It's the first of October and the very first breeze is about to blow across the stark desert sky that raised me. The 100+degree summer that left the locals succumbed to swimming pools and ice-cold movie theaters in my hometown borderland has now made its annual pilgrimage to the fall; my favorite time there.
The weather is moderate enough now that movies in the park have started. Kids on Saturday evenings will douse themselves to their mother's delight with bug spray. Women will wander around in sandals and sundresses toting around plastic cups with wine while munching on tortilla chips, fresh guacamole and hatch chile from the potluck table under the gazebo. They'll talk about their children's teachers this fall. They will sit down, on the one patch of grass in the borderland, atop their picnic blankets and settle in for the fall as their kids intermittently watch the movie, intermittently play soccer.
Soon, Halloween night at Madeline Park will be happening, my favorite day of the year there. At precisely 5:30pm, the kids from Mesita Elementary will line up in their costumes for the judging contest, followed by the parade of costumes around the park. Adults will be dressed up, too...some more outrageous than the kiddos. Adults will have spicy-somethings in their beverages, after all...everyone will be walking home around 9. There will be pizza at one house, posole at another. The endless train of children each adorned with a costume better than the last will go up to decorated house after decorated house to get candy, using the restroom in their neighbor's house as needed. There are no strangers here.
I am so lucky that I miss this magical place.
Six years ago, I was at a birthday party for one of my friend's children. I ran into the kitchen to grab something to drink, and an acquaintance from high school happened to be in the kitchen as well. I didn't know him well at the time, I knew we went to high school, I'd faintly remembered hearing his band, Foss, play at one of the few high school parties I'd attended (after sneaking out). I knew he had just finished up writing his book after choosing not to run for re-election on City Council, and instead was was running for Congressman as a long-shot against an incumbent that had been in the seat for awhile. I was not the political type, so his friendly questioning and recollection initially came at me with a bit of a shock. I was surprised he wanted to talk with me, I wasn't even registered to vote, and I mentioned this in the first two minutes of our conversation. He didn't seem to care.
We chatted long enough that my then-husband came looking for me. I remember how interested he was in my story. I was more than ashamed, living with my family on Piedmont Road back in college with my grown-ass husband and two children. But, he didn't make it shameful at all. Instead, he listened with intensity...leaning in to make sure he heard my words when they were so soft I was hoping they weren't caught. I wasn't going to lie to him, but I really didn't want to tell the truth. His three kids in the other room were getting their face painted with my children, his sweet wife....his sister, my friend, also in attendance. But, he was there with me. In the kitchen. Leaning in. He was fully present, with me and only me. We chatted about the challenges of healthcare in the border city and my future life as a nurse. We talked about our high school days and all of the friends we had in common. I noticed myself emerging during the conversation, finding my words...feeling worthy. We talked about the school our children were attending. I asked him about the water fountain at Madeline Park, reminding him that is hasn't worked since we were children.
I saw him a few days later, while picking up my children at school. He called me by name and asked me about nursing school. Our circle of friends were many the same, so I'd see him...at neighborhood barbecues, at the school night out events, at Movies In The Park, at weekend gatherings. We got more conversational, we got more familial. I felt comfortable asking his opinion on things. His son attended my son's birthday party. His wife and I would chat about what it means to love a man who's life is dedicated to service. Over six years, I would divorce, be a single-working mom as a night-shift nurse, would fall in love with another, and eventually leave my hometown to go where I felt called. I would become his fan, his constituent. I would register to vote.
I booked a plane ticket to go home this November. In 35 days, I'll be home for four short ones. I miss home...I miss home in the Autumn, during Halloween, during mid-term election season when my friend is running for office and I want to be there...with him, his sweet wife, his kind and supportive sister. I want to be present at the victory party, to wear a shirt with his name on it....to share beers with my friends...to split a bottle of wine with the women that I love, and maybe get my face painted. I want to give him a hug. He honored me, 6 years ago in that kitchen...when I felt shame and he didn't allow it. He reminded me that good men really do exist. Now, I'd like to honor him.
It's Saturday night and Foss is playing. I want to go out, but I have to wait until my parents go to bed first. We are so divided right now, we are so polarized. But, there is hope. There is a way. Leaders will rise. Madeline Park on Halloween night is not a fictitious place, it really does exist. When I close my eyes, I can feel it.
We can always find our way home.