We left for the airport before dawn. Dave was driving. His sons,
David Junior and Jacob, were in the backseat. I was thirty-eight
years old. The landscape we were leaving was like the landscape
in a children's book. Shiny new cars beetled to office
buildings. Below, the Grand River curved like cursive drawn
with a thick silver pen across our part of Michigan. We zipped
past bare sun-warm fields on the outskirts of Grand Rapids,
down the new highway to the airport, and I snuggled into
Dave. I had a strong family feeling. I was eager for him to meet
my wild daddy, my dear peculiar mom. Dave was willing, the
boys were excited. None of us were awake yet.
Earlier that week, I'd come back to Michigan from upstate New York, where I was working as a visiting writer during my sabbatical year, so we could all go to Florida together. Dave had picked me up at the airport. I saw him before he saw me, walking down the corridor, past the narrow sports bar. Dave always wore running shoes and his walk was a distinctive leaning-forward walk, springy and gentle. I'd noticed this was how fine runners walked: head level, leaning forward. "You're going forward, not up and down," Dave's coach had told him, driving the bounce out of his step and converting it to speed. In college, Dave had been All-Conference. He'd run with Brian Diemer, the Olympic medalist, and Greg Meyer, the last American to win the Boston Marathon. Dave's event was the 10K. Over and above being fast - five-minute-mile fast - the 10K required terrific strength and focus. That pace had to be maintained for a long time, for half an hour. The biggest problem wasn't getting tired, it was drifting, getting lost in the monotony. Dave had a secret trick. He knew how to make himself see the beautiful cornfields near Caledonia, where he liked to run, instead of what was right in front of him. He could teleport, or bilocate. Dave was confident and sure of himself and calm and humble, all at once. His walk: fast-slow, leaning forward like he wanted to get where he was going while a large part of him was just along for the ride. The entire effect of Dave was hopefulness in running shoes.
I ran up to him and threw my arms around him and stretched up to kiss him; he drew back, pressing me away.
It wasn't Dave. I had the wrong guy.
Dave - my real Dave - came up a moment later; we laughed about my mistake. I was embarrassed he had seen me hugging another man. "So many people here look like you!" I said. "We need to move. To a place with fewer Dutch people." This had happened numerous times before, my mistaking someone else for Dave.
He told me I was funny, and he steered me toward baggage claim.
It had been a decade since I had taken anyone home to Orlando. I rarely visited. The last time I'd seen my parents was three years earlier; the visit had not been a success. My dad could be difficult. My mother could turn on a dime. I'd cut the trip short.
I'd told Dave everything - my dad's drinking, my mom's fragility - and Dave was sensitive, nonjudgmental, insightful. His first wife was a severely disabled schizophrenic: the bar for normal behavior was set reassuringly low. Whenever I called home to check on my parents, Dave held my hand while I shouted into the phone. He even talked to my father a few times. We'd been dating only a few months, and I was temporarily living in another state, but Dave and his sons felt like my family.
Everything was all planned out. My father lived by the airport: we'd drive by his house and the boys could go for a swim in his pool; we'd have a quick lunch. Fred would want to toast to something, so we'd have drinks, play cards, then go up to my mom's for dinner. She was making a roast, shrimp, four vegetables - corn, green beans, beets, carrots - and pies. "I know midwestern men," she'd said. "And I know you don't make pies yourself, Heather. Men like pie. I know you don't like for me to tell you helpful little things, but it wouldn't hurt for you to learn a pie or two."
Excerpted from You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know by Heather Sellers. Copyright © 2010 by Heather Sellers. Excerpted by permission of Riverhead Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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