Remembering Pearl

wood heartI went to law school with a woman named Pearl. I didn’t know her well, even though she may have been in my small section. I honestly can’t remember. I didn’t pay much attention to Pearl because she was “old.” At 22, what seemed old was probably younger than I am now.

Although I didn’t pay much attention to her, Pearl was nevertheless memorable—and it wasn’t due to her “advanced” age. She was memorable because of her look, which was so out-of-step with the time. In the late 1980s, when hot rollers and big Dallas-style hair were all the rage, Pearl wore her graying hair in a vintage Marlo Thomas flip. I imagined her back-combing the crown like my mom did when I was a child and then shellacking it into place with a can of Aqua Net. It was hair that would not be out of place on “Mad Men.”

Pearl’s clothes were equally dated, and the combined effect rendered her virtually invisible, an obsolete model. She was totally forgettable—or so I thought.

In the twenty-plus years since law school, I have never forgotten Pearl. It seems she left an indelible imprint on my mind. At our 20th reunion, I learned that Pearl had died only a few years after graduation. I was stunned and saddened at the news. How could Pearl be gone?

I can’t help but wonder if she regretted the time spent in law school. Would she have gone if she had known? More importantly, did she enjoy practicing law? Did it change her as it changed me? What was it like for her, my brain mutters, what was it like?

There is so much I would ask Pearl today. It bothers me a little, this obvious change of heart. Do I want to ask these questions because she is gone or because I’m older and no longer discount people due to age?

Whenever I think of Pearl I can’t help but also think of my girlfriend Faye, who is an ovarian cancer survivor. After she attended the ninth (and last) funeral of the women in her cancer support group, Faye said to me, “Life is short. It’s too fucking short to waste time.”

It is. Life is short. Just ask Pearl, or Faye, or those nine dead women.

I was reminded of this fact once again when I saw an article my friend Jennifer Simpson shared: 30 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Die. Jenn suggested using them as writing prompts or questions to ask when fleshing out fictional characters. I think they would work great for that, but I also think they are important questions to ask yourself—whether you are approaching 30, 40, 50, or even 60 and beyond.

Ask yourself the questions and then go out and live. Even if it’s something “crazy” like studying drama, writing a book, attending law school in your 40s, or starting your own law firm a few months shy of your 50th birthday. Do something you’ve always wanted to do and tell yourself it’s for Pearl.

Go on, I double dare you.

Until next time,
Cynthia Patton

About Cynthia J. Patton

Writer, Editor, Advocate, Speaker, Special Needs Attorney, and Autism Mom. Also the Founder and Chairperson of Autism A to Z, a nonprofit providing resources and solutions for life on the spectrum.
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4 Responses to Remembering Pearl

  1. Jennifer says:

    Glad you liked that prompt! and thanks for the shout out…. I’m sad about Pearl too now. Must be something about being a few months shy of your 50th (I’m right behind you) I feel compelled to DO stuff: start teaching (check), dye my hair purple (check), finish book (in progress), get a tattoo (working on my nerves). because yeah. life is too. damn. short.

    • My list is slightly different than yours, Jenn, but also surprisingly similar. Maybe you and I and my friend Jessica should all get a tattoo together. (Her birthday is in between ours.) My problem isn’t nerves, it’s figuring out what I want to look at for the rest of my life. Lol! Can I use your birthday as the deadline for finishing my book?

  2. j says:

    Love this. I’m a few months ahead of you, but the feeling is the same. Life’s too short not to fill it with the stuff that lights us up inside.

    And I’ve decided there is nothing I’m confident I’ll want to look at for the rest of my life.

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