I once met a strange man who sold sausage skins for a living. I’ve had dinner with a quietly-spoken Aboriginal Greens activist. I know the enigmatic owners of Australia’s longest-running fetish club. I met a grown woman, who spent her whole time dressed as a fairy. I had a fling with a Gold Medal Olympian. I’ve partied in Prague with a professional clown. I worked with a woman who has survived 4 different types of cancer. One of my mates is a firefighter by day, a director of a film festival by night and a lawyer on the weekends. I knew an ex-Nazi POW. I have shared a 4-day train journey across the Nullabor with a well-known social researcher. I once dated a blind man, who owned a car. I’ve done lines with a biker with tears tattooed on his face. I’m friends with a woman who has singlehandedly raised one of the most impressive teenagers you’ll ever meet. And I once picked up a hitchhiker who was carrying nothing but a box of mice.
All of these people share one thing in common: the most incredible stories.
In Belize just recently, I met a man who’d been jailed for 7 years for a murder he says he didn’t commit. He shared with me his story of what happened on the night he got arrested and some of his time in jail. I bought a book of his poetry. Stuff he wrote, while he was doing time. Letters to his mother. Heart wrenching stuff.
Last night, I invited my neighbor around for a drink. Michael is a fascinating gentleman in his late 60s who, after several career incarnations, is now a journalist and travel writer. He told me about a massacre he reported on… Less than 4 months ago in the Peten province just a few hours from here, 29 people were found beheaded in a field. He told me about the time he drove 700 miles to Montana, only to watch a hillbilly predict where they would find gold by waving his keys over a map. And they did. And then he shared with me a rollicking story about an acid-taking gem merchant who he got mixed up for a bit in India. Needless to say, I’m hoping to get some more Michael time before I leave.
And in my TEFL class, there are these two nothing-short-of-inspirational women.
One has only just turned 18. Shelby is bright-as-a-button and looks like she belongs in the Mickey Mouse Club with her cute lil bangs. She hasn’t shared her story with me just yet, but I suspect she must have one… How else does someone so young end up living and studying in such a foreign country, and volunteering with orphans who have the most atrocious deformities (stuff that would bring a grown man to his knees). And yet here she is, on her own. When I was her age, all I was doing was getting drunk, shagging boys, and skipping school. You just know when you meet Shelby she is going to lead an amazing life. I can’t wait to see what she does next.
The other woman is a sparkly girl in her early 60s, who as a teenager had to give up her firstborn for adoption. Over quiche and lemonade, she told me the most tear-jerking story about how everything came together, so she could her meet and have a healthy relationship with her biological daughter. Jenny also has an adopted Guatemalan daughter, which is how she ended up here two decades ago. At the time, she met a local man whom she immediately connected with. And he proposed to her. Problem was, she was on the cusp of marrying someone else. Now, after several wrong marriages between them, they are finally getting a second chance. He said to her a few weeks ago, “the next time I ask you to marry me, you’re not allowed to say no.” It’s a romance to rival The Notebook. And it’s by no means her only story. I’m in love with all the beautiful lines on Jenny’s face and i imagine that behind every one, is another incredible story. And I want the privilege of hearing them all.