Author: Trom DeGrey
Have you ever done something truly brave? Bravery isn't nearly as complicated as you might think. It isn't just about saving a mother of three from drowning in the ocean or rescuing a baby from a burning home. Bravery can be in the little things too.
It can be about standing up to the school bully or speaking your opinion even though you know it will be unpopular.
It can even be about just saying "Hello".
But whether you wear your politics on your bumper and wield a weapon no more dangerous than your wits or you wear a military uniform in a country you'd never heard of until three months ago and wield a weapon of the latest technology, one thing is for certain - your act of bravery will change at least one life. Most likely, your own.
I was brave once.
It changed my life irrevocably. If you've got some time, I'd love to tell you about it.
I suppose I should start by telling you a little something about myself. All good storytellers give you background - set the scene, right? Well, I guess that means I have to talk about me a little bit to get to the good parts. Just bear with me?
I'll start by telling you that I am a creature of the night.
No! Not that kind of creature! I work at third shift.
Do you sleep with the radio on? Have you ever woken up at 2 in the morning from a nightmare? You're lying there sweating, gasping for air, your heart's racing and then you hear something. There's this voice coming from your radio and it grounds you. You suddenly remember you're safe in bed and it was all just a silly dream.
Well, that voice is me.
Here in this town anyway. I hope you have a soothing voice on your radio at 2am wherever you are too though. I used to be the early voice that woke you up before the annoying morning show started, but those morning shows are annoying for a reason - the DJs.
I dreaded crossing paths with them. One of them always had something to say as I left the booth and they went in. I put up with their little comments and lecherous looks for a while, but I'm only willing to deal with so much. So I asked for a different shift where I wouldn't have to see them and wound up with the graveyard.
That's fine by me.
It lets me live exactly how I want and I don't have to worry too much about interruptions from the complexities daylight seems to bring. My mother, of course, abhors it. She says that it isn't safe and I need a tan and I'll never meet a nice girl... Typical mom.
So, anyway, I get to live at my own pace. What does that mean? Well, for starters, I don't "do" lunch. The only person I have to "do" lunch with, usually, is my production engineer and I normally have to wake Roger up by winging my wadded up playlist at him. Actually, Roger is the reason I've gotten so good at cooking for two.
His diet was atrocious.
I swear he lived on peanut butter and butter for the first six months I knew him. Then some of the fast food places started staying open late and even all night, so he got a little variety. When he brought me in a bean burrito for the fourth night in a row, I knew something had to give though.
Now, don't get me wrong. I enjoy overly processed beans, cheese and sour cream in a tortilla cooked under a heat lamp as much as the next girl, but only when I feel like shortening my life by a few months. So, I cook. And Roger has discovered broccoli.
I don't own a TV. There's nothing much on when I'm awake anyway. Sometimes I wonder if there's much of anything on when I'm asleep though too.
I used to belong to a gym, but let's just say I'm not the most coordinated person on the planet, shall we? I just do my yoga routine in my living room now. That way if my Tree falls over or my Extended Triangle over extends an ab muscle or my Dead Body turns into a light nap or my sticky mat becomes a Slip-N-Slide under my sweaty feet there's no one there to see it except the cat.
And she's not talking. She knows who feeds her.
The grocery is an experience. I'm a dawdler by nature. It used to make my mother crazy. She could never get me anywhere in a timely fashion. Living a nocturnal life is perfect for this. I don't have to rush through the store to avoid long checkout lines or grumpy parents who never should have become parents in the first place.
I can take the time to chat with Diane as she haphazardly tosses out more broccoli and eggplant. She's always telling me I could get a girlfriend if I would just get my tongue pierced like hers. I just giggle and ask her what color she's planning on dying her hair next week.
We should all have a grandma like her.
Summer is my favorite time at the grocery. I like to go early in the night and speculate with Angie at the service desk about the toilet paper toting teenagers roaming the store. I have to wonder who they think they're fooling. Of course, we were all that young and dumb once I suppose.
