Very Common Where I Live
It’s sunny and I am beside myself in the Ingles grocery store parking lot. The light is almost perfect, a thin, buttery yellow warm enough to melt the winter blues. Cars pass by slowly and I hardly notice, until a young man shouts across the parking lane in my direction:
“Hey! Hey you! Aren’t you a poet?” he says. His muscley teenage arm dangles from an open side window.
“I’m a writer,” I say. “Yeah.”
“Yeah,” he shouts, waving me over. “Yeah, I heard you read on the square at that festival. You’re a poet, right?”
I hustle over to his car and shake his hand. “I’m Katey. I’m a writer,” I say again. “Where did we meet?”
“On the square. You read that hiking story,” he says. “I was there with my school.”
“That’s right!” I say. “At the literary festival last year. I remember you. Your class came with Kimberly to hear us read at the bookstore.”
“I remember what you wrote,” he says, quite proud. “It was a real memorable story.”
“Well, thank you. Thank you very much. Are you finished with school now?” He looks like he is about 20, though I have to squint into the light to get a look at him. Light brown hair, freckles to match. He looks proud, cushioned in his Mustang with a clean checked shirt on and cologne I can smell from five feet away.
“Yes I am.”
“Are you still writing?”
“I write song lyrics now. Fact I was just up all last night with a buddy and we wrote seven more. And I’ve got eleven songs I wrote for another band I’m in. We play all the time,” he says. He nods his head to an imaginary beat.
“Song lyrics! Well good for you. You know, that’s one form I never could quite do myself. I admire people who do it.”
“Sure you can do it,” he says. “What do you think songs are? What do you think lyrics are? They’re poetry!”
I smile at him. “You’re right. You’re exactly right.”
“What do you think rap is?” he continues.
“Rap is storytelling,” I say.
“Rap is poetry. It’s poetry!”
“That is is,” I say. “Well, I’m glad you’re still writing. What do you think you’ll do next?”
“I’m going to enlist,” he says.
I raise my hand to my temple, a nervous little scratch. “Why?”
“There’s nothing here for me anymore,” he says. He looks through the front windshield of his car. “My foster dad died when I was 5 and my foster mom has lung cancer now so she’s not gone be around for long either,” he says. “There’s nothing left for me after that.”
“Would you like to get a job in town?” I ask.
“This is a shit town,” he says emphatically. “There ain’t nothing here for me. There’s nothing to do, no jobs, no places to hang out. Nothing.”
“Well, I guess I can’t say. I didn’t grow up here,” I offer.
He nods knowingly and for a moment looks like a full grown man. Fatherly, almost. “Consider yourself very lucky,” he says. “Very, very lucky. There’s nothing here for us.”
He taps the side of his car door with his fingers and nods again to the imaginary beat. I stare into the distance at the highway, a few old buildings, rolling hills after that. I can see the powercut from here, the way it darts up the mountain and over the top, thin lines stretched like veins through the forest.
“You know, I know a few people who served that live around here I’d like to introduce you to. One served in Korea and another in Vietnam. They’d have a good perspective that’s older than the wars we’re fighting right now,” I offer. I am thinking of Hanshi and I am thinking of Gil, who is a member of Veterans for Peace and has shrapnel in his shoulder.
“Oh, I know guys,” he says. “I want to get over there [Iraq?] in person and see what they got for themselves. I want to see what this is all about. I wanna see what they got in ‘em,” he says. He presses his lips out, nods his head again. “There ain’t nothing here. I want to see different cultures. I want a chance to earn a living. I want to see the world,” he says.
I hear footsteps behind me and turn to see his friend loaded down with grocery bags. I shake hands with the young man. “It was nice to see you again,” I said. “Good luck with everything. And keep writing. No matter where you go—just keep writing.”
Back in my own car, I watch them for a few more moments. The young man starts the engine and revs the motor. Slowly, he backs out and drives toward the Ingles exit. Cars zip past on the highway and he bides his time. Eventually, he sees an opening and takes it, gassing his way toward town. Driving west, his car gets lost in the bright sunlight, but I can almost follow him by eye for a few hundred yards. The mustang is silver and looks like a drop of mercury sinking toward the edge of the horizon, a young man at the helm, wanting only to see the rest of the world.