I met my neighbor this morning. It was early, well before the sun came out, and she was smoking in the front of her driveway near the street. I had never met her before.
This may not seem remarkable except for the fact that I’ve lived in my house for close to twenty-two years, and those neighbors have been there longer than me. Yet, two doors away, our paths have never crossed.
It got me to thinking about the hidden depths, those ones under the surface that others don’t see. I keep to myself in my neighborhood, and few know what I do. They don’t know what happens inside my house, they don’t know what I do and they don’t know what makes me tick. Just as I didn’t know until a half hour ago that a woman named Patty lives two doors away. Apparently they have two dogs. I did not know that either.
As a writer I like to use third person generally, although I occasionally use first person in my short stories. Third person gives me the ability to shift characters and tackle the story from another’s point of view. It would be as if I were telling one part of this encounter this morning and then Patty picked up the narrative, telling how she’d encountered a neighbor she hadn’t known she had while breaking her routine and smoking in front of her house.
It’s those little things, the small coincidences that can breathe life into my narrative. Anything can happen at any time but as a writer I have to make that believable. I can’t just pull out a grand deus ex machina at the end and have an all-powerful entity fix my story. If this blog were one of my books then you can bet that Patty the neighbor would show up again at some point. And if she didn’t show up in my first draft, if she was on the stage for one scene and gone, I would put her back in again. She would have to come back or the narrative of Patty I had created, if only by suggestion, would be incomplete.
I don’t know Patty’s story. She doesn’t know mine. But I bet there’s a rich tapestry of life behind her eyes, narratives that could breathe life into the story of my neighborhood. As a writer I’m always curious about what lurks behind the scenes. Their house is overgrown with shrubbery in front, and two dead cars lurk in the driveway. Good stuff there. Lots of ways to go with those elements. It was an unexpected moment, and that’s what made it so powerful. It reminded me that the thread of a narrative may seem linear but all the side branches are what give it depth and power.
So, to Patty my not so new neighbor, thank you! You added something to my walk this morning that I didn’t expect.