I’m a good girl. A seventy-three-year-old good girl. And I’m terrified of dying and not scared of admitting it. So, when we here in Elmhurst Over-55 Living Community were all told to stay in quarantine, I figured out how to order my groceries on-line, said good-bye to my canasta buddies, and went into solitary confinement. And I’m still here. It wasn’t easy, especially watching Sadie, the woman in the unit across the street, go out at least three times a day and come back with bags and packages, and sometimes even looking so good she must have had her hair done – which was really suspicious since the hairdressers are supposed to be closed.
I’m not really social in the best of times; in fact, I am sometimes secretly relieved that I now had an excuse not to travel and visit my far-flung family or to host my siblings when they happen to be driving through town. And my kids, I am sure, are more than a little grateful they now have a reason not to visit their widowed mother. But there is boredom. I tried getting on the computer more. I sent notes to everyone I could think of, figuring they were as alone as I was. Everyone responded, but no one really struck up a conversation.
I’m not much of a television watcher; I watch the news and an occasional movie, but the news is abysmal, and the movies are predictable. I like the radio and I like to knit, which is a nice way to spend an evening but not a whole day, weeks of whole days. And I definitely needed something to distract me from Sadie’s coming and going – when was that women going to get her comeuppance? I don’t want her to die or even go to the hospital – but a week in bed with aches and pangs might be fitting. I must admit that she has stopped having guests. It used to be fun to see what kind of car was outside her house the morning after (usually Sunday). Nothing too extravagant (after all Sadie is at least as old as I am), but occasionally a pick-up truck instead of a sedan. As much as I tried to keep an eye on things, I seldom saw the men leave. And I never saw the same car twice. Not that I was keeping track.
Exercise is a challenge. I can’t go to the gym anymore, and I surely do miss the old guys with their baggy shorts and sagging calves, but I do walk and have a variety of places to do it. But, again, I’m an old lady and I have gotten myself up to two walks a day – one hour in the morning on a nature trail and thirty minutes around the neighborhood in the afternoon. I try to get in three miles a day, which is surely respectable. But that’s 90 minutes in days that keep getting longer. And it leaves me with 22 ½ hours in the house minus time for quick trips to the grocery store and pharmacy and some restless sleep. I would say that Sadie was out for at least 6 hours a day. At least. Where did she go?
In any case, my life’s dull. About six weeks ago, I decided to do an inventory of possible remedies for the monotony of my days. I was not optimistic. I live in a decrepit body and four small rooms, and there is definitely limited potential in both. I considered getting a pet but decided against it. I had never had the urge before the pandemic and surely I would regret it when and if the quarantine were over. I thought about taking up a new hobby. I still have the keyboard (stored under the bed) that I bought when I thought I might try to revive my piano skills. But a keyboard is not a piano any more than Alexa is a companion – and don’t let anyone ever try to tell you otherwise.
I did have my computer and internet access. I have a printer and a camera, and some basic knowledge about how all these things work. I had tentatively Zoomed a couple of times with the grandkids (once they had shown me their new kitten and their latest Lego creation, they were bored and hard to keep in front of the camera) and I had belonged to Facebook for years in order to know where my children were vacationing (pre-Covid) when they weren’t coming to see me. I e-mailed, kept track of my minimally sufficient finances, and kept a close eye on the weather. I just learned to stream movies from Amazon. I don’t tweet or do Tiktok or anything else that I might not have heard of.
Then I read a story about someone who created a fictitious persona on Twitter, and it occurred to me that might just be the kind of creative task for me. It would be fun, anonymous, and maybe I could craft it in such a way as to be able to do three things – 1) serve as a vehicle to keep me from getting bored and frustrated, 2) entertain other people, and 3) help out in some way with the current crisis. I would use Facebook (because I already knew how), and it immediately occurred to me that the persona I would create would be. . .Sadie. I would put my overactive imagination to good use in imagining what Sadie was doing when she left the house every day, what she was saying, and make her out as a careless elderly delinquent who was strewing Covid infections wherever she went. I would make her so ridiculous that people would hate her and redouble their efforts not to be like her.
Of course, I could not use Sadie’s last name, but I had the perfect handle for her: Sadie Hawkins. Sadie Hawkins was a fictitious character too – dreamed up for “L’il Abner” by Al Capp in 1943 – but she caught on. Sadie Hawkins was a spinster who took her love life outrageously and aggressively in her own hands. When I was in college, we had Sadie Hawkins Day (November 13) dances where the girls got to invite the men. In these days of Tinder and hookups, I don’t think Sadie Hawkins is such a meme anymore. So much the better – my satire would be subtle.
