The Writer and The Mechanic sat on a cement block taking a short break from the Texas heat. As usual they were enjoying a square of shade that was consistently available in this spot beside The Mechanic’s rundown trailer house. To call the trailer house rundown is to be kind. The dilapidated disrepair and mess of appliance parts, twenty years worth of mail piled all around the place and a lack of usable surface space was startling. Living surrounded by the possibility of usefulness was The Mechanic’s comfort zone. Whether the mess and disrepair had crept from the outside in or the inside out might never be known for sure, but the startling appearance of what The Mechanic called home was unquestioned.
To the unobservant eye The Mechanic’s mess would seem the same as The Writer’s chaotic living space. But in truth, her mess was a bit different. Surrounded by papers, books, toys, photo albums, and stepping over shoes and backpacks was her comfort zone. Life surrounded by the evidence of living. On occasion she and her sons would feel crowded and turn the music up loud while they spent a couple of hours tidying up—never quite finishing the job of housework but happily making their second home feel as though it’d at least been offered a mini-makeover. But most days to come upon the wild abandon with which The Writer, The Mechanic, and their sons lived life was surprising, messy, and startling.
But then, to come upon The Mechanic and The Writer at all was often startling to folks. The Mechanic’s dark black skin was thick and calloused in the hands and fairly smooth elsewhere. Though the years of stress that comes with raising two families (of which The Writer was wife in the second) showed on him in places, the hard muscles and strength that comes with a lifetime of hard labor also showed on him—and he was sexy to The Writer.
The Writer’s white skin (which is a color often described as “milky” in the novels she reads, making her shake her head with disbelief and whisper to the story, ”You mean pale,” the only word that ever felt true when looking at her own white skin) was mostly uncallused and smooth, except for the bottoms of her feet. All her life she’s felt connected to nature and craved the physical touch that comes with bare skin on wild ground. The stretchmarks that came from carrying and birthing four sons are mostly hidden in clothes and much adored by her as part of not only her story, but the stories of each of her children.
The skin color differences in The Writer and The Mechanic are stark, but almost equally startling is the age difference of twenty-three years.
When The Writer and The Mechanic met, The Mechanic had already been married once and raised a family. He’d lived stories of love and loss, mistakes and almost mistakes, that represented so many more years than The Writer had even fathomed. For she was a young single mom when they met, still living with her own mom, and though she’d travelled and done things The Mechanic couldn’t understand or hardly imagine, she had never finished anything.
Reflecting on those days The Writer was often ashamed of herself. Though The Mechanic had been kind, and though he had adored her and her sons (three at the time) in most of the ways she wanted to be adored, and for most of the reasons she craved celebration, she had focused far too often on the ways and reasons he didn’t seem aware of.
Since The Writer had never finished anything there was a part of her, in those days, that craved the company of a man who was A Reader. A man who saw that stories never finish and that endings always come with a sadness or feeling of loss. In truth, she could feel the justification and almost whininess of these thoughts, but was also aware of a truth in them and found herself unwilling just yet to sort out which was which.
And while she told herself that a Mechanic who is not A Reader or Writer could never really understand her, or love and understand her children the way A Reader—someone who consistently and purposely dives into the motivations and stories of others—could, it wasn’t long before she heard the limits and prejudice in this.
If, on this day as The Writer and The Mechanic sat on the cement block chatting comfortably, a traveler were to pass by he would at first be shocked by their appearance and the look of their surroundings. But if he was an open minded traveler with a willingness to see past his judgments, it would be an easy transformation to comfort. The Writer and The Mechanic had been happily married now for fourteen years and the air around them was always one of absolute certainty in their belonging together. There were no wounds left unhealed or scabs to pick at; just a love and respect, and an interest in being together for whatever happens next.
As they sat surrounded by car parts and the buzzing of insects they were talking—again—about The Mechanic’s Oldest Daughter. A woman a few years older than The Writer, she had shown up on their doorstep a few years back. The instant The Mechanic saw her standing on his doorstep he knew who she was. As he cried and invited her inside, his heart felt at first complete and then, almost as quickly, he was wary.
When The Mechanic was seventeen his girlfriend got pregnant. Just a kid in school he told her that he wasn’t ready for marriage, that he needed to graduate and then they could talk about it, but that he’d certainly help raise their child. His girlfriend said if he wouldn’t marry her she’d take the baby and leave. That he could never see the child, that she wouldn’t let him. He allowed them to leave, but—including when The Writer met him—The Mechanic never didn't love his child. He thought about her, he asked around about her. He learned her name and heard through friends where they were living. Word came that she herself may have had babies, but The Mechanic was never sure.
When she arrived that day at his door he felt so many things. Hallmark films and Lifetime TV movie plot-lines flashed through his head. He knew it would take work. Lots of work. And he felt honored to finally be able to do it. But, as is his nature as a man and a mechanic he wondered, “Why now?”
When there is a rattle in an engine or the squealing of a belt, it’s a good idea to wonder, “Why now?” This helps you follow the parts and find the original problem. It could be that your busted alternator belt is a clue that the power steering hose has a small leak and fluid is dripping onto the belt making it weak. In that case changing the alternator belt becomes almost silly if you don’t also replace the hose.
So hugging his long lost daughter and sharing details of his life with her while asking about hers, was—like a Lifetime movie—played out with a suspicious plot-line brewing. “Why now?”
It wasn’t long before both The Mechanic and The Writer knew, “Why now.” She had exhausted everyone else, she had no one else willing to give anymore of themselves to her and she was struggling to find footing with someone who would. A cousin had told her that she had a different dad than her siblings so she talked him into telling her where. It wasn’t hard to find The Mechanic once she knew where to look. Everyone in his small town knew him and knew he was always wondering about his Oldest Daughter.
