“I’m so happy that you were able to come, Winter. As you know, what I have to show you is very important.”
My family has lived across the street from Mrs. Hanselman since before I was born. Her imposing stone house was the first constructed in the neighborhood, and today it stands, imposing and aloof, watching over the surrounding homes like a sentinel. The inside of the house is elegant, decorated with a classic Victorian style that I love. Despite the house’s Gothic exterior, the interior is filled with golden light and fresh flowers, and though there are many trinkets gathered on shelves throughout, everything is spotless.
Mrs. Hanselman is still active, no trace of 90 years in her walk. You can often see her about the neighborhood on a leisurely stroll to the flower shop and produce market or bringing cookies to the local school for a bake sale. She is a constant presence, a sort of symbol of the community. She very rarely asks anyone for anything, and her pride in her independence is well-known. But today, she had asked me to help her with something very important. So of course, I went right over, wanting to help her, but also more than a little curious.
I followed Mrs. Hanselman into her sunroom. This is my favorite place in her house, and I was glad this was where she wanted to sit. It’s a lovely space, with a stone floor and large windows overlooking the landscape. Sun pours in through every angle, and there are fresh bouquets of flowers everywhere you look. She motioned for me to take a seat on the nearest chair and then turned to grab a wooden box from the table nearest her. She sat down, the box on her lap. Reaching inside she rummaged for a second, before extracting a red leather-bound book. She lifted it up and held it out for me. “I wrote this for you, Winter. I had a feeling that you might want to read it.” I stared at the book, slightly taken aback. I had asked Mrs. Hanselman to write down her family history, many years ago, and I assumed at first that’s what it was. But something about the way she looked at me, her eyes hopeful and glittering, told me that’s not what it was. I reached out and took the book from her. For a second she clung onto it. When she finally released it she smiled and leaned back in her chair, watching me expectantly. I opened the book. It was filled with lines of writing, not spidery or faint, but bold and dark. Mrs. Hanselman had written this with great purpose. She smiled at me, motioning to the book with her head. “Winter, I need help. I’m 90 years old, and I’ve lived a rich, full life. I’m very fortunate.” She waved her hand about the room. “But despite everything that I possess, and know, and have learned…” She turned her eyes back to me. “Despite everything, there is still one thing that stands as yet unresolved in my life.” She pointed at the book. “Her.”
“Her? Someone in your family?”
“No.” Mrs. Hanselman smiled, uttering the words that I have replayed through my head millions of times since. “Her. The girl who became a goddess. I need you to write her story. I know how it began. Tell me how it ends.”
“I…” I looked up, not knowing what to say. “But Mrs. Hanselman, I’m not a professional writer. I don’t know how, or who she is, or…”
She shook her head. “Everything you need to know about her is in that book. Everything from when I knew her, up until she disappeared.” She looked up at the ceiling. “And became a goddess.” She looked back at me and smiled. “I know you can do this, Winter. It was shown to me in a vision. You are the one meant to tell her story.”
I left Mrs. Hanselman’s house very confused. I didn’t dare open the book, and it stared accusingly at me from my nightstand all night. Something about the way Mrs. Hanselman had looked at me, her eyes so knowing, made it impossible not to be intrigued. That night I sat at the computer for the first time in a long time, looking at the blinking cursor on the empty screen. I finally gave up and went to sleep, discouraged. The next morning when I woke up, I sat back down at the computer and tried again. And this time, I began to write.
A strange way to begin a story, perhaps, but also a very fitting one. After all, the line between fact and fiction, reality and myth is a very blurred one. I began working on that story, and have been working on it ever since. Soon I’ll be ready to show it to the world. Her story, my story, Mrs. Hanselman’s story, they’re all one story. And in customary fashion, they all start at the very beginning.