Hello, Strangers

Hello, Strangers! By Ginger Foutley

I knew I had arrived when I came across a solitary little place with a sign out front that read "General Store." I'd been driving down some lonely state roads, going through nothing but forests for nearly an hour. This is what I was looking for. I pulled into the General Store and got myself a few supplies. Not too much. A twelve pack of Diet Coke, some snacks, and a few TV dinners in case I had trouble finding a decent restaurant, or just decided to stay reclusive. I asked the proprietor about places to stay, and she directed me to this lovely little bed and breakfast. Turns out, it's a cabin on a lake. A big lake. And a big cabin. This room is bigger than the one I have at home! The bed's a little more comfy too. My Capital One card already has smoke coming off of it. But I guess that's the way it is when you travel. I almost didn't get off the bed this evening. It's clear and cold and we're getting some snow. Nothing I'm too afraid of, and I can get a ride if I have any trouble.

Oh, right. Where am I? Right now, I'm sitting in a rustic cafe. It's kind of like something you see out of a movie. Everything is made of wood. The lighting is dim. It's cold and dark outside, a light snow is falling outside the window. There's some live entertainment, just a local musician who plays these soothing, instrumental melodies. I've got my latte next to me, and I'm typing away on my laptop. I'm probably not getting very much work done. I'm making judicious use of the wireless connection in here. But this is about as sleepy a town as you can find. And that's exactly what I'm looking for. It's quiet here. Just what I need. A place where I can get away from it all, stop thinking about everything at once and just breathe, sort my thoughts and get my direction. It's a little scary to be as old as I am and still have no idea exactly who Ginger Foutley is. And I want to be able to answer that question with confidence before I change my name to Ginger Patterson. I want to know what I'm getting into, and let Darren know what he's signing up for.

Already I can say one thing for certain. I like this. The whole atmosphere is starting to bring back memories for me. It reminds me so much of being at the Avalanche Arts Academy. I went there for a whole semester back when I was in Junior High School. I have a lot of memories from that place, some better than others. And even though there are some things I'd rather forget. . .I have to admit that there is a small part of me that always wondered what would've happened if I had chosen to stay there. I find myself thinking of these things a lot lately, going over all the major decisions in my life, questioning whether or not I made the right choice. The hardest thing is that maybe there isn't a real way to know. Which is why I probably shouldn't obsess over these kinds of things to begin with, but here I am anyway. I guess maybe it's just human nature. This is the kind of thing we do. The whole world's crazy, right? Yeah, that's what I thought too.

So really, who am I? I'm the girl with red, curly hair who just kicked her sneakers off in a public cafe because she doesn't care what people think of her. I'm the girl with a strong value system that I'm willing to walk the line for even though it often lands me into trouble. I'm the girl that somehow manages to turn out stuff that people want to read even after I question the entertainment. Seriously people, what's up with that? Um, not that I'm complaining, but your devotion to my column and my books is really overwhelming. When I get the quarterly sales figures, sometimes I have do a double-take. And it's not as though I'm getting rich or anything. I'm making a living, and I'm fine with that. I didn't take up writing to become a millionaire. I don't even own a house! But I guess I just never expected to get this far. You have to understand that often times, the stuff I write here is stuff I would've just scribbled into a journal and forgotten about. The writing is the release. Or at least, it used to be. Now I'm not so certain anymore. Things have changed. I find that I look forward to things like fan mail and book signings. You all make me feel like a contributing member of society, like I have a reason and purpose. I guess that's one of those fundamental things that everyone seeks. I still don't even know just what it is about me that people seem to like so much. Do I just have one of those faces? Does my voice really come through in my writing? Do I make people comfortable by sharing my life experiences. If so, maybe I'm the one taking comfort. If anyone else out there is leading the kind of crazy life that I am, then I already feel better. Maybe I'm not such a hopeless case after all.

The snow is still falling outside. Each little snowflake unique in its own way. And so are we. But each snowflake is nothing alone. They have to chain themselves together to make a difference, weaving a tapestry to blanket our lawns and streets and mountains and rooftops. They each join together to form something greater. Is that, then, what our true purpose in life is? A brotherhood of men and women that ultimately help us achieve greatness as a species? I don't know, it just seems a little far fetched. If that were true, wouldn't we spend more time finding ways that we're all similar instead of throwing up walls and barriers because of our differences. Maybe I'm just being an idealist now. I'm certainly not about to give a political speech, that's in the writer's handbook. If I told you what my values are, I'd just polarize all of you, and that's not what it's all about. Besides, who really wants to get into all of that nonsense, anyway. We're better than that, and better than whatever differences divide us.

Okay, wow, maybe I'm starting to sound a little preachy after all. Sorry, it isn't intentional, really. Some days I just don't know what I'm doing when I start writing. I guess that's the chance you take when you decide to read my column. Or maybe I'm just covering up my own feelings of fear and inadequacy. I decided to take this trip so I can find myself, but I've learned from enough books and movies that sometimes, finding yourself can be pretty painful. You might even learn some things you wish you hadn't. As a child, I thought I grew up kind of normally. It wasn't until I became a teenager that I started to notice that some of my friends were better of than I am. And it really didn't strike me just how different myself and someone like Courtney was until she became a much larger part of my life. It's amazing how much things can change, how our worlds expand exponentially every year while we're growing up. They say it's our youth experiences that go a long way towards determining who we are, who we become. I'm inclined to agree. Maybe that's what makes this so funny, that I don't know who I have become in spite of the fact that I was present for all of my major experiences and choices. But I can't mete out some kind of pattern or answer. I don't know where I'm going, I don't understand the things that life is showing me. So I guess that's giving me kind of a downer feeling.

When I look around this little main street cafe, I like the feeling I get. There's almost a feeling of contentment and family here. These people all know each other. And I'm a stranger, but not an unwelcome one. It's as though I can sense them feeling me out, trying to figure out what to make of me. And I think I would like to be one of them, at least for a little while. One of the servers has been flirting with me a bit, but he seems nice enough. I almost feel guilty, knowing I'm going to have to disappoint him, but sometimes life just can't be helped. Nice guys don't deserve getting their hopes up for nothing, though. I'll try to let him down easy. The local musician's group is playing some Pachelbel. And the waiter that likes me just freshened my latte. I wiggle my feet together in a kind of anticipation. Yes, I think I could learn to like it here, at least for a little while. There's something about this place that speaks to me. Something whispered, but good. A girl could get used to this. I only wish you could see my smile. Hello, world. Foutley's back!