There are two things I know for sure about the South. It is muggy and people are friendly. I know more than those two details, of course, but these are the two on my mind tonight, as I sit on the front step of my house at two o’clock in the morning, half-waiting for my senior, overweight chocolate lab to do her business, and half waiting for something else. Anything else.
This isn’t a new experience for me. A couple of months after Lydia was born I started to wake up every morning at three am, like a clock. It didn’t matter what time I went to sleep. It didn’t matter what time my alarm was going to blare into my ear. It didn’t matter if Jackson was asleep, if the world was asleep. My hesitant eyes opened up at three am and listened. For something. For anything.
It is muggy out tonight. The kind of air that sort of just hangs in front of you. Like a bouquet of balloons with nowhere to go, but to float there, suspended in the air right in front of your face. You can move side-to-side to avoid the balloons. You can swat at them, but still, nothing. The thick air is silent. Save for a few frogs and the distant calling of a cat. It’s thick and it’s muggy and it is supposed to be.
Sometimes I lay in bed when I can’t sleep and I have imaginary conversations. Or maybe it’s real conversation with imaginary people. Conversations take place (even if just in my head) and they are between someone I need to talk to right then and me. Tonight I talked to my best friend who lives 1,000 miles away. Tonight I caught up with her. I told her that I miss her. I asked for her advice and I imagined her response. This is something I’ve always done, for as long as I can remember.
There is such a thing as “Southern Hospitality” and it is alive and well here in North Carolina. I remember the first time I was hugged by a complete stranger. I was standing in the middle of the Children’s Public Library in Charlotte with a very preschool Jackson. We had just moved to the area and we were spending our days exploring the summer before kindergarten started. Jerimiah had already settled into his new job and Jackson and I were looking for our routine. We had stopped into the Library one August afternoon after meeting Jerimiah for lunch in Uptown. I had been struggling, as I often am, with issues bigger than myself. I had been feeling sad and alone. I sat on the bench near the play area while Jackson happily chatted a little boy a year or so younger than him. He was another blond-haired little boy, big curls, blue eyes. They seemed to hit it off. I noticed that he kept talking with a robust, black woman who sat on a bench across from me. She didn’t look like she was his mother, but she certainly acted that way. She would call him over to blow his nose and put hand sanitizer on. She would tell him to cover his mouth when he yawned. She would say, “Play nice” when he slammed a car down hard on the carpet. He would look up, smile at her, and promise to obey. The woman and I exchanged glances, and then smiles, as the boys cozied up on the car rug and began a rousing game of flying-tiger-car or something just as fun. Pretty soon she was asking me questions over their heads. Pretty soon I was sitting on the bench next to her divulging my whole life (I’m that person, in case you didn’t know. I believe in attempting to make an immediate connection with people, when it feels right, and the easiest way to get that is to share and share and share, until your eyes are red and you’re reliving the loss of your first hamster to your brand new friend. RIP Miss Piggy. Why beat around the bush if you like the person and they like you? Too many things to talk about, too many small, furry critters to mourn. ) So there we sat, two women. One a mother struggling against all the odds in all the worlds to keep her baby a baby, to make her life slow down, to find answers in unexpected places. And one, a nanny with a positive attitude and enough faith in God and Humanity for both of us. Right before we parted ways, well into the balloons of the afternoon, she grabbed me. Her arms engulfed me like the heat that was waiting outside the doors. She whispered to me that I would be okay. That I would find my place here in North Carolina. And she said not to worry.
Here I am, four years later, sitting on the sticky, brick steps of my house, worrying. I’m worrying about a lot today, but that woman and her arms, her strength, and her positivity keep the anxiety at bay tonight. I’ve always been a “lady of the night” (not that kind, you perv) the kind that finds solace in the empty dark streets. The kind that waits for everyone else to go to sleep, so I can wake up. The kind that looks for answers in the blackness. In the darkness. I remember working at a bar way back in college (the first time). I remember walking out into the cool night air after two am. Closing time. I remember the feeling of being alive, and free, even in the darkness. I guess I’m looking for that feeling again tonight.