spill your guts

Horseshoe-magnet

I have a built in magnet. It works to attract people that I otherwise might not meet. My magnet can be depended upon to pull near to me the craziest, neediest, saddest, and loneliest people in proximity. Tales of woe, distress, illness, sabotage, conspiracy, and government plots all have been the subject of unprovoked sharing. Likewise I hear about triumph over adversity, evil corporations, and politicians. They approach in grocery aisles, department stores, ladies rooms, parking lots, and today in a crosswalk. What is it about me that says “Spill your guts, I can take it?”

Having been told on numerous occasions that I look angry or unapproachable has caused me to believe that my natural face is something of a scowl. But that scowl does little to lessen the pull of my nut magnet. My husband has assured me on many occasions that it is not because I am so nice. So what is it that drives people to tell me how lonely they are, or how sick they are, or how to best prepare those carrots in my buggy?

Their stories can be entertaining, especially in the retelling. A beautiful, but unkempt woman in Times Square once presented me with scraps of paper covered with her teeny tiny scribbling and detailed illustrations on how space aliens were taking over her brain from her television. She was so articulate and sincere that I still sometimes wonder if she could have be right. A man at the gas pump recently told me a detailed story of misfortune that began at his birth and continued until the present day before he asked for money. In both instances they made a bee line for me, bypassing all others, the magnet pulling, pulling them.

Years ago I worked in retail sales in a large mall. I soon had a devoted roster of mall walkers who stopped by daily to tell me their news and often to share a chapter of their histories. For the most part I enjoyed the interactions. The only thing troubling about these folks was the slow realization that all that they wanted was for someone to listen. I heard lots of organ recitals (body aches and functions) looked at lots of grandkid pics (none as cute as my own kids) and too many tales of the good old days to count. The most haunting was an elderly woman wearing a pin shaped like the Eiffel tower on her old winter coat. When I complimented her pin the story started to come out. It was related in bits and pieces over many months. She was so proud of her two grown children. Her husband was a casualty of WWII, leaving her a young widow with 2 babies, a boy and a girl to raise alone. She never remarried. She focused solely on the struggle of raising those kids. And now they were grown, successful, college graduates. Her son had sent the pin from his travels. But for reasons never disclosed they no longer communicated with her. It had been years since she had seen them. Her sadness was palpable and I can still feel it 20 years later.

What draws them to me when there are so many likely listeners around? People without a scowling face and perhaps even with a welcoming smile are all over the place. Is it really magnetic or do they see that girl behind the scowling woman? The girl who was always a disappointment, even to herself. The girl who felt she never measured up to the expectations of others. The girl described in report cards as “does not work to her full potential.” The girl who messed up over and over again. The girl who took forever to find out she was just fine as she was. Maybe it is not a magnet. Maybe it just takes one to know one.

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Image: Horseshoe magnet licensed by LikeTheDew.com - © Can Stock Photo Inc. / dimol
Nancy Melton

Nancy Melton

Nancy Melton has recently added "writer" to her biography. She works in the health insurance industry which has somehow become public enemy number one these days. She is proudest of her role as a wife, mother and grandmother (although writer comes dang close) and wishes she could still claim to be someone's daughter.

13 Comments
  1. Will Cantrell

    Good piece, Nancy. Of course, that magnet also means target! Will

  2. Wonderful encapsulation of self-growth. I really enjoyed your essay, especially the way you ended it by focusing it on your own personality as a way to interpret your special calling. Congrats.

  3. This nut loves you and your magnet. You could call it a validation magnet because that’s what you do. You care and let people know that they matter in the big universe of Nuts.

  4. Eileen Dight

    I don’t know you from Eve but I wish I did.

  5. I don’t think people need listeners as much as they need to talk. For some people, thinking occurs out loud. They don’t think before they speak; speaking is their thinking. That, I think, accounts for why some people’s utterances are so illogical. They just say whatever the environment prompts. So, a scowling face prompts a tale of distress.
    I write what I think, instead of talking. Talking leaves me quite worn out. Fortunately, most people prefer their audience to be silent. :)

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting Hannah

  6. Like you, I too am a magnet. Apparently a sign reading “Tell me all about it” hangs around my neck, and it’s visible only to the more colorful citizens of the world–like the woman on a bus who told me that she frequently got out of bed to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in her kitchen with Jesus. She was so matter of fact about the physical reality of these midnight meetings, I found myself wondering if the next morning there were two milk glasses on the table. As you pointed out, these encounters provide good stories for re-telling. Good essay; I enjoyed it.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting Lindsie. It’s great to know there are so many of us magnets around!

  7. Tom Ferguson

    my “magnetism” runs to: within 5 minutes of arriving at a party the resident fascist has found me and we are fruitlessly engaged. tom ferguson

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