//wander//

 

 


 

NOT ALL WHO WANDER ARE LOST

– J.R.R. TOLKIEN –

 


 

Idaho.

Forests, rivers, wanderers in pickup trucks.

A man with a cardboard sign stands on gravel across the road from a bar called the Plantation, a Chinese restaurant that smells like stale cigarettes and an unfinished church office, all on the same corner. My brain goes off on a tangent that I believe was caused by the Chinese restaurant. Something about how the one downtown is better because the manager is kind and pretty and the wonton soup tastes even better when it rains… Before I can continue on to puddles and wet hair and all the best things that come with rain, the truck jolts and I’m back by the bar, the Chinese restaurant and the church office. My dad is pulling over…

With a smile and a nod, the hitchhiker jogs up to our Ford.
“Hey, do you mind riding in the back?” my dad asks pointing to the bed of the truck.
“Not at all, man! I’m trying to get to McCall.”
“Alright, we’re headed that way, hop in.”
My dad gets out to help the man and his bike safely into the bed of the truck. I just smile and wave. Dad helping out wanderers is commonplace. Honestly this bearded roadside guy appears to have more figured out in life than I do. He can say with complete confidence that he would like to go to McCall. I can say with complete confidence that I would like to go… somewhere with coffee…? Or without coffee. I really don’t care at this point as long as I get somewhere.

There are a few things I learned about this man along our journey: His name is Steve. He had just completed biking the state of Idaho when he met us. He has a friend who is also named Kira. He likes the way she says, “Keep it real, always.”

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As we drive I glance at our wanderer in the rear-view mirror. He’s looking around, eyeing Idaho and all her beauty. She’s a curvy broad with her rolling hills in all the right places, flowers at her feet and birds in her hair. Staring at her is a given for anyone who is not blind.

The road continues on to the winding Lewiston grade. I think I’d be scared if I were in the back of a stranger’s truck, rushing past so many semis and clunkers turn after turn. But not this guy… If he ever had a worrier’s mind, he let it go a long time ago. He has the look of someone who’s known peace not just as a passerby but as a close friend.

When we drop him off in McCall, he still seems genuinely grateful, even though he just spent hours in the freezing wind, sitting on bark in a truck bed. What matters to him his that he’s made it to his next step. He’s that much closer to home in Oregon.

As less than inspired conversationalists, my dad and I speak to him briefly and without much intention. Then my dad shakes his hand and hitchhiker Steve walks out of the gas station parking lot and down the sleepy streets of McCall.

“Sorry I couldn’t think of anything meaningful to say to him,” my dad says to me as we climb back into the truck.

“I think helping him and saying nothing is better than saying the right thing and doing nothing.”
“Very true…” he replies, “That was deep.”
“Not really.”
“Any deeper and I’d need scuba gear.”
I smirk. The line about deep conversation requiring scuba gear is from another traveler he once met along the way.

“Keep it real always…” I say in my best Steve voice.

“Keep it real always,” he laughs.

And we wander on.

 

Boys in Laundry Rooms and Freckles on Faces

~October 2014~

“I don’t like my freckles. They make it too hard to memorize my face,” said the boy next to me in a lecture hall filled with obnoxious college students texting and snap chatting.

First thought, “I’ll memorize your freckles…”
Second thought (which only occasionally comes along to save the day before I speak), “Kira, you were far too intrigued by that sentence than you should have been. You know what happens when you over-think and your brain reaches a weird combination of poesy and cheekiness… Don’t. Say. A word!”
I listened to the second thought… Sort of. I think I either giggled or said something unmemorable or both.
I did however write his words down in my notes. That probably didn’t seem weird at all if he happened to see….

Now comes the part where I over-analyze a statement that was probably not intended to mean anything. Welcome to my mind. This is how it works. For the life of me, I can’t help it.
Here I am, next to a confident, practical guy. Former marine. Studious. Logical. Brown eyes, which is only relevant because… well, brown eyes.

Why would he say something as silly as, “I don’t like my freckles. They make it too hard to memorize my face.”?
I even inquired to clarify and he seemed entirely uninterested in memorizing his own face. Naturally it follows that what frustrates him is that someone else can’t memorize his face.
Why would that matter??
What relevance is there to someone knowing every aspect of another’s face? Every freckle!?
But it does matter. Maybe to Mr.Military next to me it only matters an off-handed sentence’s worth. Probably more. Either way it matters.
It matters to everyone. We all want to be known. We want to be recognized for exactly who we are. We want to be admired down to the freckle.


~January 2014~

A cot shoved in the corner of a laundry room. Warm, at least the warmest place to be found that January. Yellow post-it notes with disjointed ponderings on the walls. No door.

Scene set for the bedroom(?) of one of my favorite people I’ve met along the way.

Never one to say everything he was thinking (or much at all of what he was thinking). Witty. Personable. Blue eyes, which is only relevant because… well, blue eyes.

Repeat standard: person says something I like… I write it down.
A few days later he saw what I had written, and unlike with Charmer McFreckle-Face on campus, it didn’t make me uncomfortable. After all I was a frequent peruser of his sticky notes. Thought for thought I suppose.
What surprised me was that he cared that his words were written there amongst all the other doodles and thoughts. Left to my own I would have assumed it didn’t mean much to him at all. I can think of few things in the world that are as unimportant as my tattered pocket-sized notebook. No one reads it except for me, and apparently strange boys who sleep on cots. But he told me it mattered…

The only reason I can gather as to why a scribble in my notebook would matter is that it was a scribble that made him feel noticed, appreciated… known. If only just for a single thought, known.

If I imagine a world where something about me were to show up on one of his sticky notes, then suddenly I understand.


~August 2014~

Laundry room again. Different laundry room.
Boy again. Different boy.
He wants me because to him I am convenient. I am fun. If I never speak to him again it won’t bother him. I know this. And so I tell him nothing truly meaningful about myself. Only surface things. Only laughter from the throat and not from the belly.
He shows me his books and tells me about his hopes and ambitions.
He’s cute. I like him. Yet I do not want him to know my heart, my thoughts, things I write down in my little notebook when my mind gets too crowded to lock everything inside.

He will know me on a shallow level. A skin to skin and no deeper level. I will think that I am safe because he did not get to see my heart. I will be wrong.
To be unknown by those who are closest is lonely. It highlights an emptiness.
But my sense of self is too worn down to put in the effort. Too tired to place things in the selfless and careful order in which they ought to go.

I think of his sweetness. His perfectly nerdy descriptions of novels and engineering and reptiles. His hazel eyes which are only relevant because… well, I guess to me they are not relevant at all. So I let him slip away without a word, and I’ve put in far too little to care that he is gone.


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