Finding an image and setting up an account turned out to be a piece of cake, but Sadie needed friends to get started. I truly wanted to be anonymous, especially among the people in Elmhurst, so I went through those suggestions of people that Facebook sends you – usually lists of your friends’ ex-husbands, people with your hometown, or whatever – and picked folks I didn’t know for Sadie to invite as friends. Regardless of the fact that no one knew her, most signed up. Before she even wrote her first post, Sadie had a modest audience.
So, off she went. Sadie told everyone that she was going to the beach and gave advice on how to get in even though they were closed to the public. She told her “friends” that, of course, she wasn’t wearing a mask “because what kind of bizarre tan line would that give me? Sadie is no racoon!” Sadie shared how much she enjoyed watching the faces of other shoppers when she handled the produce in the grocery store and put it back on the pile. She loved to talk about how people squirmed when she put an arm around them. Early on she put out her manifesto, accompanied by the YouTube link for Liza Minelli belting out the title song from Cabaret: “And as for me, as for me /I made my mind up back in Chelsea, /When I go, I’m going like Elsie.”
You might remember that Elsie was a high-living prostitute who died from her wild ways but was “the happiest corpse” anyone had ever seen. I didn’t make Sadie out to be a prostitute, but she did express relief that Covid was not a sexually transmitted disease (“Thank God they haven’t taken away all our pleasures!!”). A typical post would look like this:
Just got my hair done – in my hairdresser’s kitchen because the shop isn’t allowed to be open- which is ridiculous. Do they think we’re going to go around with a white streak like a skunk for the next six months? Who do they think they’re kidding? It turned out OK because my anonymous hairdresser [call me for her name if you don’t want to ruin your towels and end up with the drugstore look] had made hot cinnamon rolls and I got a chance to see her garden!!
At first, most of the responses were negative: “Are you a crazy person?” But, as the normal people gradually faded away from the outrageous old lady, Sadie started getting new friend requests by the dozen. And these new people loved her. “You go girl!” was the attitude. When she told them about illegal bars set up in backyards (“feels like a speakeasy – so fun!”), they sent hearts and thumbs up. They told her about their own efforts to circumvent “tyrannical” restrictions. And the more outrageous she got, the more they liked it. In two weeks, she had a thousand friends, a week later she had two thousand enthusiastic followers, and I was working hard to keep up the site. At first, I felt like an internet success. But then I had a come to Jesus moment. These were the kind of people I hated, the enemy tribe. None of them were even smart enough to realize that even Sadie’s name was a joke, for God’s sake. And in responding to their comments in Sadie’s voice, I was afraid I was just fueling their ignorance.
I had to do something. The obvious thing to do was to give Sadie the Covid virus and then kill her off after a gruesome spell on a ventilator. But I had to make it even worse than that. So, I let a week go with no posts (“Where’d you go Sadie?” “We miss you!”), then I posed as Sadie’s niece and told the party crowd how Sadie had been found dead in her small house along with the corpse of her toy poodle, who died of starvation and dehydration because it apparently couldn’t bark loud enough to alert the neighbors. (It always more pathetic when you add an animal to the tragedy – odor helps too: “Smells so awful! Will be months before anyone can live there!”.) The fictitious coroner’s report surmised (sections of said report cut and pasted into the niece’s post) that Sadie had come home drunk and weak and had not been able to get out of bed the next morning to summon help. RIP Sadie. There were a few followers who sent condolences to the niece, but general silence. I kind of doubted that my little project made much difference – Covid has surged since then – but it kept me busy for about a month.
But here is the really bizarre thing. I was out walking and got to talking (through my mask and from across the street) to Sue, the woman who delivers our mail in a bright blue jeep. Sue surely had not been to the hairdresser; she was three inches into two tone hair – washed-out red and mousy brown. She asked if I had heard about Sadie. At first, I thought she was talking about my FB account, but she gestured toward the house across the street and I quickly realized she meant my neighbor.
“We’re holding her mail,” Sue said sadly. “She’s in the hospital – not on a ventilator so maybe she’s going to make it. But it is so sad. After all she did.”
I shook my head and turned my palms up in query.
“She has been volunteering for the Aging Council to deliver food and medicine to people who are quarantined and sick. She even walked their dogs. Don’t know if that’s how she picked it up. I only knew because I ran into her walking a dog in my neighborhood one evening a couple of weeks ago.”
Sadie’s not back yet and I don’t know how she’s doing. I like her real story better than the story I made up about her. Wait, that’s not true. I like nasty stories. Maybe we all like nasty stories. I might have had a little self-reckoning about the way my mind always jumps to the negative, but let’s face it, I’m a little old to hit reset. Glad I killed off the bad Sadie, anyway. And I have worse things on my conscience.