Beulah's Story This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

October 31, 2011
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Beulah Corum was 90 years old and dying of lung cancer when I met her. Her sparse cotton-white hair was meticulously curled, and her lips were painted red. She wore huge bifocals that went down past her eyes, making her look bug-like. Her arms were folded across her chest, and she wore a pink sweater with tan trousers. It was burning hot outside, and the nursing home did not believe in very much air conditioning. I remember my blue volunteer polo stuck to my back and my hair looked like ten hairdryers had hit it all at once.

I sat down on her loveseat and crossed my legs. As my foot bobbed up and down nervously, I asked her how she was doing. “I sat at lunch for an hour before my food came. I'm ready to get out of this place.” Her apartment reflected that feeling, with its sparse decoration. I couldn't see a single personal item anywhere. The only thing that made it different from the rest was the huge plastic breathing mask tucked under the television cabinet. She caught me staring at it and explained the treatments she had to undergo to fight the cancer. I put the mask into the cabinet, out of sight.

The next time I came to see her I brought a journal and a pen. I said, “So, start at the beginning.” She took a sip of water and began talking.

Words flowed and wrapped around each other, weaving pictures. I could suddenly see a three-year-old in a hospital bed. Tubes snaked from the girl's left arm, and a younger Beulah clung to her right. A machine screamed the death. I watched the tears flooding the creases of Beulah's cheeks. We were both quiet for a long time.

I visited Beulah many times over the next eight weeks. Each time, she would talk and I would listen. She gave me piles and piles of memories, some with more weight than others, and I complied them all into a scrapbook and typed her biography. She held my hand and smiled when I presented it to her.

I know that what I did for Beulah would fall under the category of community service. And yet when I tell people what I did that summer, no one seems to understand the gift she gave me in return. I was able to see a life laid out from beginning to end. I learned that a single event can melt and spread its colors onto every moment thereafter. She taught me to step carefully when needed and to leap high when not. Best of all, she was my friend.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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