I had a fingerprinting appointment at 1pm today in Oakland. I got there really early and waited around in the office, people watching really, pretending to read. I figured the appointment, once it started, would be a quick in-and-out. I'd done this fingerprinting thing a thousand times, I knew the routine. Plus, the woman I'd made the appointment with on the phone, Joanne, well, I didn't think she'd had much of a sense of humor. I'd been my ole effervesent self when making the apt. a few weeks ago and to every friendly advance or cute comment of mine she gave me back a wall of silence. I even got off the phone and told this story to friends about how people in offices are always stock characters: and the ones in HR are the worst! Humorless, I said, or angry, my friend added in.
So, now we find Joanne and I, chair to chair, as she's typing my information into the computer. She types in my birthday and says, "oh, thats the year my son was born. And his birthday is April 12th."
Oh, that's funny, isn't it? Where does he live?, I inquire.
"He was killed four years ago on December 13th. But he would have been 37 this year, your age."
That's right. I'm sorry Joanne, how was he killed?
"He was shot in the head in a robbery," she told me, "they got $800 dollars from his store." These guys wanted the money and her son, Sean, wasn't going down without a fight.
Joanne and I ended up back in her cubicle office and talked about Sean and her grandson and her family and daughter, who is due to give birth this summer. We talked about her being a seven year survivor of cancer, and the irony behind believing you would die before your children. We talked about harlem, where she moved to CA from just nine months before her son was killed and how much her life has changed. She told me, because she had Sean when she was 20, they were like pals. They relied on each other. When she was still in harlem and Sean lived in Oakland, he'd call her at 3am ("see, that was midnight his time," she'd explain) and say, 'don't pick up, mom, don't get out of bed, don't pick up, really. i'm just getting off work and wanted to talk to you. but, just listen tonight, and then call me back tomorrow and let me know what you think.' She said they did that a lot. She told me they both got really into astrology because he's an aries (she talked in the present tense often) and she didn't want to break his spirit but wanted to know what she was in for. I told her, as an aries, I understand that completely. We laughed about aries and what whirlwind personalities they can be. And then I told her about making the apt. weeks ago and thinking we would probably clash because she seemed to be stunned by my boistrous-ness on the phone. We got a good laugh out of that one.
I stood up to leave and she said, "I feel really good. I haven't released that in a long time. I feel so much better right now." Wow, I thought, so do i. I told her there was a reason we met and she responded with (and I knew she would), "there's a reason for everything."
Last night it was a neighbor who needed to vent about family stuff, last week it was the girl who works at the bar overwhelmed with sadness about being dumped, and two years ago, every week, it was a different little old lady in father demo square.
I invite it. I ask for it. Maybe not in so many words (though, sometimes, yes, the straight up questions bring forth the true story), but maybe in the way that I look at them. Or I ask them "how you doing?" and they answer, "not very good....." I ususally stop in my tracks and wonder why. It's not that I particulary like hearing the drama or the tragedy or the memories, even, but I am fascinated. I'm fascinated by life. I find the human condition fascinating. I'm totally in awe of the fact that someone standing right next to me, at this point, a total stranger, can be going through something SO major and yet, they're holding it in. I don't have any connection to them. Maybe it's about craving the random connection. We're all constantly walking around with major life happenings. Life keeps happening, whether we're involved with it or not. And I think I might be here to hear some of it.