I don't like to go to the grocery store too late at night (very, very early in the morning for you day people) no matter the time of year. If I do, I'm likely to see some Super Mom in her too-expensive jogging suit with her I-just-worked-out light sweat and nauseating energy marching around. I just want her to get her odd smelling coffee and colon-clearing muffin and go home to her nuclear family. I feel less guilty about buying custard filled donuts when she's not around.
At any rate, the only thing that really bothered me about being nocturnal was my laundry situation. Mom was always telling me to do my laundry at her house, but my tennis shoes clunking around in the dryer at 3am was not exactly conducive to a good nights sleep for her.
I'm not exactly a clothes horse though. I mean, c'mon! Who's going to see me? I'm a third shift radio DJ. So, I had to either go to Mom's and risk waking her up or drag myself out of bed and go during the day. Not a pretty picture.
An ad in the paper held promising news though. An all-night laundromat was coming to town. The name of the place made me giggle: The Moonlight Spin & Rinse. It made me think of a Barry Manilow song.
Mom wasn't thrilled, but I was. I would have clean clothes and she would get a full nights sleep. What I didn't expect from The Moonlight Spin & Rinse was the ultimate test of my bravery.
No, the place wasn't held up.
The second Saturday I was there she walked in. She had red hair and green eyes, a cute little boyish figure and a smattering of freckles over every bit of skin I could see. Lithe was the perfect word for her.
Of course, spazz was a pretty good word for her too.
She was the most kinetic person I had ever laid eyes on. She was hardly ever still. Her feet, her hands, her heart stopping green eyes: they were almost always on the move. The only time she was still was when her washers went into their spin cycles. She seemed to be mesmerized by her spinning wet clothes and I wondered if it was a kind of meditation for her. I probably would have been a little freaked out by this except that I often caught myself studying my dryers for the Tootsie Roll Effect: That bizarre phenomenon when all your clothes congeal themselves together in a big roll and just flop from the top of the dryer to the bottom without actually getting dry.
I had seen her in the grocery store once or twice, but I don't think she ever noticed me. She always looked completely absorbed in her list or too busy avoiding Ralph who is a chronic, if harmless, drunk that likes to talk to the pickles. Diane told me her name was Willow.
I thought it fit.
I wondered what she did for a living. It occurred to me that with energy like that, she might be a day person with chronic insomnia. I hoped that wasn't the case. I so wanted this beautiful, fluttering, shy woman to be a creature of the night like me.
That doesn't mean I could get up the nerve to talk to her though. Oh, no way!
We just seemed to hover in one another's orbit every Saturday night. I would get there first and load my clothes in the washers and then try to find the perfect spot to sneak glances at her the rest of the night. My favorite place was the bench perpendicular to the table furthest from the doors. It faced the wall of dryers and I always did my best to fill all the top dryers so she would have to use the bottoms ones.
She fills out her jeans nicely. Sue me.
Have you ever played the laundry game? It was fun with Willow. The woman has a hoard of clothes! If I had that many, I wouldn't have to do laundry for a month. All I could figure was she must like having all her choices available. It gave me more to work with when I was trying to figure out what I could about her life though.
The biggest reason I feared she was a day person was that she obviously worked in an office. She had dress pants. No, I mean she had lots and lots of dress pants. Black, navy, brown, grey, tan, grey with dark grey pinstripes, black with white pinstripes, there was even a pair of dark green houndstooth check. I cringed when she threw all five pairs from that week, no matter their color, into the same washer.
I think she had at least three shirts for every pair of pants too. Pullover, button down, short sleeved, long sleeved, you name it and in every color imaginable too. She had one of those self-dry cleaning bags that she would toss them all in to, again without regard to color.
Is it a wonder she didn't have anything white?
There were casual clothes too. She had several t-shirts with kitties and bunnies and cutesy things all over them. Quite the paradox, my Willow. There was still a giggling little girl underneath the businesswoman.
