Turn the music up! Monte Carlo had a Sherwood stereo system in her, and we both rode the sounds of New Wave music and listened more closely to its uniquely relatable lyrics. Monte Carlo appreciated my singing, too; because it must have kept her occupied from the worry of us wrecking, or followed by a salivating serial killer, or stranded with bears and Bigfoot, or killed by a falling boulder-- or worse than all that: pulled over by a cop!
Yes. Two young men were holding hands! And while the sun -- hung over them! Other pedestrians -- walking with them, behind them, ahead of them; they did not seem to flinch or recoil or miss a step. And stranger than all, the couple was...smiling?
I parked Monte Carlo – she and I needed to compute this scene.
So, it was true.
I parked Monte Carlo up the street. She warned me not to go too far and, before I do just that, to keep her windows cracked so that she could cool off in the hellish heat. Businesses in the village appeared closed or shuttered but for a coffee shop a half-block down and a touristy looking one where Monte Carlo had soon wheezed to sleep. I went through the tourist store, walked down each aisle of trinkets, t-shirts, wind chimes, jewelry, and candles -- but with my eyes on any locals who might give way hints to their orientation. No one appeared to have the slightest urge to entangle each other by the hands like the two guys outside.
What about that coffee shop? I talked myself into checking it out - but not until I grabbed my college-ruled notebook from Monte Carlo where I had shoved stapled UNC information and outlined some forgettable story ideas.
Everybody sat close together in the tiny coffee (and ice cream) shop. It looked uncomfortably close, frankly. I guessed that most of them were students: books opened, young faces glowing in calculations and absolution, and their young bodies clothed in made-to-look-old-but-really-new shirts and jean shorts. A sense of awareness among their kind was obvious to me in an instant. So, it was true after all. Yet, when eyes were eventually cast my way, I instantly crawled into my notebook and scribbled words meant to impress upon the viewer that I didn’t mind his looking -- but, I could take it or leave it because...because I didn't need anything in the world but this here iced tea and this mostly blank notebook.
I appreciated his stare. I wanted him to stare. I wanted him to talk to me. How I would've died if he did!
Time to go. I couldn't do it. I suddenly realized that I opened myself up to receive information that I could not yet calculate in broad daylight, in a coffee shop serving ice cream to handsome men my age -- people more like me than I could ever have imagined existed. And in the daytime?
Monte Carlo knew, too, that I wasn’t ready for such openness. I wasn’t ready for such strange independence. She and I couldn’t escape Wilmington fast enough! What was meant to be a week’s stay became a 4-day trip all around. Monte Carlo and I had no issues flying over Appalachia - and that's about what we did. I returned home to Lafayette, thanks to Monte Carlo’s riding us to our safety and to that vast familiarity; returning us to greet surprised, yet relieved parents who said nothing more of the odd trip that I had planned for months, but in all honesty, failed to execute.
I just decided Wilmington wasn’t right for me.
Yes, Lafayette: where I was born and where I was raised...and where I would remain.
I went to Purdue. I didn't want to take Geology. Didn't they all work for oil companies? I chose a different major: Anthropology. I then chose a different major: Biology. Biology was more practical: Lilly. Industry. Paycheck. Anthropology? Adventurous. Humbling. Paycheck?
Just the same, I don’t know what might have happened if I had actually moved to Wilmington and had become an Oceanographer…if Monte Carlo carried me back up and over Appalachia safely...if we survived the 90s and the death of New Wave so far from home...if we drank sweet tea and ate fresh seafood...if we monitored whale migrations and worked on research boats and if I had traded Purdue Pete for Tar Heel.
I don't know if Monte Carlo and I could've survived that new kind independence; if she could've kept her metal from rusting all those years as I drove us deep into that Wilmington sea of strange.