On a recreational walk last week, enjoying one of Suckallo’s breezy, sunny spring days, I noticed the driver of an eighteen wheeler tractor, sans truck, craning his neck to stare at me as he drove down the road. A block later, he passed me again, and to my dismay, turned onto the street ahead of me, did a U-turn, and as I turned onto that street, hollered, “Excuse me!”
I ignored him, trembling like Donna Reed at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life, a spinster librarian terrified of strange men attacking her in downtown Pottersville.
Walking to work this morning, I noticed a clump of folded, torn scraps of yellow lined paper stuffed into the ridges in the bark of one of Allentown’s lovely leafy street-lining trees.
I naturally stuffed the secret message into my pocket and continued toddling to work, enjoying Trace Adkin’s “This Ain’t No Thinkin’ Thing” on my ‘pod. Two hours later, I remembered the note and spread it across my desk. As you can see, it’s a tantalizing piece, including writing in both pencil and ink, grocery items listed on the left and mysterious words (“Jewica?”) on the right. Unfortunately, a few choice corners remain lost, and the corners I do have, miss their anchors to the main scraps.
As I puzzled it together, reaching for my roll of Administrative Assistant’s Scotch Tape, I had a flash of two boys I knew in school, one a first generation Russian named Daniel, the other an African American named Keon.
Daniel had a handsome, long nose and short black hair and was quite tall for a boy in junior high. Keon was slender, dominated every choir concert with his solos and was… shudder… popular.
Daniel and I were friends in the sixth grade, until we walked around one afternoon together during recess and several classmates teased us as being a couple. I never considered Daniel that way, not because he wasn’t loveable or cute, but because he was interested in me, while the class jokester, Robbie Lovell, was not. Robbie wasn’t nearly as attractive or fun as Daniel, but he wanted someone else. It only recently occurred to me that even as a thirteen year old, I wanted the ungettable and ignored the people right in front of me.
Keon, on the other hand, sat next to me for a month and a half in the tenth grade, and finally proposed we become a couple, flexing one arm and saying, “You need a man.”
Like the truck driver I ignored last week, Keon received a blinky stare and a “Don’t be silly.” I assumed neither of them could possibly mean it- one was probably driving the tractor of his eighteen wheeler around and around the block to ask me directions to the nearest gun store, and the other just wanted me around to help with his homework.
Taping together these scraps of paper, staring at the yellow lines and wood grain of my desktop, I saw two visions in rapid succession: Keon flexing his arm, and Daniel on the middle school athletic field one sunny afternoon fourteen years ago. In that moment, binding the bits of paper together, I thought, “Maybe they really did like me… maybe I really wasn’t the gigantic, clumsy, strangely dressed, unattractive girl I thought I was… maybe I could have gotten to know each of them.”
I tore those moments up like useless grocery lists, ignoring offered friendship as valueless or insincere, choosing instead to shop for things I couldn’t afford and wouldn’t like to eat anyway.
Maybe I can piece together my past, like this list, with each scrap right-side-up, each letter complete, and discover the first draft for a life full of love and friendship.
Maybe the scrap says “Jessica.” That makes more sense than “Jewica.”