By Bracha Etengoff
I met Tom at the Woodstock laundromat. He looked old before his time, with skin like tan wrinkled leather and a missing front tooth. We chatted as we folded clothes side by side.
“Are you visiting or local?” I asked.
“I live about three miles down the road,” he answered. “I just moved here from Florida. I’m so excited – I’ve never seen snow!”
“Oh, you’ll see snow all right,” I said. “Lots and lots of it. And it gets COLD!”
“Yeah, I know. My co-worker said the key is layers.”
Good, I thought. Someone here cares enough to help him keep warm through his first winter.
“When I saw the mountains…I’ve never seen mountains before!”
I saw my own amazement at the meteor shower a few nights ago reflected in his eyes. To him, the Catskills were shooting stars. I told him how gorgeous these mountains would be when the leaves changed colors.
“So I guess you haven’t seen that before either?”
“No. In Florida it’s all palm trees. I’ve never been out of Florida before.”
Wow. I had to ask. “So what brought you here?”
The wonder disappeared from his face, replaced by firm determination. “A fresh start,” he answered. “I thought if I came here, I could start over. In Florida I kept getting into trouble….” His voice trailed off into a silence heavy with regret.
“I’ve been there,” I offered. I’ve started over somewhere new more than once, and I’m not done yet.
“So I moved into my brother’s vacation house – they only use it once or twice a year – and took over the payments. And I got a job right away!”
I quoted a Hebrew proverb for him: “Change your location, change your luck.” He liked that. We finished folding our laundry, shook hands, and parted ways.
But Tom’s story stayed with me – a story as old as these mountains, his new love. The stranger in a strange land. The ubiquity of Tom’s experience does not lessen its challenge, any more than raising children is eased by the prevalence of parenthood.
So raise your next glass to Tom. And to all of us who leave not knowing what we go toward, but only what we must leave behind.
Bracha is a writer and editor in New York City who muses about life’s chance encounters on www.allmywanderings.com. Her autobiographical essay will be published in the forthcoming book, Reflections on Mortality. She is currently editing an anthology that addresses the psychological aspects of illness and the importance of patient advocacy. Bracha may be contacted at email@example.com.