A Tradesman's Tale
I guess it turned out to be a good thing I accidentally locked my professional white coat inside some doctor’s office that day. It gave me more freedom in plopping myself down right next to him and sticking my hand out to shake his. Very quickly, I learned two things about him: one was that he liked to talk and the other was that he liked to smile. And for the most part, Richard was accomplishing both at the same time, flashing his toothy grin as he chattered away.
Immediately, we bonded over one thing: New Orleans, which I had to ask about the second I found out he grew up in Franklin, Louisiana. I have recently taken a trip with some friends (Esther included) to NOLA and was greatly impressed with all the French culture. The second we realized we shared a love for this terribly humid and below-sea-level city, we gushed about the mouthwatering Cajun dishes and the on-point street music. As we went on agreeing heartily with each other, Richard announced to me that he himself used to sing and dance. What kind of dancing, I asked as I did my best to calm my eyebrows that have become raised at the thought of this fully tatted 60-year-old man dancing to... well, anything. But he still must have sensed my shock since he chuckled shyly and said, oh pretty much all sorts of dancing, it runs in the family you know. It turned out his father sang and danced, his grandfather sang and danced, and his grandfather’s father did the same.
For just a little while as his thoughts became so vibrant, the mumblings of hunger around us dimmed and we were transported 50 years back. We arrived at a Christmas party around the fireplace, with women spinning at the side of their men and the feet of children tapping away. And there was Richard, capering right into the crowd. I noticed he never answered what dancing he did, but I decided it wasn’t important. All I really needed to know was that he sang and danced.
* * *
So whenever anyone talks to me about life stages, my mind always runs to a wall of shelves – one that is not so stagnant. Don’t ask me why, it just does. I guess what I’m picturing is a tall wall, with all the thoughts we have ever possessed being the pottery pieces placed ever so delicately on the individual shelves, and our most current thoughts on the very bottom. For the most part, as life goes on and as the past becomes more and more of a passing, that piece of memory is shifted a little higher and a bit more out of our grasp. But occasionally, we reach for that ceramic article from years ago and suddenly we find ourselves lurking onto a past shelf and into a different stage.
When Richard and I began talking about our families, I grabbed a teacup from a couple shelves up and he tiptoed to reach for a mug all the way at the top. And somehow, we ended up on the same shelf. I learned that his father was similar to how mine used to be – distant and astringent. That was all he said about his father, and I left it at that. But with gladness, he boasted of his grandma and of how she spent her entire life at the farm they lived. His narration of her made me squeal, which only encouraged him to come up with more elaborate stories. Of how she knew to slaughter pigs and made squirrels and possums for breakfast.
Richard’s grandma reminded me a lot of Janie from Their Eyes Were Watching God. She had a loud voice and a strong glare and wasn’t afraid of chasing her kids down the street when disciplining them. Even until the very end of her life, she remained the head of the household, teaching her grandchildren and loving them all the more. At 92, she passed and was buried on their hill.
Richard paused his story-telling and sat there. I asked if he has gone back since to visit. Nah, he said. Not for a while. I sighed loudly without even realizing having done so and looked away to hide whatever mix of emotions I felt while Richard remained immobile with a faint smile. I thought back to when I stood in the tall grass next to my father in front of my grandpa’s grave, staring at the plain stone erected in front of us. My father and I had turned away from each other, both pretending to be strong but actually using the wind to blow away the tears from our faces. That was my last time visiting my grandpa because not even a year later, his grave had become drown out by the new graves that were dug and all the weed growing around it.
A woman with droopy eyes wrapped in a large Indian blanket interrupted our silence by shuffling into a seat at the round table we were at. Richard either didn’t notice her appearance or decided to ignore it, but he continued to gaze ahead. I nodded at the woman and tried to give her a genuine smile. As I opened my mouth to fake a perky hi, I suddenly felt exhausted. So, I pursed my lips back together into a smile and looked up at the ceiling.
I could feel the woman glancing at Richard and then at me, back and forth several times, probably sensing the solemnity. A smile started on my face as I thought about how awkward it must have been for her. Finally, Richard spoke again.
He was the bad apple, he said, and that his sister was the good one. She went off to college and opened a hair salon, but he ran off to Galveston to catch shrimp. For years he stayed there until he broke a finger and had to stop. I thought about Bubba while he chimed that it was for the good anyway because his motto had always been if one trade doesn’t work out, change the trade. I repeated his motto slowly back to him, doubting its validity but signaling him to continue his story.
After his finger had forbidden him from catching any more shrimp, he traveled to Dallas and married a girl named Mackenzie, a cheerleader for the Dallas Cowboys he said. One day, after he bought a convertible with the money they had saved, she raged into the bathroom while he was showering and stabbed him twice on the left arm before storming off. It was no secret that he was relishing the deliver of this account as he held out his arm to disprove my unbelief. And there it was, the deepest and darkest scar I have ever seen. Apparently, they were saving up money for an SUV or just any family-friendly car. But there he went, carelessly using up all their savings on a two-seated convertible. I laughed and pointed out that as a woman, it was almost understandable that she was so upset.
Since then, he developed a case of insomnia, afraid that she would murder him in his sleep. Amused by this tale, I thought carefully before asking if they were still married. He shook his head with a twinkle and we both laughed, though thinking back, there was nothing funny about the situation.
Just then, a 4th year student came over to get me. While getting up to leave, Richard made a snide comment saying I would go and would never come back to see him. I shook my head with a smile and then, not wanting to lie, simply told him I was glad for him, that he was no longer married to someone who tried to kill her own husband. He agreed, we hugged, and parted ways. As I trailed behind the student, I pondered on his story and couldn’t help but chuckling to myself and shaking my head once more, remembering his motto again and that it was probably his motto that landed him at where he was. So, I made a mental note to always stick to my trade. And that I should never marry a psychopath, no matter how attractive he may be.