斯人已逝（之一： Betty）Departed Souls (1: Betty)
【序：2006-2008年是我压力大，心情不愉快的两三年。那时已经做了几年博士后，前途没有着落。年前女儿降生了。两个孩子加一个房子，经济压力陡然增加。就在此时，另一个系的学界大佬DK向我抛出了橄榄枝，答应给我涨40%的工资和Research Assistant Professor的头衔（其实没意义）。于是我转到他的实验室，开始了两年不堪回首的第二期博士后。我在博文《一个关于fact 的真实故事》中，暗示了我的困境…… 恰好，绿卡到了，于是开始找工作。我投出七、八十份简历，全美国范围内找。只得到两个interview的机会，最后的offer就是现在我仍然在工作的这家公司（跟我的专业背景和特长很对路子）。我老婆跟我商量，假如她辞了工作、与两个孩子马上一起随我，到千里之外、生活开销高两三倍的新地方，太冒险了。一旦我在industry混不下去，全家怎么办呢？于是乎，我开始了三年的“单身”生活；而她继续留在大学城，一边工作一边带着两个年幼的孩子，辛苦可想而知…… 我一个人在公司附近租了房东楼下的一间屋，单独从后院出入。意外发生在我已经在此处住了近三年、即将离开的时候。那是10年前的事情了。】
【Preface: The years 2006-2008 were two or three difficult years for me, marked by high stress. I had been a postdoctoral researcher for several years with an uncertain future. My daughter was born in the year, adding to the pressure with two children and a house. Just then, DK, a big name in another department, extended an olive branch, promising a 40% salary increase and the title of Research Assistant Professor (which was essentially meaningless). So, I joined his lab and embarked on a second postdoctoral stint that I'd rather forget. In my blog post "A True Story About Fact," I hinted at my predicament... Coincidentally, my green card came through, prompting me to start job hunting. I sent out seventy to eighty resumes nationwide in the United States, but only received two interview opportunities. The final offer came from the company where I am still employed today, aligning well with my professional background and expertise. My wife and I discussed the option of her quitting her job and moving with our two children to a new place with living expenses two to three times higher, which seemed too risky. What if I couldn't make it in the industry? What would we do as a family? So, I began three years of "single" life; she continued to stay in the university town, working and taking care of our two young kids, a difficult task, to say the least... I rented a room near the company, with my own entrance in the back. The unexpected tragedy happened when I had been living here for nearly three years and was about to leave. That was ten years ago. 】
In early April that year, a late spring chill arrived. It rained and snowed for three or four consecutive days, casting a gloomy and cold atmosphere over the entire world.
One evening, as I returned home from work, I noticed that all the parking spaces were taken, including mine. When Tom, the landlord, came out. I asked, "Are you having a party?" With a tearful tone, Tom replied, "Betty is gone. She's no more."
The landlady Betty had a sudden stroke at noon and never woke up again.
Betty, in her 60s, had always been in good health, looking young for her age. She once told me she rarely got sick. Earlier that year, she had a minor stroke, but after treatment, she quickly recovered. Jokingly, she mentioned that she couldn't eat beef anymore and had to avoid oily food. I suggested teaching her how to cook tofu. She seemed to have had a full recovery. It's really a shock that she passed away suddenly. I later learned that her family had a genetic predisposition to high cholesterol, and she was actually at high risk, but didn't pay enough attention to it.
Tom和Betty这两口子属于最普通的美国老百姓，太太在学区（类似于中国的教育局）当个小公务员，正打算过两年退休。Tom没有学历，一辈子当labor，打各种杂工。就是这样一对有3个孩子的普通家庭，在一个高物价高消费的地区，靠着几十年的勤劳、节俭、投资和其他的生财之道（比如我住的那一部分，就是十几年前孩子长大离家后，Tom对房子进行改造，独立出去的两块，分别出租，每年给他带来不少收入），财富逐渐增长，从结婚时租的一间狭小的公寓（Betty跟我描述过），到拥有那幢很不错的house （按照现在当地房市，我估计1 m 以上了），不仅房款完全还清，而且在北边两小时车程以外的湖边还另拥有一个度假房。这应该算是美国人实现美国梦的例子吧。
Tom and Betty were an ordinary American couple. Betty worked as a small government official in the school district and was planning to retire in a couple of years. Tom, without a formal education, worked as a laborer, doing various odd jobs throughout his life. Yet, with three children, they managed to accumulate wealth over the years through diligence, frugality, investments, and other ways of making money (for instance, the part I lived in was transformed by Tom into a rental property after their children grew up and moved out, bringing in significant annual income). Their wealth grew gradually, from renting a small apartment when they got married (as Betty described it to me) to owning a very nice house (given the current local real estate market, I estimate it to be worth over a million dollars), not only paying off the mortgage but also owning a vacation house by a lake two hours north. This could be considered an example of achieving the American dream by ordinary Americans.
