Day Twelve: A Special Skill

I’m a mimicker. There are certain voices and mannerisms I can see and hear and replicate them. It can be in speech or singing. Like the time the woman at Tom & Jerry’s was complaining that they had Wet Wipes but didn’t have any hot dogs. I nailed her yelling fit verbatim as soon as I got back to the car as my husband looked at me like I had lost my damn mind.  Or anytime “Total Eclipse of the Heart” comes on the radio.  I turn into Bonnie Tyler.  Sometimes I can do it on command and sometimes I don’t even realize I’m doing it.  I’ll be in the middle of story and explaining the other characters in the story or I’ll be singing a song and then someone looks at me funny, raises their eyebrows, and starts laughing.  “You’re really good at that,” they say and it takes me a minute to realize I’ve gone into full “mimic mode”.  

-Jackie

___

I used to be very good at opening the locked door of my Geo Storm with just a coat hanger. Even in high school I was a very careful driver. I was careful to get to oil changed at regular intervals. I knew how to replace the wipers and the headlights. But for some reason, I would accidentally lock the keys in the car, oh, at least every couple of months. The nice thing about the Storm is that it had a long window that was easy to push down, just enough and if you knew right where to push, to slip an unbent wire coat hanger in past the rubber. Once inside, it was only a matter of getting the hook around the long flip-style lock and applying the right counter-pressure to pull it out.

Usually this would happen at my parent’s house or the parking lot of my dorm. Places where it was easy enough to find a coat hanger, unwrap the hook and strong-arm it into the proper position. Once, it happened on Highway 17 on the way from Mobile to Starkville – a place I was definitely not supposed to be at the time. I suppose Highway 45 is the faster route but these were the days before Google Maps and I liked the two-lane meandering road through Gilbertown (home of Alabama’s first oil well!), Toxey and Intercourse. Sure, 45 has Buckatunna but there was more traffic and the scenery was depressing.

Somewhere along Highway 17 I stopped at a gas station. When I returned to the car, my heart sank when I saw that I had once again left my keys in the ignition. I’m a teenage girl in the middle of nowhere Alabama and the sun is starting to go down. I walk inside and ask the clerk if she has any wire hangers but she does not. I’m leaning on the car, thinking through the problem, dead-set on not calling anyone for help. I’m the only one at the gas station for about fifteen minutes. I’m looking around the edges of the parking lot for some likely sticks when a huge raised pickup truck with a gun rack pulls up. Two guys in camo get out and look me up and down. They go inside the store. I’m instantly wary. However, I glance in the window of their cab, and what do I see? A coat hanger!

I wait for them to come out and anxiously ask them if I can have the hanger. I’d convinced myself that I had no other choice but I was so nervous. These are big redneck guys and strangers. The only other person here is the clerk. Once they understand why I needed it, they give it to me. They turn out to be perfectly nice people. They stand back as I wrestle it into shape for a minute and then laugh and come to help me. One tells me about his sister running out of gas somewhere as he holds the window down and I wiggle the hook into place. The other is concerned that I’m driving by myself, which is annoying but still kindly meant.

We’re terrorized our entire lives with stories about strangers and the things they will do to us when we’re young, vulnerable or female but this was one of the first experiences I’d had to see the surprising good in people. Open-hearted and unqualified. I still wonder, as I did then, what their response would have been if I wasn’t young or white. I truly like to imagine that it would have been the same and just as warm and surprising to the recipient of that kindness. Maybe they are the angels in camo of Highway 17, protectors of travelers and providers of coat hangers. I like to believe they’re out there roaring along in their monster truck and still helping people to this day.

-Deni

This has definitely evolved in my mind. Maybe it was survival instinct, initially. In short, I believe I started acting to save myself? There are certainly parts of my personality and experiences that have set me up to be an artist, but there was nothing clear in the early days that would suggest I would be a performer. As a child that fluctuated between extreme shyness and erratic emotions, much of my energy was focused on building up mechanisms of restraint. Holding feelings back. I spent a lot of time playing in my room, drawing. My family thought I was going to be a visual artist, or some kind of private art form, or something more practical like advertising. We moved from Memphis to Alabaster when I was in 4th grade. That pathological need to be liked & accepted really blossomed in that time. So, in a way, I started acting then. To make friends, to be liked, but I was still a shy weird kid trying to figure out why I felt so much. When I was younger, my mom tried to help me find outlets. My family has always supported me, even at my weirdest, but we had very few examples of how to cultivate artistry. I did pageants, which is just a horrible idea for so many reasons. I tried dance and fled the stage the first time bright lights hit my eyes. I passed out during a choir recital. Part of that was physical sensitivity, but a deeper thing going on was the power I felt inside. High school came around and I was drawn to theatre. Timing and medium formed something sticky and I never turned back. I understood it in my body immediately. I can do this, I can do this really well. My empathy finally felt like a gift. It wasn’t comfortable, in fact it was often painful. I would get headaches pretty much every time I performed. My body shook. The choice is still changing me. I’m still learning where those initial impulses are to take me. I’m still gaining control over my emotions and softening the barriers. 

-Virginia

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