(Originally posted at The Mess That Is Me on April 20, 2011)
Everyone has a story. Everyone. The bartender who stands behind the wooden counter polishing the stained surface as he listens to other stories being told over whiskey has his story. The librarian who whispers the code for the hiding place of a Tale of Two Cities has a story. The hooker looking for a ride, the pastor behind the pulpit and the person delivering your mail, all have stories and most want someone, even if it's just one person, to know their story.
That's the part I love - digging in and finding out someone's story. No two are ever the same even within siblings that grew up together. My story doesn't match my sister's and each of my kids has their own unique tale behind the curtain of their outward lives. Every person is different; therefore, every story is different. And that is how bookshelves become full, with the multitude of stories that are out there.
But everyone has a story. Take this tall, rail of a brunette here at the gas station with me. She's young, but drives an old person's car. Her hair hangs loose but thin around her oblong face and around her shoulders she wears a crocheted mesh shawl. She's alone and as she pumps her gas into her aqua blue car she's singing. Not some current Rhianna song or a pop tune that survived the 80's. No, this twenty-something year old is singing opera. I'm a show tune guy myself so I'm really guessing about the opera part. It was either that or that high-end churchy stuff because she was singing in Latin. Or was it Spanish? It really doesn't matter. The point is she has a story. What's made her dress forty years older than she is and listen to music belonging to other generations? And what has caused her to sing it while pumping gas at a 7-Eleven?
That's where my mind goes. Do I ask her? Of course not. I don't like approaching people who sing at gas stations. I find it best to be on my merry little way and think of her story on my own. Perhaps she was raised by nuns from the Old Country, whatever that means. I've often wondered about this Old Country people refer to and the only thing I come up with is that it's before the Carter years. These nuns, however, have never heard of Brittany Spears and have cloistered our gas pumper away with Irish choral arrangements. Finally turned loose in the world, she can only cope by singing the music of her home while wearing the shawl left her by Sister Sufferance.
Okay, in reality her story is probably more like the shawl was left in the car by her grandmother and she was chilly. She sang because she was practicing for a church solo and she just happens to be one of those people that like attention in strange places like gas stations. I do tend to embellish, but as always, I blame the writing gene within.
There's an elderly man that rides his electric scooter in front of the store where I work. Everyday he pulls up into a parking space and stares into our store for five minutes before backing out and going on his way. He sometimes has a small dog on his lap and he pulls a little trailer with this motorized chair. He's not handicapped in anyway, physical or mental. He's just...odd. I wonder about his story. I wonder if the small dog became dinner. The man needs a bath and a job, or at least a hobby because he really creeps me out when he stares at us that way.
"What are you doing behind the Coke cooler?” Joel, my boss, asks.
"He's back.” I'm pressed flat so the man can't see me. Joel ducks down as well and suddenly I don't feel so strange. "What in the world is that old man staring at?"
No one ever knows and none of us want to venture out to get an answer. It's probably a trick of some kind produced by panhandlers who grew exhausted of begging on corners. Seeing the old man in the chair we step outside, our hearts breaking at the fact that there's no ramp for his scooter and he's trapped outside able only to stare at the marvels he could have if only he could walk
"Is there something I can help you with, Sir?"
"Yea, you can give me five bucks."
"Anything besides giving you money, Sir?"
"Sure. Buy me a beer."
And soon we're back inside hiding.
It's not just people with stories, either. Objects have tales within them waiting to be told by someone who can speak to the inanimate. In a walkway beside our store there was an oversized suitcase left leaning against the wall. A note attached said, "Sorry for the inconvenience."
I was confused as to who was being inconvenienced. Not us, as none of us used that walkway. My guess is the only person suffering from the luggage being stranded there was the person who owned it. The dark blue Samsonite even had the number for the police department on it. Did that mean some vice cop left his secret identity there? I quickly envisioned drug cartels leaving their stash in a dark alley beside a pizza joint or an officer stuffed inside after being narced out.
"We should call the cops."
"I'm not the lost and found."
"What if there's a body in there?"
"I'm not the coroners either."
A few days later, I was in Wal-Mart and saw a little old lady walking in with that dark blue suitcase in tow.
"She's the oldest looking vice cop I ever saw."
"She must keep her youthful identity in the bag."
Now, you may think my story with the narc officer overdramatic, but I'm telling you, a week later the bag and the old lady were gone. There's a story there.
All writers are journalists to a degree. Some dig for the true stories while others dig for stories that seem true. It's what keeps our minds going. The thrill of discovering what others never have underneath the shallow surface of an individual, fleshing out a history that has been dormant for years, buried behind walls of doubt or fear, these make me ask the questions that others shie away from. I'm nosy; I have to know.
I’m not satisfied knowing who you are now. I want to know who you were. The past has paved the way to the present in order to create a bridge to the future. To know what makes people tick, to get inside their minds, is what piques my interest. Why did you make that decision that you knew was wrong? Or was it the right decision? How was your life growing up? Did you grow up?
Everyone has a story and real life can make great fiction if we learn to ask the deeper questions. People exist below the surface. Dare to listen and submerge yourself in a story that few may ever know.
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Until next time, Keep chasing your fantasies!