Or, something sweet to end with
Ingredients: Listening and being heard, in equal measure
Last night, sitting in the lamp-lit parking lot, guest author Stephanie Barbé Hammer was waiting for me to drive her back to her hotel after her book event at the local library. She sat in the passenger seat with the door open looking intently up at a muscular young Hispanic male standing at the car door. He wore a white tank, his thick dark hair pulled back into a ponytail, a scruff of facial hair. He was looking intently down at her, their eyes locked. He had her full attention.
I don’t know what was said because I was too busy loading up the back of my Subaru wagon, but when I finally sat down in the driver’s seat I could see he had tears on his cheeks. She said her goodbye, and I started to put it into reverse. Then he came back. She rolled down the window. “Will I ever see you again?” he asked. “Probably not.” She answered truthfully but not unkindly. “How can I find you again…?” he stammered. She thought for a moment, then unzipped the bag within her bag that held her business cards, and she handed him one. He thanked her and he went back, reluctantly?, to his friends.
I had noticed him at the tail end of her book event earlier that night. I hadn’t seen him during the reading, but as we were cleaning up, there he was. He offered to help stack chairs. I said sure, thank you, and soon enough all was packed up. We engaged just briefly in conversation. He had brought his friend—a young guy in a hoodie and crew cut—to the event. His friend had said he’d never experienced what it was like to be discriminated against for the color of his skin. He was white.
I don’t know what drew them to the event. I believe they just stumbled upon it. In fact, I’d seen the two of them with a third or even a fourth walking behind the library, and he had been carrying around a glass of something amber colored with a frothy foam on top. They weren’t bothering anyone. They were engaged in their own debate, which I wasn’t deliberately eavesdropping on as I was just walking back to my car for something I needed. But he’d been hanging around, and somehow, at the end, he wound up offering his help, and then, at the very end, engaged in what seemed to be a deeply meaningful conversation with Stephanie.
And then we said goodbye.
Here’s a snippet of a poem by Stephanie Barbé Hammer. Click the title to read the whole thing. night in 5, 1959 (fire island, new york) there are no stars in new york city; the sky is black because the buildings tower up windows of whiteness so try: imagine stars seen for the first time...