Scenography in the Park

We encounter many people in our daily routine, but we never know who will have the biggest impact on our lives.  

I pass the same dilapidated kiosk of wares every day. On most days, I actually pass two or three times a day. Initially, I go north, then head south as I return home. I’ve imagined what it would look like if an omnipresent camera has been recording footage all this time. The silent film made from the snippets of me passing plays in fast forward through my mind. It’s as if scenes were strung together and the other roughly 52,520 hours of tape was cut out.  

Action: 

First, my husband and I walk by. We look younger, tanner and thinner. In the next scene, we stroll along with our puppy. Our new neighbors stop to say how cute she is. Later, I walk briskly by, trying to stay in shape as my belly grows in pregnancy. Each day, I pass and it’s noticeably bigger. My stride gets slower, wider and heavier. 

The plot of our life plays out in front of this one imaginary camera angle. My husband proudly carries our newborn son against his chest as he tries to soothe him to sleep on a hot summer evening. Next, I jog with a toddler sleeping in the stroller, working to get rid of those last few pounds. The three of us walk together, tiny hands holding our fingers. Then, we run to chase him. We stumble trying to hold onto his handlebars for one more moment before he rides on his own.  

The seasons change again and again. Our outfits change. The footage rolls on and I’m getting round again. It’s becoming hard to keep up with this energetic boy. The dog is loyal and she waits for me, he doesn’t. Winter comes again and I can’t zip up my coat.  

Finally, there are four of us. Our daughter joins the troupe in the same way her brother did. In our arms, in the stroller and, eventually, on her own two feet. We keep passing along the path in the park - back and forth – going about our lives. 

Cutaway Shot:  

Sometimes I used to stop at the kiosk and chat about the weather as my dog sniffed around. Or I’d kiss my son’s knee after he fell off his new bike. Then, I would engage in a lively conversation that consisted of complaints about some perceived problem in our perfect little town. Trash collectors not passing that day, heroin addicts sleeping on the benches or the general lack of maintenance of our (in reality) beloved park were all part of the script.   

My dog is a spotted mutt named Buggy with a brown patch over one eye, just like all of the archetypal dogs of cartoon families. She loves to pee in the gravel. Though it doesn’t stop me from giving her the freedom to relieve herself where she pleases, I’ve noticed this drives the “owner” of the used book kiosk crazy. I put owner is quotation marks, because I’m quite sure he has no official ownership rights to that square of gravel in the city park.     

A recovering alcoholic named Antonella just set up a table one day and started putting some used books on display. It grew from there. A canopy was erected at some point. Then, faded boho clothing, crocheted doilies and abstract knickknacks were set out on the table and hung from the canopy structure. She eventually appropriated the shed behind the gravel patch and used it to store her precious goods that nobody ever purchased. Antonella would put them away with care each evening and lock them up before slinging her backpack over her shoulder and walking four miles back to her home. She walked because she had no car. No car, no real job...her only possession was that ratty backpack and a house that she inherited from her estranged father.  

And she had this square of gravel in the park, which she had claimed over the years. I think that, because she was friendly and harmless, nobody ever cared to shoo her away. The local police passed by regularly in their patrol car or on horseback and never bothered Antonella or her kiosk. We all knew that she wasn’t supposed to be operating a cash-only business on public property with no permit whatsoever. But it was also clear that this failing business was all she had left.  

Aside:  

You’re right, I wrote “he” when I first mentioned the only vendor who has apparently been given permission by omission to set up shop in our park. There’s a man running the kiosk now. I don’t know his name. Though I still pass every day – taking Buggy for a walk, bringing the kids to the playground, on my way to meet a friend for coffee – I haven’t stopped to chat with this guy. He unofficially took over the stall on the one day Antonella didn’t show up to claim it, as she had done every other morning before that.  

Cut Back: 

That was the day on which I found out her name was Antonella. That was the day I found out that she had a sad back story as an alcoholic and an even lonelier existence once she dug into recovery. That was the day our chain-smoking neighbor told us that Antonella had decided not to walk all the way to her kiosk. Instead, she laid down on the railroad tracks and waited for release from this world.  

Final Scene: 

Now, that kiosk is a sad landmark for me. It serves as an allegory to be kind to the people who I encounter as I go about my life. I think about the nameless extras making cameos in my home video sometimes. Though action may unfold in a way that looks like an adaptation of the perfect story, you never know what’s really going on in the background. We don’t get to cast the actors who will play a role in our lives, but we do have a choice of how to interact with them. It’s so clear now that not everyone gets their happy ending.  

