Hey. Could we do that again? I know we haven't met, but I don't want to be an ant. You know? I mean, it's like we go through life with our antennas bouncing off one another, continuously on ant autopilot, with nothing really human required of us. Stop. Go. Walk here. Drive there. All action basically for survival. All communication simply to keep this ant colony buzzing along in an efficient, polite manner. "Here's your change." "Paper or plastic?' "Credit or debit?" "You want ketchup with that?" I don't want a straw. I want real human moments. I want to see you. I want you to see me. I don't want to give that up. I don't want to be ant, you know?
Walking with Amber, I wonder aloud in how many people's stories we feature as nameless background character.
I spend my summer weekdays writing in the library, earplugs in to ward off the distraction of coughs and mouth sounds, the elderly people supplementing their retirement. I clock in over five miles of steps a day, often in town. Some people recognize me, but I am not known to them. Likewise, there are people I know enough to reduce them to sets of descriptors - the bearded man in the t-shirts with cut-off sleeves, a baseball cap, and a pipe; the gangly twenty-something who seems to work everywhere and nowhere and who has recently grown a goatee to mask his no doubt nefarious activities; the middle-aged bottle blonde who peddles free samples of apple cider doughnuts outside her home in hopes we'll buy a dozen and who is never without a smile; the thin girl with the dawn blue eyes and off-kilter smile who serves us ice cream; the dozen of people who show up for Pokémon Go raids and melt back into the night without further conversation. I do not know them, but I would eventually miss not seeing them.
Early into living in Red Hook, Amber and I stopped by a pop-up gallery in town. Months later, when volunteering there, she saw that we have been written up as an artist and her writer boyfriend. Though we don't always warrant a formal or written description, we are visible and unique enough that we must have earned appellations and epithets we will never know. We are the main characters of the story I am telling, but we are someone's depended upon extras.
I don't want to be a near stranger in my home of more than half a decade. I know Red Hook at least as well as Hogwarts or Sunnydale, but remain only on the surface of its people, who stubbornly resist acknowledging I am the protagonist here. The vast majority don't even know I am their writer-in-residence and the one intent to make their birthplace as supernatural as Lovecraft did the one in Brooklyn. Their ignorance that apparent greatness (or persistent local competence) walks among them, sweating from exercise, just seems rude by this metric.
What musician, painter, athlete, weaver, chef couldn't say the same of my own stubbornness in knowing how they think of themselves? I am sure they can't be only the woman checking out my bag of apples, the weary mother dragging her brood down the stairs, the teen trying to mow me down on his bike. They have inner live whose orientations I could not guess.
I don't know most of their stories. There is Juliet, the artist who overcame cancer and specializes in paints of horses. Gayle, who runs the bait shop and Bigfoot Researchers of the Hudson Valley. Joe, who runs the spiritual café. Dawn, who organizes the programming for the library.
If I want connection so much, why not get to know some of the people I pass on the street, the ones with whom I share acknowledging nod? With what little I can admit to knowing about them, none of these people are really in a position to be the sort of friends I need. I am not inviting most of the residents of this town into my home, especially not without cleaning it. However, the utility of other people in this story is not that I treat them as secondary character, but that I recognize them as people. I do not want to be limited. I do not want to turn formic, but I see them only as strangers despite having technically known them far longer than some I try to call friends.
I can control my interactions, reaching out to people and politely transcending the requirements of the interaction. I want to leave as many people as I can better then I found them (without accidentally terrifying them by complimenting their tights). I will not be successful and, to be frank, I can't imagine I will always think to try, but it is worth attempting.
Soon in Xenology: Abuse.