[An Open Letter (or: An Indulgence in Sentimentality) (project:northside) / Leonard Owens III]


Most (nay, all) of my life, I haven’t been a morning person. The allure of fresh coffee and gooey pastries and people bustling their lives out into the breaking day has never infected me. Now and then, I’ve strolled down to a beach bench for sunrises over the ocean while munching Burger King breakfast, but these moments can be tallied on one hand.

In short, I hate mornings.

The distinct lack of cars joining me on this Sunday’s early morning freeway confirms I’m not the only one. But this is Jacksonville, so maybe everyone is already thumping bibles in church, soaking up the good words, utterances that also never infected me. But, though I may not see the attraction of communion, there sure are days when I crave community.

Rachelle was worried how we’d receive her house. And I can see why: it’s very much an in-process trailer-home. But I can’t poke fun or look down my nose. I still remember how the mountains of dirty clothes consumed my mother’s bedroom to the point she’d just keel over drunk on top of crumpled shirts and jeans; the last few years living at my dad’s required that I, in order to sleep, ignore the scurrying rats in the walls and ceiling; and the apartment I live in now occasionally invites in ants that I must bait out. Besides, Rachelle’s home has a warmth none of my homes had. It could be her cooking, or her welcoming smile, or the way everyone jokes about Jennifer Aniston’s cleavage as we watch reruns of Friends. Though I get the sneaking suspicion it’s something I can’t put my finger on, because it’s something I’ve never held, an object or ideal wholly apart from my life thus far. I can’t define it.

I get second servings of fresh fruit and home fries. I can’t afford fresh fruit, so I always grub down any that’s free. I can afford potatoes, but Rachelle’s home fries are, sad to admit, much better than mine, or any I’ve ever eaten for that matter.

The backyard has heaps of character. A tree house (minus the requisite nudie mags), a tire swing dangling from a creaky bough, a paintball target, a rusted machete stabbed in the ground, and a pond with ducks. I like the pond most of all. I’m a sucker for water. And ducks are groovy, too.

Castleman is hungover. We talk about HD porn, how the surgery scars look more blatant on fake titties; we talk about horror movies; we talk, we laugh, and the talking and laughing feels fine.

Samantha looks happy all the time. She’s the only one with enough guts to try the precarious tire swing. She mounts it, skids back and forth on the grass a few times, holding on tight. I don’t know her age, but in this moment she’s still a kid. It’s quite wonderful to see that. I don’t have the guts, or enough kidness, to swing after she’s done.

Allison says “Glutey Booty” a lot. The bubbly way it sounds, I chuckle inside every time. It reminds me of the way Carlin says “garbanzo beans.” Words that just sound damn fun. When I type this, I know I’ll say Glutey Booty aloud. It’s fun. Try it, don’t deny it.

Rachelle cooks for all of us. She has a good heart. She keeps throwing some ragged rope toy to the bigger dog (I’m bad at breeds), who chases it as the little one chases him. Rachelle isn’t wearing shoes on the cold grass. Somehow, of this tiny insignificance, I’m jealous. I can never walk barefoot without looking down each step.

We stand around and quip and story with each other, and I know Allison will be late for work but just can’t bring up the time: everything ends if I do.

I’ve been in ten workshops. Lately, I wonder what I get out of them all, what they’re worth to my work. I know they affect my writing positively, but I just don’t feel much anymore.

Now I know, after years in workshops, what they should be all about. Not the words: those are tangential. Workshop should be about people. Meeting them, reaching out to them, shaking hands and cracking jokes and smiling big, they should be about smiling together, one big group of grinners. Workshop should be a place where friendships are forged. Without that, what’s the fucking point?

By this logic, I’ve wasted quite a few workshops: I’m not friends with so many writers I’ve sat in class with. But I haven’t wasted this workshop, not this semester. I’ve met people, I’ve spent time in the world with them. I’m not leaving this semester with only another string of straight As on my transcript; I’m leaving with new and real friends.

Letters grouped together matter not as much as companions of flesh and heart.


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