As I walked the New Haven streets criss-crossing the Yale University campus, a dark cloud of identity crisis rained on my lonely parade. Am I a real writer? I get paid to write. But lots of people get paid to do things they aren’t good at. I’m not a real writer. Everyone can see it but me. I came all this way to find out that I’m a fraud. God is breaking it to me gently. He got me accepted to the Yale Writers’ Conference so I could hear the truth from someone other than Him.
Immersion amongst great minds made me question whether a woman from rural Georgia could compete, could have a voice, could be taken seriously, could come off smarter than an ass in a mule barn. I questioned my competence. The earlier parsing apart of my manuscript resulted in the suggestion that I be more Southern. I wanted to say, “Why whatevah do you mean, Dahlin? Bless your precious haht,” but sarcasm cloaked in cliché serves no one, so I evaluated my insecurities instead.
Aaaaaahhhhhhhhh! Hhhhhiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii! A girl whooped out of York Street breezing past me into the arms of three others whooping in reply. The reunion boiled like a hive. One young woman bounced, another twirled, a third threw jazz hands. Theirs was the secret language of the drama department.
I turned away and resumed self-pity. Clack-clack, clack-clack, clack-clack, clack-clack. Polished black leather dress shoes locked step with my stride. Their wearer commiserated, “That was startling, wasn’t it?”
I looked up into the face of an olive-skinned man with dark wavy hair. He coupled himself to me, hiding the seam between strangers. “Hello,” he said, an Italian accent thickening the word.
Southern women get caught between warnings about talking to strangers and being polite. We almost always opt for polite. “Yes,” I agreed, “it was rather unexpected.”
“You have a beautiful complexion,” oozed my acquaintance. “Are you from California?”
“Where?” I asked, thinking he said Florida. My drawl and his accent created a language barrier causing the first major misunderstanding in our relationship. I hoped we could overcome it.
“California,” he repeated. “You must be from California. Your complexion is so beautiful.” As a Southern lady does thrive on flattery, the Florida mess was forgiven. Light filtering through the trees played well on my features. I wanted to stop and stand there forevah.
“Georgia,” I said. “I’m from Georgia.”
My admirer conversed with ease. “What do you do?”
“I’m a writer,” I answered, feeling sorry for myself all over again.
He turned to me and took my hand in his. “What is your name?”
“That is a very good writer’s name,” he cooed.
“For a hack,” I mumbled.
“I’m Alfonso. Al. Pacono. Like Pacino. Only taller and more handsome.” He grinned down at me. We strolled past the stone buildings and shops. “I write, too,” he said, “for Italian newspapers. I wish I had met you sooner.” His words trembled with passion.
When we arrived at the corner, it demanded we make choices. Again Al grasped my hand. “I will see you tomorrow, no? We can have pizza or coffee, whatever you like. Afterwards you can ride to New Mexico in the trunk of my car.” Spoken in the swells and troughs of an Italian accent, the proposition sounded perfectly lovely. Ignoring the sun glinting off of my wedding band, he affirmed, “Tomorrow.” Then the crowd swept him away, exposing his regrettable comb-over.
I crossed the street, thinking, I am a writer. I’m a writer with a beautiful complexion. If I wasn’t a writer with a beautiful complexion, God would not have sent me an Italian admirer.