She also had several plain t-shirts that were pale pink. No doubt victims of her minimal sorting policy. They matched the fuzzy pink tennis shoes she often wore though.
She wasn't the sock collector that I am, but her's told more about her than I'm sure mine do. I don't think she owned a pair of plain white ones. They were different colors or had stripes or other designs. She even had argyle socks - yes, argyle. She had socks with penguins, dolphins, giraffes, bears - a veritable zoo for her feet. I figured she was either an animal lover or her mother had decided she should collect odd socks.
Ask me about my collection of ceramic frogs.
As best I could tell, her pjs consisted of a well-worn football jersey and a pair of yellow slipper socks with angry looking ducks on the side of them. I wondered if that was an unconscious signal that she was grumpy when she woke up.
I tried not to be all pervy and check out her underwear, but if I purposefully made her use the bottom dryers so I could watch her bend over, you know I failed in that attempt, right?
They were lace. I swear to you, they were all lace. That sort of boy leg design, you know? While I thought they'd be really itchy, my heart did race when I thought about her in them. It also made my heart race thinking about what it might mean. Was there a passionate woman in there dying to get out?
I guess it goes without saying that I wanted to find out if I could.
By far, though, my favorite piece of Willow clothing was the one that told me the most about her. She wore it on a cool rainy night the first time I saw it. It was a black hooded sweatshirt that just seemed to swallow her and on the front was the announcement that completely stole my heart.
Property of Geek Dept.
I was in love.
Of course, it occurred to me that this near stranger I'd fallen for was straight. Nothing in Willow's wardrobe gave me any hints either. I mean, at least I had a Xena t-shirt. I figured that was pretty much my neon sign. I was only willing to trust my gaydar so much.
So, I stayed in my shell and we continued to orbit one another. There was the occasional soft "Hi" and we would catch the other staring now and then, but I couldn't seem to find the courage for anything more.
Then one night, something out of the ordinary happened and I seized a chance to be brave.
The warm night had smelled like rain as I walked through the parking lot. I smiled when I entered the laundromat - empty as usual. That made me a little nervous sometimes to be honest though. More than once, I'd thought about buying more clothes just so I could come in more than once a week. I didn't want the place to close after all.
I quickly loaded my washers and took up residence on my favorite bench. I hadn't been settled long when I heard the bell above the door ring. I looked up to see her scurrying in. I could hear the rain softly pelting outside before the door closed behind her. She shook her head and some of her chin length red curls stuck damply to her face. I tried not to sigh too loudly.
I stuck my nose back in the hilariously stupid romance novel I'd borrowed from Mom and silently cursed my luck as Willow took her clothes to the table directly behind me. I could hear her sorting her clothes as much as she sorted them, but after a little bit it became quiet behind me. I was hyperaware of Willow's nearness and I desperately wanted to turn around. I kept my head down but raised my eyes to the dark maw of dryers across from me. I caught her reflection in one of the glass doors and snorted a short laugh.
She'd stopped moving because she was standing there staring at me. I'd seen that look before. Her eyes were glazed and she absently chewed her bottom lip. I always hoped that look meant all things naughty were rolling through that brain of hers, especially when that look was directed at me.
I nearly peed myself when the bell above the door jangled. I looked up to see who on earth had come in. Willow and I were always the only two here at this hour.
It was a police officer. He was young and rather plain looking. Other than the crew cut of his light brown hair and the fact that he was painfully thin, the most remarkable feature about the officer seemed to be that he was completely obsessive-compulsive about his uniform. It was pressed to military perfection and he seemed intent on straightening and shining until it was new again.
I looked down at my own red tank top, raggedy black sweats and white tennis shoes that had seen better days and suddenly wondered how homeless I looked. Maybe that's why Willow didn't talk to me. Her own faded jeans and Happy Bunny t-shirt proclaiming, "Dude, you suck." didn't exactly scream Nieman Marcus though. So I quickly let that thought pass.
