My first day as a librarian at Bell St. Middle School in Laurens District 56, I met Laura. She was in charge of teacher IDs and email passwords so at lunch on the first day of the new teacher orientation, I fell in with the rest of the newbies and trooped down to the IT Department’s basement outpost in what was then the District Office to have my ID made and get a login for the computer network.
Now, when I am nervous, I talk very fast. Think of an auctioneer and double his speed. When I am excited, I also talk very fast. This was my first day as a school librarian AND I was in a new district, I was extremely nervous while being incredibly excited. Think of an auctioneer with Tourette’s Syndrome, Asperger’s Autism and severe ADHD standing in a nest of fire ants with his hair ablaze and you’ll have a close approximation of what Laura received that hot August day.
While, in line I noticed a Michigan poster on the wall with a photo of Laura and another girl (later I found out it was Ho-Hum Amy) in front of “The Big House” in Ann Arbor. I also saw a photo of an ankle with a crescent moon tattooed on it. In my nervously excited state, I was bouncing on the balls of my feet taking in everything around me and checking it off against info in my head. I was last in line to get my stuff so as soon as Laura spoke to me, I started talking.
According to Laura, the conversation went somewhat thusly (with my part approximating how she says I answered her):
Laura: “Hi. What can I do for you?”
Me: “Hi-my-name-is-Shannon-ShannonWham-W-h-a-m-Wham-just-like-George-Michael’s-old-singing-group-Wham!-before-he-got-weird. Is-that-you-outside-the-BigHouseinMichigan? DidyougotoMichigan?Are-you-a-Michigan-fan-it’s-hard-to-tell-’cause-you-have-a-USCposterontheotherwall-soIthoughtyoumighthave-goneto-USC-but-I-need-to-get-my-idandlogin-Imthenewlibrarian-over-atBellStreet-do-you-have-a-tattoo-is-that-the-tattoo-in-that-picture-ofyourankleisthatyourankle-you-have-a-nice-office-it’sgoodandcooldownhere-it’ssohottoday-that’sareallyprettyplantwhatisit-oh-you-already-got-myidandloginbutI-didn’t-tell-you-my-social-didyou-lookitup-wowyou’refast-well,Igottagoeatlunch-thenextsession-startsinthirtyminutes-thanksalot-itwasnicetomeetyou!
And I left.
She never looked at me after her initial greeting, but over a year later I found out as soon as I left, she went back to where the IT guys ate lunch and announced, “The new librarian over at Bell Street is certifiably insane. I mean, he SERIOUSLY needs medicated,” and she proceeded to recap my entire spiel.
Little did she know how right she was . . .
I didn’t see much of her that first year. Of course, the year pretty much passed in a blur anyway. I emailed her when one of my little monsters forgot his or her password so she could fix them up a new one and we’d chat a bit here and there but with no premonitions of what was to come.
The next year started off pretty much the same way. I’d call if I needed something IT-ish and every now and then she’d stop by to drop off something. Laura is a wildly engaging person and she’s hysterically funny to talk to when she gets going. That fall, I found out she loves college football and is a die-hard Michigan fan. As the fates would have it, Appalachian State scored a monumental, historic upset over Michigan in the opening game of the college football season so I downloaded the App State fight song and sent it to her as her ration of crap about that fiasco. Then right after Christmas, I blew a disc out in my back and was laid up and out of work for most of January. She emailed me a time or two while I was out of commission and she was one of the first to call me up and welcome me back once my discs finally healed.
Still, at this juncture, she was a colleague from work who had some similar interests to me and I never dreamed she’d be anything else. Then I called her the Monday afternoon after spring break. The day had just ended and I was feeling spring feverish and blithering on like I do when I’m nervous or excited. I didn’t know it at the time, but Laura has something in common with my Budge — they are both “Stuffers.” Anything bad that happens to them gets shoved in a huge mental trunk and stuffed away to be dealt with a some indeterminate time in the future. She wasn’t answering like she usually did and that’s when I caught a note in her voice that told me something was very, very wrong.
Since she is such a proficient “stuffer,” anyone would have difficulty discerning anything out of the ordinary was amiss in her voice, but — as I said — I just caught a hint of something not right. Now Laura also has in common with Budge being a VERY private person. Neither one of them “do their business out in the street,” so just casually asking “what’s wrong” wasn’t very likely to get any sort of accurate answer. I suppose I’ll never know why I asked or why she answered. I just know the Lord truly does work in utterly mysterious ways to bring extremely special people into our lives when it’s time.
Turns out her spring break had been HIDEOUS — absolutely hellish. She told me all about it in an hour-long conversation. Out of respect for her privacy, I won’t divulge details but suffice it to say it involved loved ones dying, betrayal, car problems, unexpectedly moving houses . . . just think of the worst week you could have then double it and you’ll get close to Laura’s spring break. She was living in a commercial for Murphy’s Law. I was blown away by how wounded she was and I just wanted to be some comfort, so I think I said something profound like, “Wow. I am so sorry. Can I do anything? If I can help, let me know.” That’s what we Southerners do. “If I can help, let me know” is right up the list with “Bless her heart!”
I talked to her off and on that year but I really got to know her well over the summer when I was volunteering as an IT tech at the DO. The group of us would eat lunch almost daily at El Jalisco, a hole in the wall Mexican restaurant in Clinton. At the end of the summer, she was moving again and asked if I could help out, so one hot, muggy Saturday afternoon, we moved her from Ware Shoals to Simpsonville.
That next day was the first time I mentioned to Budge we should take Laura out to eat. She had just started working a second job as a barista at Starbucks and hardly ever had time or money for herself. She was making it on her own though. Laura is tough and proud that way. Anyway, Budge was glad for a chance to meet this “Laura” I had been fretting about so we took her to Anita’s Mexican Restaurant. Within a month, Anita’s on Tuesday was a weekly ritual.
As we hung out more and more, I realized Laura was my lost baby sister. She and Budge were like twin sisters and became best of friends. For the next few years, we were inseparable. We’d eat out or I’d cook two or three times a week; Dana and I would take supper to her at Starbucks; we’d go to movies; we even did a few holidays together . . . Laura and Budge used to joke that we were Mormons. Budge was Ace and Laura was Deuce — my two sisterwives.
I have never met a stranger, but a plethora of quirks hinders me making close friends. I haven’t had a friend anywhere as close as Laura since college or before. She could even deal with me during a meltdown. Mama, Budge, and Laura are the only people who can calm me down once I go off the deep end. It helped Budge out more than anyone could understand knowing Laura could help when I was spiraling. She’s one of two people Budge can call and say, “He’s having a bad day,” and Laura would know exactly what was going on and how to help. It gave Budge someone to lean on and another pair of hands when I became more than one handful.
For example, last summer Budge went to Hawaii with Ki-Ki for four weeks. I don’t do well when Budge isn’t around, so Laura called every day to make sure I was out of bed. She even forced me to go out so I didn’t sit in the house like a cabbage while Budge was gone.
So over the last few years, Laura has gone from a casual acquaintance to an adopted sister. For my part, it would have suited me just fine for things to rock and roll on forever and for a good long time, it looked like that’s how it was going to be.
I liked it. I was content. The three of us could take on the world.
However, I didn’t know about the buckeye . . .
TO BE CONTINUED . . .