New

I was sitting across from Amy at the Aspen Coffee Shop, where she clearly knew everyone, and they clearly loved her.  It was the type of  funky place that I’d heard about but never lived near enough to frequent:  tables, a bar and a big sofa, exposed brick walls and folk singers on Friday nights.

“So great to see you!” she’d said with an enveloping hug as she’d arrived; I’d been ten minutes early, grossly overestimating the time it would take to drive the short distance from my home on the northwest side of town to the downtown area.   She’d ridden the three miles from her own home on her bicycle with her three year old son in the seat on the back.

Amy was the kind of woman made me a bit nervous.  In high school, I would have been amazed if a girl had spoken to me at all; she looked like the thin, popular cheerleader that boys sniffed after and girls emulated.  As an adult, I’d never quite gotten the hang of people like that interacting with me.  I didn’t understand them, but still wanted to.  I wished I was more like the effusive girl that stood before me.  She was bubbly and bright, a tall girl who was friendly to everyone.  She was naturally thin but also clearly health minded, telling me as she ordered her coffee with soy milk that she no longer consumed dairy because it just made her feel better.  She set up Nick at a small area next to us at the coffee bar with crackers and small toys so that we could talk.

“So how are you liking our little town so far?” asked Amy.  “I’ve lived here for eight years now, ever since my husband got his position at Oklahoma State.  I know it takes a little getting used to, the small town thing.”

I nodded knowingly, glad for the easy common ground she’d taken to start.  “I’ve never lived in a town that wasn’t a suburb before.  I can’t believe I can get across town in five minutes; in Detroit it takes over an hour!   And there’s no mall here; where do you go?” I had been astounded that there was no mall in town.  Even the small town R had lived in Wisconsin had had its own, albeit small, mall.

“I usually go into Oklahoma City if I need to go to the mall, though you can go to Tulsa too.   I think the one there is a little nicer.”  I listened carefully to the lilt in her voice, an accent that everyone here shared.

I gulped down a too hot swallow of hot coffee.  “But that’s an hour and a half away.  To either one.”

Amy laughed.  “You get used to driving when you live out here.  Good thing the gas is so cheap, right?  So what are you going to do, now that you’re all uprooted and here in the middle?”  She handed Nick a coloring book and some crayons, all the while still keeping her focus on us and our conversation.

“Well, I’ve got all the paperwork to get a new teacher’s certificate here; I’ll have to take some tests and things over the summer, but it shouldn’t be too hard to get.  As soon as I get my temporary certificate, I’ll be applying all around for a teaching job.  It’s so different here; the salaries are the same statewide.  In Michigan, each place sets their own salaries.”  I had been flabbergasted to see the State of Oklahoma Teacher Pay Scale on one of the forms I needed to fill out.  It showed me that this year, 1999, if I had a PhD and twenty years experience, I could expect to earn $38,695.  In Michigan, I’d been earning $30,000 without even holding a Masters.  I’d heard that teachers were less compensated down South, but this had shocked me.

“Is it?  I grew up in Texas, in the Dallas suburbs.  My family still lives there.  It’s funny, when you live in one place all your life, you think every place is the same, even though in your head you know it is different.  You must be feeling that, in a lot of ways.”

I nodded.  This girl was not at all what I had expected from our brief meetings in the past.  She certainly wasn’t the stereotype I would have assigned her based on her appearance or a cursory conversation with her.  I felt a certain shame wash over me for judging her as someone who wouldn’t be interesting because she was pretty, or wouldn’t be sympathetic because she was athletic.  She was nice.  I couldn’t believe I was twenty eight years old and just starting to pull myself out of my own leftover judgements.  “I am,” I confessed.  “To be honest, I do feel a bit lost.  Not only is everything different down here:  the landscape, the food, the size of the town, the way people talk.  But I also don’t know who I am here yet.  I was a teacher, but now I’m not.  Even when I get all of my stuff together, that won’t be until August.  It’s only April.  I may go crazy until then.”

Amy’s eyes lit up.  “I can help you there.  I still haven’t figured out what I want to be when I grow up, so I have a million things going on.  And there’s always our pretty rock star boys.  I hear Rick Springfield is swinging by this way soon, and word on the street is Corey Hart may tour with Celine Dion since he wrote some songs for her new record.”

I couldn’t help but smile at this girl who I could share my silly rock star fun with.  Maybe this move was a good thing.  The world really was a much larger place than the small five mile  radius I had lived most of my life in back home.  I looked forward to learning what other pleasant surprises lay in store here for me.  I could hear my small, insecure voice telling me that I had nothing to offer this woman who was inexplicably being so nice to me, but I forced it down.

I held up my enormous mug of coffee to clink with hers, in a toast.

“To new beginnings,” I said, smiling back at Amy.

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