I went home for Christmas this year. “Home” being where my parents live, and where I once lived. Home also being Quesnel, a small town in northern British Columbia with a population of 10,007 people.
I hadn’t been “home” in almost four years. I had lived in England for three of those years, and then moved to So Cal*, and found it hard to find time to make the jaunt north, and then north again and then (more) north.
Four years is a long time. (If I was a walrus, I could have had three offspring during this four-year period, because the gestation period for a walrus is approximately 15-16 months. Sometimes I sing “I Am The Walrus”, and I think about how different things would be if I was a pinniped. This is appropriate information because I love The Beatles.)
I was very excited to see what had changed in the (nearly) four years since I last visited (I knew my parents had renovated their kitchen, so I was prepared for that).
We arrived by plane. Calling it a plane is actually very kind because it was actually a sardine can with tin-foil wings. I was very excited when the “plane” landed and I saw my mom and dad at the gate.
I was not as excited when the airline told me they lost my suitcase.
“What do you mean?” I enquired, trying to keep my $@%# together.
“It’s lost.” She pushed a form toward me. “Fill this out. If we find it, we’ll call you.”
“If?” I said, remembering that I packed all my finest things on this trip, including expensive face serums and underwear from Marks & Spencer.
“It should show up.” Jackie said this as though it should have made me feel better, when in fact it made me feel much, much worse.
I filled out the “form”**, which was actually a hand-printed piece of paper that they photocopied. Apparently, typing is too much trouble for the “airline”***.
I wasn’t sure if I would ever see my suitcase (or my serums, or my underwear) ever again. My mom suggested we stop by Wal-Mart to buy me some underwear.
I am not a person that shops at Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart is a multinational corporation that likes to swoop in like a hawk, killing off small businesses like mice and other small field animals, and devastating the local economy (like all hawks do).
Saying that, it’s the only place in town that you can buy underwear.
So we went there.
As I made my way to the “Ladies Intimates” section, I saw a guy I once knew. I got very excited. I walked right up to him and gave him a big hug, because I knew this guy. Yes, it had been nearly 15 years since I last saw him, but I “knew” him. Once.
It got weird.
He was all, “Hey….” and then he looked up at the fluorescent lights on the ceiling and then we had a really awkward conversation as he backed away (rather awkwardly), and told me to have a “Merry Christmas.”
Before I could even understand what had just happened, I saw someone else I once knew… a girl I went to high school with. I waved. I saw her glance in my direction, and then look away. I kept waving, because it’s been like 15 years and I want to know what she’s been up to. Though from her cart full of children, I’d say she’s been busy having children. I smiled. She glanced over at me again, our eyes met, and then she turned away.
I wondered if I had so improved with age (like a fine wine) that these people didn’t even recognize me. Perhaps they thought I was a stranger and therefore did not want to engage in conversation? Because, obviously, if they knew who I was (Kimberly Manky), and how long I had been away (four years), they would certainly want to engage in a conversation!
After I grudgingly bought my underwear at Wal-Mart, I met my high school friend Betty**** for lunch. I told Betty that I had “run into” two people we both knew from high school at Wal-Mart. She shrugged, as if it was no big deal.
I rarely (if ever) have run into someone I know. When you live in a very large city you may see the same supermarket cashier or gas attendant, but YOU WILL NEVER run into someone you knew from high school, unless they live in the same large city and then you will DEFINITELY have a conversation (and you might even get a hug).
Betty said that she sees people from high school ALL THE TIME, and that she usually ignores them and they ignore her. They have an understanding… an unspoken, implicit understanding.
As Betty and I hugged good-bye, my cellphone rang. They had found my suitcase.
I went straight back to Wal-Mart to return my underwear for a full refund.
I didn’t see anyone I knew.
* Southern California, for those “in the know”.
** I use the term “form” loosely.
*** I use the term “airline” loosely.
**** Name changed to protect the innocent.