Character Study

Character Study: the most interesting woman in the world

Okay, the title should say The most interesting woman in MY world, but THE world sounded catchier. Years ago I met an very interesting woman. I want to use the word girl because she was a baby-faced 19 year old, but to be fair I will say woman. She was so interesting that even though I only “knew” her, spent time with her, communicated with her, kept up on her whereabouts for a couple of years, I still think of her often and tell her tales to others.

There is no big backstory of her life, just an ordinary upbringing, but there must have been a spark or an outright fire living inside of her that propelled her towards adventure and success. At sixteen she danced for the Richmond ballet. She was so tiny they called her little butterfly and she was often “lifted” by the other dancers. One bad drop and her dancing was over but that’s okay because there was college to get to.

In college she wanted to study Anthropology but the affordable not very prestigious college she went to lacked substance in that department. That wouldn’t stop her from finding a program that allowed her to take a year abroad through another university and transfer the credits. She wanted to study in Africa so off she went. She designed her own course for one year with four distinct segments. Among her activities were a study on condom use and prostitution in Nairobi, and domesticating a lemur in Madagascar. The lemur paper earned her an invitation to present at a prestigious research conference- at the age of 19. Of course she came back to the US with worms and malaria but she was smart enough to stop in France on the way home and pick up malaria medication since it was only a dollar per pill there and outrageously priced in the US. Her worms were on an 18 month incubation so that was a gift that kept on giving for awhile.

In Kenya she was mugged by a machete-wielding thief but by far her scariest story was when she was “invited” but really coerced to join a gentleman of power and influence for dinner. She knew well enough not to put on the berka that his entourage presented her to wear, as she assumed it an act of possession or even so far as a commitment to marry. Scared the whole time she waited until after dark, snuck into the powerful man’s adjoining hotel room, stole some money out of his wallet on the nightstand and slipped out of the window into the night.

She wasn’t just accomplished on the international scene. Even in her stateside college experiences she excelled. Her grades were top notch and her inquisitive mind was cherished by her professors. She had many friends and held leadership positions in her afterschool activities. She was smart and witty and funny and thoughtful. She was creative and a whiz at computers and graphic design long before computers were so commonplace. She was incredibly wise beyond her years.

As I’ve recently been thinking of her, I decided to do an internet search for her very common name. I learned she went to an ivy league school for her PhD and was a professor at a prestigious school on the opposite coast from where she grew up. She even published a book that I found on Amazon. I uncovered an email and phone number and thought I would make contact, but something made me click one more link and I discovered she died. She couldn’t have been older than 38 or 39.

I was so sad to learn this but what haunts me is the day she told me all those years ago, about the premonition she had that she would die young, “like in my 30s” she said. That IS most interesting, isn’t it?

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