Cut.  


Content Marathon

Assignment #7, Breaking the Rules

See assignment #1, assignment #2, assignment #3 , assignment #4, assignment #5 and assignment #6, from the Content Marathon.

More about the author: Hannah Werntz.  

Acknowledging the Value of Reliability Before It's Lost Forever

Mauro had missed us by a single moment. Luckily, he was a simple guy who never thought badly about the people in his life, even when they deserved it. He would never notice the unmade bed or the fan being left on while the house was supposedly empty. If he saw anything amiss, he would chalk it up to my chronic untidiness.   

There was a time when I almost wanted him to discover the affair. I yearned for his attention. But not the kind of attention that you can get across the dinner table with two kids interrupting every sentence.  

“How was your day?”  

“It was crazy because...”  

“Mom, get me a glass of water.”  

“Did you pay that utility bill?”  

“I was going to, but I had to...”  

“Daddy, look at my magic trick.” 

No, I needed that kind of deep intimacy that hasn’t been in this house for years. The pillow talk that kept me up all night, riding around the hills on his motorcycle in happy silence, and the endless afternoons curled up in each other's arms with nothing else on our itinerary for the day – that kind of intimacy. Nowadays, the closest thing I feel to that is a shoulder rub while I scrub the dishes in the sink.  

The days are long. They start with getting the kids’ clothes ready for the day. Then, there’s the rush to school, followed by the rush to work. The eight hours at the office are full of interruptions, phone calls, last-minute projects and client complaints. Then, it’s back to wiping tears away, wiping butts and wiping sticky surfaces clean around the house. The irony is that I’m constantly being touched. My kids hang on me while I try to get dinner ready. They need hugs even when I need to use the bathroom. They won’t sleep without a combined total of 45 minutes worth of goodnight snuggles and rocking.  

But that’s not the same. I missed that other kind of touch.  So, I found someone who could give it to me. Who didn’t have another email to write or something more interesting to watch on TV. It was never meant to happen, yet it did and without much complication really. It only happened twice, but the second time he came home early. We quickly got our clothes back on and crept out the back window. But when my two worlds brushed together and nearly collided, it brought me back to reality. 

That night, the guilt was unbearable. ‘What kind of wife does that to a reliable guy like Mauro?’ I asked myself. It ate at me for days after that, but the anxiety was more acute at night. I would wake with a startle and hope that it had only been a bad dream. Then my mind would start spinning a web full of worries and fears, guilt and regret. I vowed it would never happen again, but then again, I had vowed to be faithful to my husband. That didn’t stop me from doing it. So, why should I trust myself not to give into temptation again? 

During one sleepless night of turmoil in particular, I had a realization. The truth is that I don’t want that life for myself. Sure, it would be fun and exciting for a while. Keeping a taboo affair hidden from sight and arranging secret rendezvous had a certain attractive quality. But like everything shiny, it would get dull with time. And I know, that when the fun wears off, the only thing left will be the ruins of the life that I had so earnestly constructed. I don’t want to raise my kids without their father by my side and in their lives every day. I don’t want to learn how to live my life as a single mom. I don’t want to give up this comfortable complicity for drama and heartbreak. 

It wasn’t until the day that he came home and confessed that things fell back in place. He had a different kind of confession to make. Mauro said that his boss had decided to sell the company and there was no room for his position under new management. It was a surprise to both of us, but it was shocking that he had kept this information from me for weeks. I now understood why he had come home early that day, and I almost forgot to hide the look of realization from my face. He said he had been afraid of my reaction, worried for our financial situation and embarrassed that he found himself suddenly unemployed. The hope was that he would quickly land a job with their competitor and be able to deliver good news with the bad. His plan hadn't panned out.  

In a weird way I feel like we were even now. The guilt has lifted. Mostly, I’m glad that I can be there for my husband during this challenging time. Mauro really is a decent, reliable guy. He deserves a wife who will support him through good times and bad.  


Content Marathon

Assignment #2, Plot line #1

See assignment #1 , assignment #3 and assignment #4 from the Content Marathon.

More about the author: Hannah Werntz.

A Walk in the Park

I pass the same dilapidated kiosk of wares every day. On most days, I actually pass two or three times a day - first going north, then heading south as I return home. I’ve imagined what it would look like if an omnipresent camera has been recording footage all this time. I watch the silent film made from the pieces of video of me passing if they were put together and the other roughly 52,520 hours of tape were cut out. In my mind, this non-existent video plays in fast forward. First, my husband and I walk by looking younger, tanner and thinner. Then, we stroll along with our puppy. Our new neighbors stop to say how cute she is. Later, I walk briskly by, trying to stay in shape as my belly grows in pregnancy. Each day I pass and it’s noticeably bigger. My stride gets slower and wider. 