As he continued to maniacally rub the rain into his uniform and mutter to himself, the thought popped into my head that the Hillside Stranglers had liked to dress as police officers. I suddenly wished I'd picked up my hardback copy of Order of the Phoenix. I wasn't sure how much damage I could cause with a paperback. Especially one I'd dropped in the water when I'd fallen asleep in the tub two days ago.
I turned worried eyes up to Willow. She looked ill at ease as well, but could only shrug before we both trained our eyes on him again.
He finally stopped fiddling with his uniform and looked up at us and smiled. I relaxed a little. He seemed sweet enough, just nervous. Willow still looked awfully edgy though.
The officer starting walking toward us and just about the time he hit an area of floor tiles that I had noticed had been replaced a few weeks ago, the comedy of errors began. I jumped up when his feet went flying out from under him, but, thankfully, he managed to save himself on the table next to him. Neither one of us could have gotten to him in time.
Suitably embarrassed, he pulled himself up and tugged at his uniform and belt again. He gave us a more subdued smile. "It's uh..." I winced for him when his voice cracked. He coughed and tried again. "It's wet out there," he said and then laughed a high-pitched nervous laugh.
I crossed my arms as goosebumps rolled over me. Perhaps I'd relaxed a bit too soon.
I gave a silent cheer when Willow grabbed her large bottle of liquid detergent. We were on the same page. She walked right over next to me and I could hear her hand twisting against the plastic handle. One good whack would get us out of here.
He began moving toward us again at a much more sedate pace. She turned toward me slightly, never taking her eyes off him. I almost giggled when I realized she was trying to shield me.
"Um, hi," he said and then waved. I resisted the urge to waggle my fingers back. "I'm Officer Baxton," he said and extended his right hand. I panicked when Willow lunged forward. What was she doing? If he grabbed her first, she had the weapon!
I released the breath I was holding when she stepped back unscathed. His eyes grew as bright as a kid's on Christmas when Willow shook his hand. He seemed so young and excited; I couldn't help but smile when I shook his hand.
"Sorry to startle you there," he said, gesturing toward the door.
He was still a little breathless and flushed from his near fall. Now that he was closer, I could see his eager mahogany eyes and splotchy skin. If he was a serial killer, then I was gonna die, because I was thoroughly charmed by this nervous but intent new police officer.
"Are you alright, Officer Baxton?" I asked, genuinely concerned.
"Oh, yes, ma'am," he said, raising his right hand. "Just fine. Police officer has to be in good shape, you know."
Do you know what kept me from laughing then? The fact that I knew his mother must be the proudest woman in the world.
"This is my new beat," he declared, rocking back and forth on his heels. "So, I'm just going around introducing myself to all you night owls." Willow and I laughed politely at the old stand-by nickname. He chuckled too and missed me rolling my eyes. "Actually," he said, "this is the best reception I've gotten so far tonight. Most of the fast food places thought I was some loony or a serial killer or something."
I felt awful.
"Can you believe that?" he asked with his nervous laugh. "Me?"
Willow and I exchanged a guilty glance before turning back to him. His smile faded and he looked down at his extra-shiny shoes.
I hated it.
I hated that people thought he was strange because he loved his job so much and was concerned about their safety. I hated that I couldn't talk to Willow, yet here was this young man wandering through the night stopping and talking to everyone he met. I hated the way the world treated this brave police officer.
And I hated being a coward.
"Officer Baxton, I think it's terribly..." I paused, wanting just the right words. "...community-minded of you," I finally said, hoping he would see my sincerity.
I was overjoyed to see his boyish smile return. "Well, thank you, ma'am!" he said happily. "I just wanted to let you ladies know that I'm around if you should ever need anything," he said, looking as if he was about to burst with pride. "Isn't it awfully late for two pretty ladies like yourselves to be doing laundry on a Saturday night?" he asked suddenly.
I'm sure he was thinking we should both just be getting home from some hot date. I wasn't going to be the one to tell him that laundry and Willow-gazing on a Saturday night was my version of a hot date.
