The following piece was presented at the Jersey City Writers’ monthly genre event–Reflections: A Reading of Memoir Vignettes. Please enjoy.
She was a smudge in my life, there and gone. No big deal.
Mixed race, cocoa skin, bandana, no makeup, eyes a million years old, even at thirty one.
She spoke thoughtfully in complete sentences. Wrote the same way. After my writing group session I told her she had a voice and should seriously pursue this. She sighed and demurred. No fire, no hunger there. I can be insistent, but I backed off. Something fragile within I didn’t want to shatter.
We spoke briefly no more than half a dozen times at these writing events. Said she was transitioning in her career. Something to do with studying disease in developing countries. But, she confided, her real interest was the paranormal. Couldn’t make a living with that.
I found her on Facebook, sent a friend request, which she ignored. Her timeline—striking photos dating back to high school. Yes, she was beautiful. Lena Horne.
Dorothy Dandridge. Zoe Saldana. Her father, white, thin, academic–anthropologist? Mother—dark, heavier.
At one point she told me her dad was very ill and she had to return home temporarily.
A blog included on Facebook, tracing her college visit to Tanzania. Went from excited to exhausted. Lying in her tiny room, sweat soaked, discouraged. Understanding the futility of African politics. The woman could write even back then.
Her responses to our writing prompts were always deep, elegant, sensitive. I wrote goofy, quirky, satirical. When she smiled at my efforts I clenched my toes. I gave her one of my self published books and inscribed it with three words. Write! Write! Write! She seemed embarrassed.
She brought a slight young man that last time. She seemed peppier than usual. Giddy, actually. Swung her toned legs back and forth; quad muscles popping. Nervous energy. Boyfriend? He left early. No hug, no kiss. Not a boyfriend. I gave her another book, this, a collection of portraits of successful black women. She thanked me, maybe even smiled. I was thinking coffee afterward, small talk, a connection.
She left so quickly I missed it.
There was no hint I would never see her again.
I wonder if her dad died and she relocated home. I went back on her Facebook page and saw a recent head shot—she was face painted like a child. Her online image contradicted the reserved woman I knew. Who was she? Who the hell was she?
Every Wednesday in spring and summer there is free outdoor music near the Path station and the suites where our writing group meets. I sit alone on a bench, searching the audience, the hundreds of commuters streaming past like dancing ants. Back and forth my head moves. A glimpse, just a glimpse of her.
I think of the thousands of words gestating inside her, words that will never touch a page, words lost in her mysterious melancholy. Words we could share.
Smudges. They arrive and vanish. Another smudge appears, but it is only a weak reminder of the one gone forever.
No big deal. Really.