Our whole life plays out in front of this one imaginary vantage point. My husband proudly carries our newborn son against his chest as he tries to get him to sleep on a hot summer evening. Then, I jog with a toddler sleeping in the stroller, working to get rid of those last few pounds. The three of us walk together, tiny hands holding our fingers. Then, we run to chase him. We stumble to hold onto his handlebars for one more moment before he rides on his own.  

The seasons change again and again. Our outfits change. The footage rolls on and I’m getting round again. It’s becoming hard to keep up with this energetic boy. The dog is loyal and she waits for me, he doesn’t. Winter comes again and I can’t zip up my coat. I don’t want to buy a new one, though; it seems like such a waste of money when soon I won’t need such a big coat.  

Then, there are four of us. Our daughter joins the pack in the same way her brother did. In our arms, in the stroller and, eventually, on her own two feet. We just keep passing along the path of the park - back and forth – going about our lives. 

Sometimes I used to stop at the kiosk and chat about the weather as my dog sniffed around. Some afternoons I’d kiss my son’s knee after he fell off his new bike. Then, I would engage in a friendly conversation that consisted of complaints about some perceived problem in our perfect little town. Trash collectors not passing that day, heroin addicts sleeping on the benches or the general lack of maintenance of our (in reality) beloved park were all fine fodder.   

My dog, a spotted mutt named Buggy who has a brown spot over one eye like all of the stereotypical dogs of cartoon families, loves to pee in the gravel. I’ve noticed that this drives the “owner” of the used book kiosk crazy. I put owner is quotation marks, because I’m quite sure that he has no official ownership rights to that square of gravel in the city park. Anyway, his annoyance doesn’t stop me from letting her relieve herself where she pleases. In my opinion, the park is public property and dogs should be able to enjoy this small bit of nature freely. We never use a leash; she’s so intent on herding me and the kids that it seems ridiculous to tie her to me as well. Buggy’s better than I am at following directions and her only form of aggression is rolling over so that perfect strangers can rub her belly.   

A recovering alcoholic named Antonella just set up a table one day and started putting some used books on display and it grew from there. A canopy was erected at some point. In addition to books, faded boho clothing, crocheted doilies and random knickknacks were set out on the table and hung from the canopy structure. She eventually appropriated the shed behind the gravel patch and used it to store her precious goods that nobody ever purchased. Antonella would put them away with care each evening and lock them up before slinging her backpack over her shoulder and walking four miles back to her home. She walked because she had no car. No car, no real job...her only possession was that ratty backpack and a house that she inherited from her estranged father.  

And she had this square of gravel in the park which she had claimed over the years. I think that, because she was friendly and harmless, nobody ever cared to shoo her away. The local police passed by regularly in their patrol car or on horseback and never bothered Antonella or her kiosk. We all knew that she wasn’t supposed to be operating a cash-only business on public property with no permit whatsoever. But it was also apparent that this failing business was the only option that she had left.  

You’re right, I wrote “he” when I first mentioned the only vendor who has apparently been given permission by omission to set up shop in our park. There’s a man running the kiosk now. I don’t know his name. Though I still pass every day – taking Buggy for a walk, bringing the kids to the playground, on my way to meet a friend for coffee – I haven’t stopped to chat with this guy. He unofficially took over the stall as soon as Antonella didn’t show up to claim it as she had done every other morning before that.  

That was the day on which I found out her name was Antonella. That was the day that I found out that she had a sad past as an alcoholic and an even lonelier existence once she dug into recovery. That was the day our chain-smoking neighbor told us that Antonella had decided not to walk all the way to her kiosk. Instead, she laid down on the railroad tracks and waited for release from this world.  

Now, that kiosk is a sad landmark for me. It serves as a reminder to be kind to the people who I encounter as I go about my life. Though the events may unfold in a way that looks like the perfect story, you never know what’s going on in the background. I think about the nameless actors and extras making cameos in my home video sometimes. It’s so clear now that not everyone gets their happy ending.  


Content Marathon

Assignment #1 

See assignment #2, assignment #3 and assignment #4 from the Content Marathon.

This story has been edited and enhanced since its original publication; read the second version here.

More about the author: Hannah Werntz.