Notes from the Field

Community leaders, institutions, and even entire communities can inspire us to do great work ourselves. They can serve as role models, spark new ideas in us, or provide us with a place to place our energy. There are a great deal of community members and places left unsung or only recognized by a narrow population and while we can never show all of the people that deeply affect and serve their communities, we hope to shine a light on and share the stories of some of those people and places and what they mean to their community.

Big Easy

October 17, 2017
Submitted by: James Riley

"Is it hard to talk to strangers?" she asked.

It was. It was something I was finding extremely hard to do. How did she know, I wondered.

"Yeah, I'll bet it is. That seems like the worst part of it. There was a guy who they paid to go around the US and write about what he thinks. And everyone got mad at him because he didn't talk to anyone. But you know, why do you have to? Why is that automatically part of it?" she said.

"You are writing a book right?" she asked.

I guess I am.

"I knew it," she said, "not that you said you were or anything but when Kent asked me what you were doing around here, I knew it was that."

It is a rare thing when a person understands a piece of you. When they just get it. Not the whole thing, but a piece. Perhaps there are people that do get the whole thing or at least several connected or unconnected pieces of you, but I haven't seen that yet. It is nice enough to have someone get a piece, big or small.

There is no real rhyme or reason to it. Affection does not make it easier to get. It is not love or comradery that leads to the instant transmission of this knowledge. It is not even similarity of attitude or outlook that allows for this preternatural connection. Sometimes with someone you just know something.

"You made that," I said pointing to her baby nursing at her breast.

"Yeah, it is pretty great," she said.

I look around her house as if to say, and you made all this, a life for yourself.

"It is pretty great." she said again.

We were young when we first knew each other. We drank together with and without other friends and worked together shelving and selling books. It was after college and as close to what I thought young adulthood was going to be as I am ever going to get. That feels like very long ago, now. I know because it all seems charming and pleasant, the way all but the most painful long ago memories seem with time. Later on her porch, we talked about the South. About schools and culture and what it is going to be like when her daughter grows up. I told her about how I had just made a fool of myself by eating the display black and white cookie from the pizza shop I stopped at. Her baby mashes a homemade popsicle into her mouth in the most adorable way. We watch the giant hole that was, up until very recently, her intersection collect rain. They tore all of it up. It was supposed to be fixed by the following day but that day it was supposed to storm all day, so who knows. She casually referenced the way she, in her own words "blew up her life." I never fully knew all the details of that and still don't. I do not recall being the most supportive and to be honest I kinda lost touch with her after that.

I wonder how she knew it was the right choice. I mean, how did she know that those beautiful blue eyes would be looking at her now, just so perfect.

We kissed one time. I often have thought about that. About how well-meaningly stupid I was to have not done more. I didn't want to blow up her life. I am glad I didn't. She might not have what she has now.

I wonder if she has thought about it since. About any of her past life. I am sure she has, but I don't know what. I do not need to know. You should see this kid's eyes. They have a way of shutting down such useless questions.

I overstayed my welcome just a bit to meet her husband. He is a friendly and funny man. We talked about Steinbeck and Travels With Charley. I said my goodbyes and I drove away north.

A woman's worth is not based on her ability to produce children nor her looks. Neither is her happiness dictated by such things. But when I looked at her from my van, she looked happier and more beautiful than I remembered her then. I wonder how she knew.

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