I was getting my mail from my box at The Avanti Post Office overdressed as usual when suddenly I heard a female voice cry out, “Dwight Wayne…” followed by a big thud. I turned around and couldn’t believe my eyes. Sue, whom we call “Curly Sue,” because she always has The Avanti Salon hot roll her hair into springy curls like Shirley Temple, had fainted and was now laying on the floor!  Like an Olympic gymnast, Jerry, the Avanti Postmaster, flew over the counter and lifted Sue’s head off the floor. Sue’s eyes fluttered open. Deftly, Jerry spoke into his microphone clipped to his shirt, “Emergency in the P.O.! Emergency in the P.O.!” as he gently cradled Sue’s curly head in his hands.

I didn’t know Curly Sue that well. She always kept to herself, but offered a warm smile back whenever you greeted her. She never attended any activities. Instead, she was always alone on the internet in the communal living room.

Jerry instructed me to please take Sue’s purse and her mail (it had spilled all over floor) to the front office where it would be returned to her room. Quickly, I gathered everything up, then took off my silk neck scarf and gave it to Jerry who placed it over the bleeding cut on Curly Sue’s forehead (stitches would be needed for sure). Curly Sue smiled at me as tears ran down from her big blue eyes. “Dwight Wayne,” she whispered to me.  What? Who?  There is no one named Dwight Wayne living at Avanti, but there was no time to ask her anything more about it as I was ushered quickly out of the post office as the emergency crew flooded in. Maybe that was her husband’s name? Child’s name?

With gratitude that Curly Sue would be OK (sheesh – she could have knocked herself unconscious!), I walked to the lobby area and sat down at a table. I needed to separate my mail from Curly Sue’s mail. I started sorting everything into two piles. Nearby I could see Avanti’s A Crew Group in session. A Crew is a popular weekly program where grandchildren and young visitors design and lead the programming they want to do with their family members living at Avanti. With young people at the helm the activities are always fresh and exciting. Last week we learned some hip-hop dance moves (while seated in comfy chairs) from the teen girls. It was fun! My Maggie usually brings her kids and I participate, but this week all my grandchildren were away at camp, so today I would just watch from afar.  While I continued sorting the mail I watched the A Crew unfurl a colorful parachute for all to enjoy.

Curly’s Sue’s mail consisted of clothing and gardening catalogs, a couple of bills and the letter and envelope she must have been reading when she fainted (the envelope was torn open at the side and three lined letter legal pages were full of a messy scrawl). Suddenly the name on the opened envelope caught my eye! It read “Dwight Wayne, Huntsville State Prison Inmate #30327”. That was the name Curly Sue whispered to me before she fainted!

I looked both ways to ensure no one was looking and immediately started reading the letter. I knew it was wrong, this was not my letter to read, but I felt compelled by some strange force of human curiosity – like it was my duty to unravel the Dwight Wayne and Curly Sue mystery of history that hung thick in the air like a wall of hot Houston humidity.

Truth be told, I was wearing a jade, rhinestone and pearl brooch today at the top of a turban that sat on my head covering all my hair (think Marlene Dietrich in the 1950s).  And whenever I wear this turban/brooch combo I feel a bit regal, a bit above the law. So, I touched my brooch for reassurance, cleaned my readers and read the letter from start to finish using my finger to sweep side to side underneath each word to not lose my place.

What I read blew my mind. Dwight Wayne was neither Curly Sue’s husband (he had died a few years ago), nor a family member nor a dear old friend. Dwight Wayne was Curly Sue’s first boyfriend from high school. The first man she ever made love to – or even kissed! And after months of tracking him down on the internet, Curly Sue finally found him…in prison… about an hour north of Avanti…and sent him a handwritten letter. I know it was handwritten because Dwight Wayne’s opening line to Curly Sue was a compliment about her beautiful cursive writing.

Jerry had asked me to please bring Curly Sue’s mail and purse to the front desk, but I did not want to do it. I touched my shiny jeweled pin again for strength and then decided I would hand-deliver Curly Sue’s purse and mail directly to her room. With a love letter in tow this was the right thing to do. Jerry had handled Curly Sue’s medical emergency beautifully, but he was unaware we were also dealing with matters of the heart.

On my way to Curly Sue’s room I passed by Taste and “borrowed” a vase of flowers from one of the tables, then I stopped in my room to snag 2 Little Debbie’s Chocolate Roll Cakes that I kept in a big box in my closet for when the grandchildren visited and finally I stopped by the break room to ask if anyone could sneak me 2 Coca Cola bottles (I was politely told no, reminded of my cardiology diet and instead handed 2 water-bottles in a bag). The bag was a heavenly gift as it allowed me to fit everything inside of it and carry it in one hand while I carried the vase of flowers in the other. Curly Sue lived near the end of hallway near Lillian and Gwendolyn; I was already tired from walking with such a heavy load.

I knocked on Curly Sue’s door. She didn’t answer. I waited for a moment. Then, I took a deep breath and pushed the door open to see Curly Sue sound asleep in bed with her forehead wrapped up in white gauze. The gauze wrapping around her head made her look like she too was wearing a turban. Ha! We were twins! I pulled up a chair beside her bed and sat down. Then I pulled over the rolling tray table up and over her belly. On it, I arranged the flowers, chocolate snacks, water and her mail into neat little stacks: bills, junk mail and of course Dwight Wayne’s letter which I placed front and center.

Curly Sue’s head turban was inadvertently hiding her curls so I gently reach behind each ear and freed a curl to flatter her face. Then I took the brooch off my turban and secured it to the top of her “medical” turban.  She didn’t wake, but changed position turning her face toward the window, away from me. I fidgeted into the chair until I was comfortable. Strangely, it was exciting waiting for Curly Sue to wake.

I was eager to know everything about Curly Sue and Dwight Wayne and the life Curly Sue led before she was a wife and mother. The life when she was someone’s daughter, when she was young and everything in the world was shiny, new and exciting to her.