"I work third shift," we said at the same time. I gave another silent cheer. There was a big question answered. I couldn't keep the grin off my face and ducked my head when she smiled back at me.
"Ah," he said quietly. I could see the wheels turning in his head as he studied the two of us standing there together. I couldn't help but wonder what he was thinking.
I jumped when he suddenly stopped rocking and yelled, "OH!"
He'd obviously figured something out for himself. "You!" he shouted, pointing first at me and then at her. "Oh!" he yelled again.
"Oh?" Willow asked. We were both lost.
"Right! I get it!" he said, putting his hands up as if to say "no wait, don't tell me". "Hey, that's great," he said, grinning widely. "I serve and protect all citizens," he reassured us.
Realization dawned. He thought we were together.
I think I felt the blush start in my toes. Willow just looked at me blankly while Officer Baxton smiled and rocked like he was sure he was well on his way to his detective's shield already.
Now, don't misunderstand. The thought that Willow and I had enough chemistry for this nervous gung-ho rookie to pick up on it despite the fact she and I had never really spoken made me deliriously happy. But if there had been a big enough rock nearby for me to crawl under...
He suddenly laughed again and Willow and I both shivered. "Well, I'll just be on my way now," he said and waved as he headed toward the door. I guess he'd seen enough of Lesbian Laundry Night.
She waved back. "Have a safe night, Officer Baxton," I said.
"Thank you," he said and I honestly thought he was going to skip to the door. I took a breath to warn him about the floor tiles, but it was too late. His feet went flying out from under him again and it was only some impressive flailing at the same table from before that kept him off the floor. He struggled up and to the door, managing an embarrassed wave as he went out. I hoped he had better luck at the 24-hour pharmacy across the street.
I plopped down on the bench. That was the most excitement I'd had on a Saturday night in quite a while. Willow sank down next to me. She looked just as shell-shocked.
"Please tell me I wasn't the only one thinking serial killer when he walked in here," she said.
I laughed lightly and let myself really look at her. I loved the gold highlights in her hair and the way the freckles on her face were more concentrated on her cheeks than her nose. "I was so thinking Hillside Strangler," I admitted. "Of course, I ended up thinking he was pretty brave," I said, hoping Willow understood.
She smiled at me. "Yeah," she said. "I certainly couldn't wander around introducing myself to random citizens at two in the morning." I laughed again, thrilled that at some level she had recognized his bravery too.
She was studying me openly and I shied from the intensity of her gaze. I could feel my courage faltering. She was so close and just so beautiful. Every daydream I'd ever had about her began tickling at my belly. But things were going OK; we were actually talking thanks to the brave Officer Baxton. I couldn't go back now. I just couldn't.
"So, what are you reading?" she asked suddenly.
You know, it was an absolute fluke that I had that stupid romance novel with me, but I knew an opportunity when I saw it. If I could do this right, it would answer the other big question I had about Willow. I watched her face closely as I turned it over for her to see.
Panic swept over her elfish features and my heart started to race. "I don't know why," I said, "but my mother devours these." I tried to act casual. "I read them for the comic relief," I admitted. "I mean, do guys really act like this?" I asked.
I hoped she couldn't tell I was holding my breath. If Willow was gay, maybe she would get what I was really asking. If she was straight, I figured she would prattle on about an ex-boyfriend or something and I would, at worst, probably have a new friend.
She blinked and looked down at the book. When she looked back up at me I could see laughter dancing in her eyes and a smile tugging at her lips. "I wouldn't know," she said softly and I practically stood up and danced.
Now, do you remember how I started all this? How I pointed out bravery isn't nearly as complicated as you might think? That it can be as simple as just saying hello? And do you remember how I told you I was brave once and that it changed my life irrevocably? Well, watch closely. I don't want you to miss it, because that's what happened next.
I looked up at Willow, smiled and did the simplest, bravest thing I have ever done in my life. I stuck out my right hand and said, "Hi, my name's Tara."
Did you see it?