Whatever happened to Chris?
Sometimes I wonder about Chris; but not very often. When I first arrived in rural North Carolina and ended up working on a small town newspaper Chris walked in wearing a leather jacket and a superior frown; a big shot crime reporter in a small town, smoking out of his sardonic mouth round the back of the building, looking me up and down with a disdainful eye, slightly unkempt and on the edge.
Chris was odd and I believed him to be standoffish. He shared the next cubicle to me but we seldom talked. Then occasionally our heads would bob up and down at the same time and we’d exchange a few words. I believe he thought I was standoffish.
Chris, his wife and kids lived a street over to us in a white house, that had the mere whiff of grandeur but seemed to be heading downhill fast. The blinds looked as if they had been in a fight; there were kids toys and trash all over the lawn.
We invited Chris to our daughter’s birthday and he came but he looked ill at ease, staring into the far distance through a haze of blue smoke. We started to wonder if he was a depressive. It occurred to me that what I had assumed was his arrogance was in fact something else.
Chris embraced the crime beat like a pair of well worn boots. He’d hang out in the bad parts of town, looking edgy. He wrote stories that went above and beyond but some days he wouldn’t go there at all. He’d be summoned into the editor’s office and would leave looking more hard bitten than ever. Then there was a rumor and speculation he was interviewing for a big paper in California. Then he stopped coming to work. Mostly.
In the end Chris just quit and disappeared into the dark home with white sidings close to the river. He had a large collection of French literature and he just buried himself in it, I heard. Sometimes he’d be spotted in town and he’d enter superficial conversations. But it was as if his former life belonged to somebody else.
Mostly he disappeared. The world moved on and left him in its slipstream – another Boo Radley in a southern town. The last time I drove by the old house in November I saw his door swing open and there was Chris, still in the small town and looking into the middle distance. I thought about stopping and saying ‘hi’ but I wasn’t sure he’d even recall me anymore and the conversation would be frankly stilted.
Yet there are days when I think there’s a bit of Chris in all of us, days when the strange and trite conversations about road tolls leave us numb, when we find we frankly don’t give a damn about whether Romney is five points up on Gingrich.
There are days when just tuning out on a sunny day and disappearing from sight for the rest of our time on earth seems as attractive as taking the road less travelled.