Befriend Strange Strangers
by Kathryn McDanel
I attract strangers with wild blue eyes, extravagant hand gestures, and frothing mouths. The ones with knotted hair and baggy clothing layered like onions. The bottle tippers, the bag carriers, the needle plungers. I entice those who’ve fallen into rough crowds and war zones, my presence calling for those who’ve endured tough times and soup lines.
Or perhaps I say this in vain.
I might be the one drawn to anomalies.
My introduction to those on the fringes of society, conceivably sanity, started at a young age. I grew up with a missionary mother who would swing open the door for any set of rapping fists and a fugitive father familiar with the sort of back-aches that only come from sleeping outside. My parents befriended the friendless. I’d often walk home from school to find my mom drinking tea and chatting with a Jehovah Witness about the legitimacy of Jesus. I’d stroll into the backyard to find my dad working with a man overtaken by piercings, tattoos, and talk of how to correctly water a Delphinium so that its spike-like petals will not wilt. They collected the eccentric in a small town that discarded them.
I grew up knowing the infamous cat lady, the reclusive writer awaiting the end times, and the man who collected plastic flamingos. I listened to stories of fiery lakes, pet five cats at once, and questioned why my parents would make me converse with a man who only talked about the wonders of a bird infamous for eating copious amounts of shrimp.
Now I understand.
My parents were drawn to those distorting social normalities because they were real - not an imitation, not an artificial projection - but genuine in the aspects of their existence. My parents were interested by those who spoke their beliefs with spitting mouths, slamming fists, and sweeping eyes because too often people mumble with hands clasped and eyes downcast. It’s easy to be fake. It’s simple to become a mindless reproduction, a collection of spurious claims, ultimately a pseudo-person. All one has to do is avoid the peculiarities, the thoughts springing into the mind at three in the morning, the compilation of things that constitutes a human. Sometimes it’s hard to embrace the quirks that separate you from any other bundle of bones on this planet. But it’s necessary.
When I find myself in a public place, I often attempt to strike up a conversation with the person next to me. I’ll tolerate conversations with businessman about the weather. I’ll accept the mindless response of “good and you?” to the timeless question of “how are you today?”. But I live for the idiosyncratic strangers who skip the introductions and respond without reciting a script.
I don’t remember the people who told me it was nice out.
I don’t remember the people who mechanically announced they were good.
I remember the young adult in a dirty sweatshirt who pointed to a cemetery and said, “I’m not there so I must be doing okay.” I remember the wrinkling, fedora-wearing man who offered me a piece of Mary Jane candy before announcing, “the wheel will turn on” as a cigarette dangled from his lips. The aging lady who sat down beside me at a cafe and told tales of doing acid in sunflower fields. The limping man with a shark-vertebrae cane, the smiling woman who danced past, the Greyhound passenger who identified with Dean Moriarty. The writer with an overflowing notebook. The War Veteran. The Satanist.
I remember the anomalies, and sometimes, I hope they remember me too.