By Lesléa Newman.
I have been waiting all my life to turn 58.
Well, not all my life exactly. Just the last 48 years, ever since I turned ten. That was the year my best friend, Vicki brought over a wooden Ouija Board with the alphabet, the numbers zero through nine, and the words “yes,” “no,” “hello” and “goodbye” painted on it in bold black script. I still remember the day we sat cross-legged on the carpet of my bedroom facing each other with the board and our future between us. We asked the Ouija Board typical ten-year-old-girl questions: Would we get married? (Yes for both of us which proved correct: Vicki married a handsome man named David and I married a handsome woman named Mary). Would we have children? (Yes for Vicki who happily raised three magnificent children; no for me, who happily raised a pride of magnificent cats). And then bravely and stupidly I asked the Ouija Board: “How old will I be when I die?
Vicki and I held our fingertips lightly against the wooden heart-shaped marker as it slid across the board slowly, stopping first at the “five” and then at the “seven.” “Fifty-seven,” I crowed, thrilled to learn I’d live to a ripe old age. At the time, fifty-seven seemed beyond ancient. Why, my mother wasn’t even that old! It was 1965 which meant that I wouldn’t turn 57 until 2012, a year that sounded so far off and futuristic, it couldn’t possibly ever arrive.
I don’t remember ever consulting the Ouija Board again. But I do remember how its premonition popped into my head when death almost came to call. I was home alone slicing a leftover baked potato into rounds to fry up for breakfast. I popped a piece into my mouth without thinking about it until it landed flat across the top of my windpipe, sealing it tight as the lid on a canning jar. But I’m not 57 yet, I thought as I leapt up, raced to a neighbor’s house and frantically pounded on her door. After my neighbor performed the Heimlich maneuver, and the piece of potato flew out whole and landed with a splat against the wall, I thanked her and calmly strolled home, as if she had just given me a cup of tea instead of the rest of my life. She didn’t understand how I could remain so unrattled. But I was only 23. According to the Ouija Board, I still had 34 years to go.
Over the years, there were other brushes with death: a car accident here, a bumpy flight there. And then there was that time when I foolishly followed an electrician’s advice and stuck a raw potato into the socket of a broken overhead lamp to see if the switch was on or off. It was on, the potato sparked and fried, and I almost did, too (what is it about me and potatoes?).
And then I turned 57.