This evening as I rounded the corner at Zara's with the dogs straining at the leash, my mind occupied with an argument I'm sure I can make if I had just been practicing law for 50 more years, a man about my age came out of the grocery store.
"What pretty dogs," he said to me.
"Yes," I said in that way which sounds like I am half-laughing and half in a major hurry. One which I've employed ever since being drawn into conversations with every crackhead in the neighborhood, and a grungy man who, while drinking a six pack at 9 in the morning, invited me to come watch him play a gig at Whiskey Dix on Thursday evening. "I'm really good," he said. "If you come, I'll dedicate a song to you."
Ever since being exposed to such a mortifying possibility (as I've grown older I'm more than happy to play my roles in the wings), I've been cautiously kind but shy around strangers. Even at night I wear an old sweaty hat and gear that looks like pajamas. I'm just trying to look like someone who no one in their right mind would ever talk to. Apparently, this evening it did not work.
"Well," said the young man, "look at them. They're happy to be out here. Happy to be alive. They're checking their emails. See those sniffs? See how they stop? Checking their emails."
Luckily, at that moment one of my dogs ceased checking her emails and got down to other business, so I had a chance to bid the stranger adieu.
Communication is an odd thing - random shouts from the universe a recurring theme for me. I remember receiving a text once from a number I did not know. "I just got raped," it said. I paced for awhile and then then texted back my first name just to confirm that it wasn't someone I knew, and begged the anonymous party to go to the police. "Haha!," came the reply. "Just playing around." What?
I have been waiting to hear from someone who I should not be waiting to hear from. This morning my phone rang at 8:30am, and my heart jumped until I saw the number was private. Apparently some man named Ruffa Scott listed me as his estranged wife and had the kindness to make sure that info was distributed to every debt collection agency in town. Taking a deep breath so as to not lose my temper at the person who is simply doing an unpleasant task and doesn't know that while I've been estranged, it's never been as a wife and that I've requested time and time again to please please please have my name taken off these lists, I picked up the phone.
"Hi there, Erin."
"This is Dale, from Marrero."
"Listen, my iphone got stolen and I'm going through and entering all of these phone numbers again and I saw yours and decided to give you a call to catch up."
"I'm sorry ... Dale. I can't quite seem to place you." (This said standing in front of my dressing mirror looking with bewilderment at my own bewilderment.)
"I think we know each other from match.com." (Match.com, a service that I had the misfortune to use for approximately four months three years ago trying to get over my ex by finding he was far superior to any man I went out with.)
"Oh ... yes."
"Well, I guess I'm just calling to see what the status is."
Herein ensued the largest number of lies I have ever told in the space of a minute.
"Actually, I'm engaged. And very happily engaged. It just happened."
"Oh. Well, that's okay. I've just discovered that I'm bi or maybe just homosexual."
" ... "
"But congratulations on your engagement. You're that 35 year old anesthesiologist from Metairie, right?"
"YES. Yes, that is me."
"Well, the best of luck to you."
"You too. And congratulations also on your ... discovery." (Hand smacks forehead.)
"Yeah, thanks. Bye now.
Strangers reaching out to strangers. It's a notion not unknown here, particularly if you are a good listener, and that is probably one of my few positive attributes. I remember taking this course in communication in college and we were working with a partner. First, we were supposed to listen to them telling a story with encouraging listening body language and then at some point we were supposed to switch off and convey that we weren't interested. The professor singled me out. I couldn't do it, I couldn't not listen or even pretend to. I don't think it's kindheartedness - I'd be the last person to be guilty of that. It's just that I feel, somewhere in the mumble-jumble of all this verbiage, a meaning is going to reveal itself, and enlighten me. It's happened too often. It's hard to let go. But I feel now more closed-in. I do not want to chat, I want to walk, and breathe and hope that the loneliness I feel at this moment purges itself. Because only you can purge yourself of loneliness.
Perhaps, while I walk in my frumpy crazy lady costume, I need to start muttering to myself.
About murdering someone.
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