I haven't felt farther from the place I call home in a long time. New York is as much home for me as anywhere else and though I made the decision to leave it, maybe just for a moment or maybe more permanently, it is hard to be away from it now and not to be able to help. It's an amazing thing to see the way people come together in support, in kindness, in ways we lose sight of in our everyday life. I'm proud to call New York a home... but I'm geographically, culturally, emotionally a million miles away in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.
I've spent the last three elections in New York, at the White Horse Tavern in the West Village, at an upstate basement bar, and at the Bell House in Brooklyn and then the streets between St. Mark's and Park Place on Classon Avenue late at night in 2008... before that the canyon facing streets of West Hollywood and before that, well, before that I didn't vote yet and I was a teenager and I admit, in my head maybe the world revolved around my small world, before that I didn't know what was happening. at least not on the grand scope, the scope where I felt impact. Now here I am in New Mexico, not a television in sight; Obama/Biden sides spiking the dusty trailer yards and Hot Springs parking lots give me hope, though.
I've been here just a few days, settling in to what my friend Erin likes to call "Writer's Camp", a tiny retreat, three studios facing a courtyard,
complete with fire pit and herb garden
and laid open beneath the wide sky. I've written 9,000 words, collected mesquite from the desert to smoke ribs, driven around new mexico's biggest lake,
run a dusty road along the Rio Grande, and wandered ghost town streets.
That's just the beginning, but this story is taking shape. Taking on a life of it's own. Here's a piece of it.
I could tell you, and I guess I will and I am going to tell you, that there was nothing about him, at least at the very first, that matched or came close to anything I had expected. And there never is. I have read enough and watched enough and maybe even, at least now, lived enough, to know that nothing is ever what you expect it to be and most of the time it may even be close to the opposite. But I was still, no, I am still shocked. And feel mostly blurry and underwater and, like they always say, that I am watching someone else’s life unravel on-screen.
He was barefoot when he came to the door. Which is not strange at all, not strange even a little bit, but there was something so human and simple about it. Something about it that made me feel terrible in the beginning, that he had no idea what was coming and there was no reason to think about putting shoes on or anything at all, it was just a Sunday afternoon and someone had come to the door of his house, which probably happened all the time, and of course it would be someone he knew, stopping by for a beer or asking for the skill saw he had borrowed or wanting to drop off mail that had been delivered by accident. There was something so innocent about the barefoot-ness. Somehow he had no defenses to say anything like “But I don’t have a sister. I don’t even have any shoes on.”
He was middle-aged. I guess. I mean, he was the age that most people’s parents seem to be-- the parents of most people my age. He opened the door and stood there, uncertain maybe, but smiling, noticing that I was too old to be selling girl scout cookies and probably that a Jehovah’s witness would not be wearing a tank-top and cut-off shorts but at least there was nothing particularly threatening about me. He filled the frame of the door. He was tall and broad but I could see behind him the corner of a couch—shades of green, the edge of a coffee table piled high with magazines, a tricycle on its side. His hair was brownish probably but mostly gone, short and spotty as if he’d shaved it and decided to try letting it grow again. His right arm, the arm that held the door open, was painted thick with tattoos. I saw blue fish scales and flames of some kind and dark lines like wrought iron gates. His left arm, descending from the sleeve of a black-faded-grey t-shirt, was pale and white and un-painted.
Hi, he said. Finally. After seconds or minutes. After I’d hade time to notice how paper thin his jeans were and how his broad chest looked exactly like my dad’s—not fat but not exactly muscle bound either, and that he had eyes that were at once grey and green. Like mine. Because I think we always look at the eyes for resemblance first.
Hi, I said.
He raised his eyebrows in anticipation, not unkind, but maybe impatient.
Can I help you?
Well, I said. Because obviously that was a loaded question. But he had no way of knowing this. And I had rehearsed a million speeches but who can remember those speeches and anyway, they were all inside, sitting down, over coffee, or sometimes a beer, and I realized suddenly that I had never imagined how I would get into the house.
I’m not sure where to start, I said. His eyes pinched together, curiosity maybe. And this is going to sound crazy, I went on. I’m sorry to just show up like this. On a Sunday. When you and your family are probably barbecuing or something and—I stopped suddenly, realizing I had forgotten something very important.
Are you Casper Garrity? I asked.
He nodded very slowly.
So, I said. I’m your sister. My name is Hattie. Garrity. And then I held out my hand.
As I did this, the painted arm that had been holding on to his front door dropped to his side, but neither hand rose to meet mine. He was still looking at me, his eyes still slightly pinched, his face in the same half smile, encouraging and uncertain. And after a moment he brought his hands together and rubbed them back and forth and breathed in and then out very slowly.
Now I just nodded.
And then he smiled and almost chuckled a little bit. He looked over my shoulder.
It’s just you Hattie? he asked, looking towards my car.
I nodded again.
I would have guessed she’d name her daughter Hattie.
And then we stood there. I didn’t think then, but I thought it later that night, how strange it was that he’d say something like that, that he’d have some knowledge of my mom and things like what she’d name her daughter.