Penny, the real girl
Penny was a cocktail waitress at a casino on an Indian reservation just outside Tacoma, a gray place, always raining, though never too hard. They say it can rust a tin roof without making a noise. Penny stood out in gray northern Washington. She was colorful, witty, wore bright pastels and glitter. She painted her nails magenta and served pink drinks to alcoholic gamblers, shaking her hips in such a way that made cigarettes fall from the lips of those she passed.
I was her only friend, really. We were both outcasts in that town. I was in a criminal halfway house as part of my rehabilitation, and Penny was a transvestite.
For fun, we’d jumped the fence and set off the alarm at the mannequin factory near Penny’s apartment. She’d occasionally rob the factory dumpster to construct her perfect man as an ongoing art project. It was necessary, she said, to always be doing or making something new if one wanted to remain happy or even sane.
They found her body on a January morning. The cop on the other line asked me, “Mr. Dupree, do you know a Mr. Brigham Smith? Your phone number was the only one in his cell phone, sir.” I wanted to correct him—to say, no, her name is Penny, but I was too shocked.
I gave her eulogy at a church to an audience of one: myself. I told the story of a courageous, misunderstood woman who made the gray shades of northern Washington briefly colorful. Then my dad showed up, saying he read about the “hate crime” in the papers.
“Get out of here before someone sees you,” he said.
On the really bad days I keep coming back to memories of robbing dumpsters for bits and pieces of Penny’s ideal man, or the way she’d coquetishly smirk as she said, “heads or tails” to some stranger. It always makes me smile for a minute. I once heard someone say that it takes only a moment to notice someone, a few minutes to get a crush, a bit more to fall in love. . . .yet, for some reason, it takes more than a lifetime to forget them. And this is both a blessing and a curse. Sometimes remembering the good hurts more than the bad.
Filed under: stories of heartbreak | 1 Comment