Ryan had this idea of a themed writing project; a bunch of people with blogs would all write on the same day about an experience we associate with a place. I owe Ryan and the other participants in this an apology. I am several days past the agreed-upon deadline.
The other contributions to this series are on these people's blogs: Beth, Jody, Emily, Mandy, Meredith, Ruth, Ryan, Stacy, and Tom.
My blog writings have certainly been personal, but rarely is it about me directly. Almost exclusively, I write about myself via TV shows or movies or something else. Since it is a mode of writing I do not have a lot of experience with, and since I also like the idea of understanding myself better, I wanted to try this experiment. I even made a list of some things that inimitably happened in some place. After doing this, and still taking a few extra days, I ended up with something very much of its place but in which I am an observer, not a participant.
Perkins on Merle Hay Road in Des Moines, Iowa: The couple sitting opposite each other in the booth on the other end of the smoking section was late middle-aged. He was somewhat burly looking and she was matronly. They were dressed up, too, apparently for some sort of country-western event. It seemed like they had put a lot of effort and time into their appearances that night; they did not look at all like Perkins was where they were supposed to be. It was late at night, though. They had a bouquet of flowers lying on the table.
They were crying. They were not weeping furtively or anything like that, nor was their crying anything that seemed celebratory or joyous. It was serious, remorseful crying. After a while, the guy moved over to sit next to the women and put his arm around her. They both continued to cry.
Obviously I have no idea what the back-story to this scene might contain but the incongruity of the setting and their dress, and their totally unself-conscious and naked expression, made me assume that it must be real bad. This whole scene lasted somewhere around an hour. I am pretty sure they were still there when I left, but I have no clear memory of leaving. I am equally sure they were there when I arrived, too, but I do not remember that, either. This scene has no prologue or post-script, but when I think about the four years I lived in Des Moines, Iowa, it is easily one of my most indelible memories.
That scene has also become my yardstick for measuring grief. All things considered, my life to this point has been pretty charmed. When I think of the times when I have been terribly sad or mourning, I do not think any of them measure up to this. I could not have sat in Perkins, dressed that well and distinctively, and shut the rest of my surroundings out. These people existed inside whatever it was that bound them to each other while inside the restaurant; it would not surprise me if they never noticed me.
I do not mean to define myself in opposition to these people; I do not think of them as other. Indeed, my streak cannot go on indefinitely. What scares me about this scene, and maybe what makes it so vivid over eleven years on, is that there’s every reason that, at some point, I will know exactly how they came to be there.