A contributed perspectives piece by Tom Arthur
Yesterday in my chiropractor’s waiting room, a fellow patient said “Don’t I know you from somewhere?” He looked familiar but I couldn’t place him, though some association with Eastern Mennonite University came to mind. “You’re Tom Arnold, aren’t you,” he asked? Hmmm. I knew I’d seen him before and he’d called me that name.
The woman in the chair next to mine was slim and grey-haired, dressed in white slacks and a blouse topped with a lace Mennonite cap. Opposite her, a lady outfitted in black shifted in her seat as if she was dancing. Both were doing crossword puzzles. The latter asked the former if she knew what an “Oryx” was. “It’s a sort of antelope,” my neighbor said and added, “We both seem to be working on the same puzzle.” The lady in black replied “Good. What’s an ibex then?”
“We were in the same men’s group,” the man said.
I haven’t been in a men’s group since 1974 when my former wife and I were breaking up. Most of the men in that group ended up divorced. One was gay. Two were married to women coming out as gay. Several were experimenting with other partners.
“Ibex is another variety of antelope. I saw them in South Africa,” I said. I was wrong. Ibex is a variety of mountain goats. I looked it up when I got home. I was thinking of Elands.
Now I remembered the man. He was a just-married Mennonite farm boy who seemed out of place in our group of lawyers, academics and businessmen. And he had called me “Tom Arnold.”
“You were in South Africa!” exclaimed my Mennonite neighbor. “I love South Africa! I envy you so much! What a wonderful government. They had a revolution and nobody was killed.”
The first man remembered I had taught his brother at EMU and that the costumer at James Madison University at that time was his first cousin. His marriage had survived. I was divorced and re-married. It was old broken-home week.
“Not like Mexico,” said a young woman with a little boy playing at her feet. “Fox has destroyed the country. The 2006 election was stolen from López Obrador.” López Obrador ran against Calderon, not Fox, I thought to myself. I wondered if she went home and looked it up.
The man’s mother emerged from the doctor’s office. He didn’t introduce us – and was gone. I looked around the waiting room embarrassed, wondering if the other people had heard us.
The young woman picked up her child, opened her blouse, and began breastfeeding. It felt awkward despite a shared conviction in the room that she could feed her child as she wished.
“Terrible corruption everywhere,” she said.“ Even here in Harrisonburg, my husband and I aren’t allowed to have chickens. We could do that in Charlottesville. We’re starting a petition. It’s just wrong.”
“You didn’t move here that long ago, did you,” the woman asked me. I pointed to the empty chair of the man to whom I first talked. “His brother was in the first theater class at EMU,” I said. “I taught it as a part-timer years ago.”
And now the chiropractor was ready for me. Everyone in the waiting room had been in the conversation. I hated to leave.
Tom Arthur is a retired JMU teacher of acting. He has eight grandchildren.