Wednesday, January 14, 2009

In Search of My People

I was at my 20th high school reunion, telling my second story of the night about people who had tried to claim me as members of their group, but who I wasn't in a position to understand or appreciate. "These are not my people," I explained. Wendy, who I grew up with but hadn't seen for twenty years, said that there seemed to be a lot of people who weren't my people.

She had a point.

I thought it best not to try to defend my orneriness, which at least I realize isn't defensible, so I told her The Green-Armed Sweater story, which goes like this:

When I was 19 and taking a little break from college, I moved up to my parent's ski house in Jackson, NH to be a ski instructor. One rainy January day, the lifts closed early and I went to North Conway to buy a chunky Guatemalan sweater that my parents had given me the money for as a Hanukah gift. The store I went to had just opened that fall and was in a little building behind the Eastern Slope Inn that probably used to be a carraige house. It was owed by a brother and sister named Michael and Michelle and was filled with wool and cotton, batik and fanciful weaving. It was heated by a small woodstove and smelled like wool and patchouli.

Michael was the only one in the shop and was delighted to have a customer. He joined me by the sweater display and decided that I should sit on the bench by the woodstove and he would show the sweaters to me until I found the exact right one. I've never been all that particular about my clothes, but I accepted the offer on its friendliness and sat down. There were over 100 sweaters and as we made our way through the stacks I felt like I had to make some comments about them. This one was perhaps too groovy earth-motherly for me, another perhaps not enough. You get the idea. Then Michael began to unfold a sweater that originally held great promise. It was mulberry red yarn with a natural-wool yoke flecked with ochre and the brightest blue. And then Michael shook out the arms. And they were inexplicably green, like the sea green crayon in the Crayola pack, from the elbows down. There was nothing to do but laugh in ridicule.

Michael laid the sweater out and explained that he was also bewildered by this sweater when he first saw it at the show in Boston, but then he thought that it was the exact right sweater for someone. He told me he didn't care if it stayed on the shelf for 10 years before that person came in, but he wanted it to be there when they did. I'm not sure if Michael was hoping that I'd be the sweater's person, but it was clear that I wasn't, and clear that the sweater needed to stay on the shelf, waiting for its home to find it. I bought another sweater and went home.

"So you see," I told Wendy, "there are people in the world who are perfectly nice, interesting even, and yet they're just not for me. Best to steer clear lest I distract them from finding true appreciation in someone else." I thought it sounded good. But then the reunion was over and Wendy didn't answer my emails anymore and it was time to rethink.

On the one hand, everyone wants to find a few people, or maybe even a group of them, who understand and appreciate them. On the other hand, it's sort of a cheap and easy way to not deal with people to waive them off with a promise of greater appreciation elsewhere.

Now, it's not like there's a line of potential friends outside my door. This all happens in my head, after all. Still, I like to try to make the best use of my time on the planet, morally, ethically, spiritually--all that. And when I think back to the people I thought were green-armed sweaters--Michael (the sweater guy himself), some coworkers and classmates, the entire state of Oregon except for Gloria and Kori--it sort of occurs to me that it's likely I was far less charming to these folks than they were to me. And with that comes the inescapable truth--it is I, not them, who was the green-armed sweater. And when I think back on high school and a lot of college and the not-so-great jobs and the boyfriends who were incapable of abstract thought--that was time on the shelf.

All of which leads me to the feeling that made me try to write this: enormous, eternal, fill-the-room, holy-shit-think-of-the-alternative gratitude to Earl, who understands me perfectly and loves me anyway. And to Kate, Margaret, Bernadette and my sister with whom I can negotiate the big questions of the day and never fail to be amused, inspired, or humbled. So while I proceed through the world leaving a wake of snickers and perplexed expressions akin to a dog hearing a high-pitched noise, it's nice to know that our world of diversity has room, even blog space, for those of us who are knit with incongruent yarns.


scott said...

Glad to find your musings Amy. In the end we are all green sweaters insignificantly pushed to the side of a back shelf on the salesfloor of the universe. It's a bit Brian Gysin-ish. Let's just hope we don't fall to the floor.

Bernadette said...

And you're my people.