Having lived with the landlords for three years, we developed a deep friendship, and they took great care of me. Whenever it snowed, before I even woke up, Tom would shovel the snow in front of my car so I could get to work on time. If there wasn't anything urgent on a snowy morning, I would stay and help Tom clear the snow in front of the house. Every time I flew back to visit my family, he would drive me to and pick me up from airport. Sometimes, Betty would bake some treats and bring them to me. Occasionally, I would treat them to Chinese food I cooked.
现在回想起来，我对自己送给他们的一样礼物感到特别欣慰 -- 那是Betty去世前不久，当得知他们要庆祝50年金婚了（他们很早婚），我就打印出自己拍摄的一对天鹅的照片装框送给他们作为礼物 (见下面)，他们非常喜欢，把这张照片挂在客厅里醒目的位置。
Looking back, I feel particularly gratified about a gift I gave them - shortly before Betty passed away. Learning that they were about to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary (they married early), I printed and framed a photo I took of a pair of swans as a gift (see below). They loved it and hung the photo prominently in the living room.
At the wake, two to three hundred people came to bid Betty farewell, revealing her excellent social connections. Although there were tears, there wasn't the dramatic wailing I expected. At times, there were even smiles, and the atmosphere was relatively casual and noisy. I rarely attend such events, and I immediately felt the difference from Chinese culture. The couple were devout Catholics, and many fellow church members attended, making the sign of the cross in front of the body. When it was my turn, I bowed three times in the Chinese way, wishing her a peaceful journey.
Tom and Betty's three children had grown up and had several grandchildren. Their two daughters, Jenn and Linda, lived relatively close and had a close relationship with their parents, visiting almost every week. After Betty's death, they took turns spending 24 hours with their father. However, after a week, the daughters were "dismissed" by their father. Tom said, "I'm fine now. There's nothing to accompany me for. Just come by on weekends as you used to." However, after the daughters left, I could feel the unease upstairs. The pacing back and forth began at five in the morning. So, before going to work, I knocked on the door to ask how he was doing, how he was eating and sleeping, and if there was anything I could help with. Tom said everything was okay, but of course, after being together for fifty years, suddenly being alone made it difficult to sleep soundly, and as he spoke, tears welled up….
又过了大约一个月，一天晚上，Tom突然敲门进来。他说，我产生了一个想法，想跟你说说 — 我知道你老婆孩子夏天就要搬过来了，考虑在这个地方安家吗？你也知道我们这个小城不错的。我可以把这个房子卖给你，现在房价较低、贷款利率更低。具体的事情咱们好商量，只要你想买就行。我一个孤老头子不需要那么大的房子，咱们可以对调一下，我住到楼下你的房间去…… 我来这个小城已经30年了，处处门儿清。你要是在这里安家，我很多地方可以帮你们的忙。
About a month later, one evening, Tom suddenly knocked on my door. He said, "I have an idea and wanted to talk to you about it - I know your wife and kids are moving here this summer. Have you considered settling down in this place? You know our small town is nice. I can sell you this house. The housing prices are low now, and the loan interest rates are even lower. We can discuss the details, and as long as you want to buy, other details are easy. I'm an old man living alone, and I don't need such a big house. We can switch places; I can move downstairs to your room... I've been in this small town for thirty years, and I have connections everywhere. If you settle here, I can help you in many ways."
I knew Tom was sincere. However, before Betty passed away, I had already chosen another place to settle down (where I am still residing now). If Betty hadn't died, it would have been a farewell, but now that Betty is gone, and Tom has such thoughts, it makes me feel sympathetic. I forgot how I later explained it to him.
Two years later, on a sunny and breezy noon, I went to that town for some business and turned to the house to take a look, hoping Tom was still there. However, the yard had changed a lot. A swing and a children's slide had been set up on the side of the house. A young mother was playing with her child. Seeing me standing on the roadside, she smiled and asked who I was looking for. I told her that I had lived in this house for a full three years...