The reunion was emotional. The years following were too.
As The Writer and The Mechanic sat in the shade, talking again about how to help the Oldest Daughter and give love to her without hurting anyone else or making her dependent, a rooster from the yard next door came up and gave them a hard stare. The Mechanic shook his head at how funny this particular rooster was, always hanging around like a pet, while The Writer smiled and tried to pretend she wasn’t scared. In truth, she wasn’t nearly as nervous as she had been a few years back when her fear of birds could be considered a phobia. Thanks to the constant cockiness of this particular rooster, and his certainty that he belonged here with them, she had grown almost fond of him. Well, not so much him as the way her fear was slowly subsiding, and his presence gave her call to know it. “I guess you can get used to anything,” she’d muse. “It’s important to keep an eye on what you get used to.”
Since the Oldest Daughter had arrived The Mechanic had given her money, a place to stay, lent her cars, bought her a car, defended her from violent boyfriends that she ran immediately back to, gotten her out of jail, gotten her out of jail again, driven her places, lectured her, lovingly shared with her, angrily refused her antics, explained why with love, and been dangerously close to getting arrested himself by willingly going into crack houses to get her and take her home.
The job of parent is never done or clear cut, you don’t clock out when they move out, but when trying to get back over forty lost years it’s almost more confusing.
The Writer was understanding and respectful of all these truths. She herself had done much for the Oldest Daughter as well, and had loved her longer than they’d known each other. In the beginning of this new character introduction—well, not new really because she’d always been a big part of the story, but now she was more there—The Writer had been open and honest and thrilled to share with another person. Another person to explore with, learn from, and teach to. But as she watched her husband wear down, and she felt his turmoil spill like motor oil over the family—not because he yelled or spewed, but because his energy became almost invisible yet tinted with color that didn’t wash off easily—she began to approach the issue less like a Reader and more like a Writer.
The Mechanic, of course, was working out the puzzle like a man with an eye on how one part is supposed to fit with another.
Both The Writer and The Mechanic know that always, in everything, creativity, ingenuity, and a willingness to see from different perspectives can get the machine running again and so they explored and pondered and attempted to get the story of their family to run smoothly, as it had often before.
The Writer reached over and waved a bee away from The Mechanic’s leg. She suggested once again that he tell his Oldest Daughter with clarity why he didn’t answer the phone when she had called early that morning. He sighed and wiped the sweat off his forehead with the red rag that had been hanging out of his pocket. He reminded The Writer that he had told his Oldest Daughter already, and he was so tired of telling.
They sat in comfortable silence. The Mechanic was thinking of this part of his machine he’d lost for so long and finally it was found, and how he couldn’t seem to find a way—in all his years of making parts work—to find where and how it fit. How to benefit the important part itself while giving it a role that benefit the whole.
The Writer was thinking about her roles as Reader and Writer of the story and contemplating which role would fit her and benefit the family best. As Reader she was able to interact with support and curious interest, without the need to meddle or affect the direction of the story much more than as an audience with the ability to interpret and be considered. However with her husband showing such exhaustion and their Youngest Son’s comment recently, The Writer couldn’t pretend that role of Reader was enough anymore. “I don’t like my sister,” their Youngest Son had said. “She came here and she’s always drunk and now dad’s always stressed out and quiet and cranky. And her energy makes me feel nervous.”
The Writer (and Reader) knew that every aspect of any story was important, that the motivations and emotions of everyone involved deserved to be valued and explored, and that she’d have to step up and play a more active part in creating this story; theirs. For her husband, for all the children, and for herself.
The Mechanic and The Writer approached issues and life differently and so they sometimes struggled to understand how or why the other saw things as they did. And, admittedly, they often attempted to present arguments on their own behalf that just might change the other's approach, turning it into one more like their own. But there also always existed an important sameness. They both knew that the act of crafting a story or maintaining a machine was best served with a desire to do so. To do the work.
It’s easy to want a good story or smooth running machine; but inventing one takes time and work. You have to want it true enough to work for it.
And both The Writer and The Mechanic not only wanted it true enough, but had learned to love the work.
You see, The Writer had been mistaken when she’d assumed The Mechanic couldn’t understand the unfinished nature of people. The Mechanic knew well that no motor or machine is finished until it’s been given up on. Not by one, but by all.
And even then—even then—it is part of a bigger machine, one that needs to be approached with a willingness to make all the parts work regardless of how creative and resourceful you have to get.
The Writer and The Mechanic sat there a while longer, letting their unfinished conversation come to a quiet close. They’d pick it up again later, as they always did.
The Texas heat was wearing The Writer down and she wanted to go back inside where her manuscript sat waiting to tell more story. The Mechanic’s mind was already wandering back to the problem of an old ’86 Ford pickup he was trying to get running. The distributer hadn’t been moving so he’d hit it with a hammer to get it going, and now the truck would start but still wouldn’t run. He wondered how much a carburetor kit would cost.
The Mechanic stood up and stretched, then turned around to offer his thick strong hand to The Writer who pulled herself up with his help.
She walked with him toward the truck in the driveway, stepping over tools and compressors with the ease of one who is familiar with such obstacles. The rooster from next door followed them close.
The Mechanic mumbled something about putting some gas in the tank and checking the fuel pump and The Writer nodded, unsure of his language but confident in his ability.
They kissed, and she headed back indoors. The rooster, who she was only a little bit scared of, stayed back with The Mechanic.