, but soon they make me forget. Just working there and being with people is a joy I love and I forget everything but them – what I’m doing for them. It’s helped me to see that whatever career I go into that it has to be with people. I can’t imagine going through life without working with people. God has given me a love for them and showing me that I care about them. Just getting to be with these people means a lot to me. They all have their own story and this is just one of them…

 

I first met Mr. Boyd when I started my job at the retirement center in July. He was a kind older gentleman who spoke in a soft natured voice. He was very polite and kind and loved to smile a thank you when I did something for him.

The first night I was to serve him supper I walked up to him smiling and gave him the choices for dinner. He order and I almost turned to walk away, but he looked up at me and patted the empty spot at the table next to him.

“She would like the same thing,” he said, his hand still resting on the empty place. “She would also like some strawberry kiwi to drink.

I looked down at the empty place in confusion. What was he talking about? I thought.

He noticed my confusion and smiled. “My wife,” he explained.

I smiled and nodded going to the kitchen to get Mr. Boyd and his wife their supper. Grabbing a cup I filled it with the juice of her choice and wrapped her plate of warm food under saran wrap. Placing her meal on a tray I took it out to him with his food.

“Thank you,” he said, smiling up at me when I set the food before him and Mrs. Boyd’s plate on the empty spot.

Over the next few weeks that I served him the same scene repeated itself. Mr. Boyd came down alone in his wheelchair and always patted the empty spot beside him as he explained what she wanted for her supper. Along with her meal she always drank her strawberry kiwi drink. He always referred to her as she – never Mrs. Boyd, never by her first name – always she.

I finally moved from his section of the dining room to another, getting to know other residents better, but I continued to hear about Mrs. Boyd and I always smiled. I may not have seen her, but I felt like I knew her a little.

Finally I didn’t hear anything. I waited. Nothing. I didn’t see Mr. Boyd pat the spot beside him when he ordered and he didn’t seem to smile as much.

So I asked. “Where’s Mrs. Boyd? I haven’t heard anything of her lately?”

One of the cooks looked at me with a grim face. “She’s not here anymore. She needed more help so she moved.”

My heart rose a little at the thought that she wasn’t dead, but I knew Mrs. Boyd wasn’t coming back. Never again would her husband pat the empty spot beside him. Never again would he mention her at dinner. She was gone from the facility. Gone from him.

I will never know the ending. I will never know what will happen to him, if Mr. Boyd ever visits her, if he will ever refer to her again. But I will treasure that special moment always when he talked about her. When he called her she.

 

copyright 2011, Sarah Fowler

Funded through the U.S. Dept. of Education, Title III Grant PO31A980143
Sherri Winans, Whatcom Community College, Bellingham, WA
1999-2015