On Saturday I drove to North Carolina for the wedding of two friends — Natalie and Beau.
Natalie I’ve known not-quite-five years; I met her in June 2004, I think on the 22nd, and I first talked to her on the phone on the 18th or 19th. She had applied for a job at the EB Games at Cary Towne Center, and I, needing to hire some new employees, asked Dan, the manager there, if he had had any promising applications. (Applications come in waves, and they always conform to Sturgeon’s Law.) I pulled the trigger fairly quickly and hired Natalie, and she worked for me for roughly a year and a half. (I kept her on the payroll for a few months longer, until April or May of 2006.)
I met Beau not too long after Natalie started working for me. A matter of days, actually. Beau was a lanky, goofy nineteen year-old. One of my funniest memories of Beau then involved his friend Mike and an old, beat-up car; they came to pick up Natalie from work one Saturday afternoon, and they were driving around the parking lot with a handmade sign that read “Honk if you love Rick James.”
Natalie and Beau were perfect together; they were a matched set even then, and they were — and are — in my estimation one of the world’s most perfect couples.
The wedding itself was beautiful, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried buckets. I also shot three rolls of film. Yes, film. There’s a texture you get with film that digital photography just can’t duplicate. I’ll write about the wedding proper later.
I did feel slightly… adrift at the wedding and the reception, as I didn’t really know anyone, outside of Natalie’s family.
Then I would introduce myself to someone, and the reaction I would get was often, “Oh my god, you’re Allyn.” Beau’s mother hugged me. There was clearly a name that they knew, they they had heard, and many people finally had a face to put with it.
Random strangers thanked me profusely for coming.
I would pass Jimmy, Natalie’s stepfather, at various points during the evening, even before the ceremony (I was among the first guests to arrive, getting to the plantation about an hour before the ceremony). “Thank you for coming,” he’d say. The first time, I replied, “I wouldn’t have missed this for the world.” The second time, “Thanks for having me.” Then, at the reception, he said it a few more times, and it didn’t bother me, per se, but it struck me as strange.
Then, somewhere near 11 o’clock, as the dance floor was thinning and I was standing in the bar area drinking lemonade, Jimmy walked up to me and thanked me again. He’d lost his tux; he was wearing shorts, a black polo shirt, and deck shoes.
“Thank you so much for coming,” he said.
I nodded. “I couldn’t have missed this, Jimmy.”
“You don’t understand. It really means a lot that you came. It matters a lot to her that you’re here. You always treated Natalie good. You’ve done a lot for Travis.” (Natalie’s younger brother.) “I gotta thank you for that.”
I shrugged. “It’s just how I am.”
The conversation fell off. It felt as though he’d made a great confession, and I didn’t really know what to say.
Two weeks ago I read Paul Auster’s Man in the Dark. I’d been meaning to read it for a year, even since I heard an interview with Auster on The Diane Rehm Show where he talked about the book. Then I was in Borders one day on my lunch break, they had the book, and I bought it. The book read quickly — it’s brief, 180 pages or thereabouts, and it’s compulsively readable. I read it, and then reread at least half. It was that kind of book.
There’s a passage, midway through Man in the Dark, where the narrator, retired book critic August Brill, recounts the story of a Japanese film that he and his granddaughter Katya had watched. It’s the story of a selfless woman named Noriko, who sacrificed her life and her happiness for her husband’s family, yet she’s unable to see that. This is the passage that stuck with me — “only the good doubt their own goodness, which is what makes them good in the first place. The bad know they are good, but the good know nothing. They spend their lives forgiving others, but they can’t forgive themselves.”
On the trip down, I stopped and visited two EB Games stores, one in Smithfield, one in Goldsboro. Three years ago, those stores were in my district and the managers were friends of mine. I wanted to see if they were still around — and they were. I hadn’t seen either in close to three years, and both were shocked to see me. “You’re still a legend,” Jim said. “Every inventory, every store opening, you get talked about. ‘Allyn knows every SKU and could rattle them off at the drop of a hat,’ ‘No one scans like Allyn.’ A legend.”
I guess I never felt particularly saintly or legendary, yet both came up this weekend. Others saw me that way. I made a difference in people’s lives, only I never recognized that. The difference between my perception of myself and the way others perceived me came to the fore, and that surprised me. That surprised me a lot.
You see, I feel anonymous.
I should stop feeling that way.