During the weekend of the Sanibel Island Writer’s Conference, I attended a flash memoir workshop with essayist Leslie Jamison. She offered up the “Dear Stranger…” prompt. We were encouraged to find in our memories a stranger that has crossed our path — someone we don’t really know — and write our ways into the mystery of why we have remembered them.
The stranger in question for me showed up immediately. He was a man I saw while on vacation in Toronto in 1981 with my first husband. I knew this particular person was “loaded” since my immediate reaction was to find someone else to write to. Then I knew by my resistance that he was the one.
Here is what transpired:
Dear Gruff Little Man,
I came across you and your family while touring the Casa Loma in Toronto, Canada. You were scolding your wife publicly for having dared to wander away from you, to perhaps discover the castle in her own revelry, amazed and engaged by the grandeur of it all. As you scolded her, she stood in front of you, her head bowed down, surely feeling she deserved the public tongue-lashing. Your boys stood nearby viewing the familiar scene, quiet and wide-eyed, another vacation mom had ruined by doing the wrong thing. I wanted to grab your wife and pull her away from your monsterousness, to take her to a safe place. But it was impossible. You, Mr. Gruff Man, were vocal and demeaning in your castigation of your wife. You did not choose the passive aggressive approach — the one I had gotten familiar with in my own marriage, the one that was about non-communication and shutting down, or shutting a door, or getting high so the discomfort would go away. Conflict was not my husband’s forte.
And within a year from that vacation in 1981, I would have taken advantage of his lack of willingness to engage in conflict. It became an escape hatch for me when I knew that I could no longer live with the subtle put downs and unspoken lack of support. When I decided I deserved more, I would walk away with my head high, leaving him to his marijuana, paranoia, and closed doors.