I’m fresh back from a self styled writer’s retreat. There was no instructor, no group workshopping my thoughts. There was only me in a borrowed cottage on a bay, writing. It’s not that I can‘t write at home. It’s that I don’t always get down to business. Things distract me at home. Like working and laundry and our endless summer vacation trips. Interesting, but not what’s been floating around my mind for the last few months. See, I’ve got this new idea for a story. I had an urge to sit it down to get it out and I did. The environment was beautiful, with not a sound except bird calls and the flag at the end of my pier flapping in the wind.
I had not a single complaint, except that I was the only African American I saw for nine days.
With not one person who looked like me, I felt awkward and well, awkward.
That shouldn’t be a big deal, I’ve been black my whole life. I am covered from head to toe in brown skin, and it doesn’t startle me to be this way. But I startled my neighbors, which annoyed me in the beginning. But after the first, oh, fifteen times or so, it made me sad. People did double takes as I jogged down the street, entered restaurants, and even the library. They recovered fairly quickly; this town does its share of tourism during the summer, but I found that when I stress people out, it stresses me out, too.
I was officially a stranger, and not because I am strange. I was wearing jeans, boots, a sweater and a ponytail – just like many of them. These similarities only served to make our only real differences more glaring.
A toddler wandered over to me while I was drinking coffee when I waved at her at a quaint shop near the water. “How’s that baby?” I greeted her. She smiled and handed me a napkin that was blowing around the terrace. I thanked her, and she leaned her arm on mine.
“Owie?” She asked, rubbing my skin very lightly.
“Brown,” I told her. And then, she licked my arm. Twice.
This poor baby thinks I taste differently? Like, I might be chocolate or gingerbread?
Her mom swooped in and picked her off me, explaining that small children are very oral, and gave her sincere apologies. Good thing; because I’d never met a human baby before that day, and might have jumped to the wrong conclusion.
Stressed, in relaxation? Never thought that would happen.
But that event made me think of a verse from the Bible, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
No, I don’t think I’m an angel. But I’m not a serial killer, either. I was just slightly stir crazy wanna be writer looking for hot caffeine. And that isn’t a bit scary. At least it doesn’t have to be.
It also made me think:
Do I assume that people are what they look like?
I’m liable to walk past someone and dismiss them, or worse, not even actually seen them. Scary thinking. Even worse than the serial killer in the woods by the lake, in my opinion.
And then I found her: A resident who did not flinch when I walked in. She did, however ask me to walk out from behind the counter where I’d wandered, looking for cold cuts. My bad – when I’m distracted, I tend to be tacky. Once I got to the correct side of the room, she was as genial as one would expect a gourmet sandwich maker to be. She didn’t know much about my town, but told me all kinds of things about my temporary home, and even gave directions to some local attractions when I needed a break. The food was delicious, and I would’ve gone to that shop again, if the sandwich she made me wasn’t as big as my head. I ate that sandwich for the next three meals. It tasted like acceptance.
So, if you’re ever in the area, the city part of this neck of the woods, and are looking for someone who looks like you or, better yet, someone who doesn’t care what you look like, look me up. I’ll entertain you. And I promise I won’t lick you.