Sunday, September 28, 2014

"Wrote you were a hearer"

I was happy for myself, about who I was. Someone invited me to a friend's "low country boil," and all I really heard was the opportunity to see an old friend that I hadn't greeted in person in many months. One of those things where we made plans that quietly and repeatedly fell through. The invite triggered a commitment, a resolution. And hours later, a curiosity. I had no idea what a low country boil even was.

Parts of the South Carolina coast region are close to, or below sea level. The low country. And boil, well, shell fish, corn, potatoes, and sausage, all together with bonding seasonings. Also, there's a lot of it. I had heard about community events, and attended times and places where I was told what they were, but that night seemed like the truest definition I had been presented with. Except for a few of us, everyone there was from the neighborhood. I arrived with that friend, first, and things were pleasant enough until the couples began arriving. "And this is my wife." "And this is my husband." I stood, I sat, I moved, I mingled, I went inside and watched television.

I was watching college football when I felt the presence of a shadow, not like passing glances or brief looks. The kind of stare that inquires after social courtesy. I looked, and then it happened. "Someone told me you're a writer." My response was, "I like to tell myself that from time to time, too." I wasn't sure why I affirmed, much less why I responded in that way. The conversation that happened, probably, was inevitable. It didn't drag, and it wasn't unpleasant, but it was unquestionably there, like a surprising odor in the backseat of a taxi. But I survived. "I like what you said about..." and they explained, and then left, and I somehow felt better that I had held up my end.

Later, I had seconds, and then later still I had thirds, but after that I realized I still had things to live for, the tastiness of the food notwithstanding. I found a circle of individuals around my sex, around my age, and I stood shoulder to shoulder with another man and waited for my turn to tell a joke, to recite an anecdote. I chuckled, and marveled at the lighting in the house's back yard and the glow of the embers in the fire pit.

Then it happened again. A man across the circle from me stepped forward, breaking the chain. "I heard there was a writer here." I was already checking my phone, but I did not stop to volunteer. I might have even raised the device a little closer, to check my text messages more fiercely. "There he is right there," and some pointed, in such a way that he was very close to poking me in the face. The first man stepped forward, and the circle vanished. An hour and a half later, I would notice that my feet hurt. I spent almost all the time between his statements and my replies trying to figure out why this was happening.

I came up with nothing, and I came away resolved to be thankful that someone had thought enough of my efforts to speak confidently to people they knew, so the point that I would be ambushed with questions. I imagine that the things people say about us when we're not around is closest to how they really feel.

I went to bed late, and woke up early, and recalled some of the blurry events intermingling with my imaginations. A man named Wolfgang, through a dense German accent in tenacious conversation pointed at me with one finger, the remainder of his fist clinging to a tumbler of moonshine, and said "you must save American writing." He blinked sincerely, and my response was, "the next writer I see, I'll be sure to pass along your message." 

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