After a run at Elephant Butte Lake State Park, I was using the multi-level play structure on the playground near the end of the trail as my stretching station. I soon realized there were children not only climbing and sliding on the structure, but under it, using one of its platforms as a sheltered, shady cave. Remembering how much my friends and I loved secret, cave-like spaces when were around eight or nine like these boys, I hoped my presence didn’t bother them.

“Are you mostly with your dad?” one asked.

Ah. New friends getting to know each other. I suspected the boy who asked had divorced parents and spent more time with one than the other.

“I hardly ever see my mom,” the second boy replied with quiet force. “My mom is the least person in my whole life.”

He went on to talk about his father’s parents, and how he saw them a lot, but his pained and frustrated description of his relationship with his mother was what struck me. So did his new friend’s reaction. He simply listened. No advice, no interruptions, just silence.

When the story was complete, the listener let it rest a while, then exclaimed that they should go on the “zip line,” adding, “I don’t care if I break a bone!” Perfect timing.

They charged off to the part of the play structure where child can grab a sliding bar and zip from one platform to the next. It’s not high enough off the ground that a fall would do more than skin their knees, but the fear element must have made it more exciting, and taking risks together helped grow their friendship. Emotional risks as well as physical ones.

Vulnerability, not just doing things, is what makes friendship possible. Otherwise, you’re just acquaintances.

I’m at a point in my work in progress where my protagonist is going through a deluge of stress and making major decisions about her relationships. She’ll form the strongest bond with the person who can listen and accept her vulnerability without judgment.

The Cart

Whose life story did it tell? And how did it become their story? It didn’t begin that way, with a shopping cart full of garbage and drug paraphernalia parked in the unpaved alley behind my apartment. Parked next to the dumpster, with wads of trash and a small cardboard box containing a disassembled pink plastic item still in the cart.

It’s the windy season. If I didn’t do something, this stuff would soon be flying down the alley and getting snagged on cacti. I put on gloves and emptied the cart, aware that I was throwing away things that someone, for some reason, had hung onto. Someone I never see or hear, yet who lives in my town. Someone who hoards peculiar items and uses meth. No matter where their story started, to reach this point, it was a long way down.

I walked the cart to the grocery store and advised the customer service person that it ought to be cleaned, but by the time we got out the back door to where I’d left it , it had already been taken. A shopper was probably pushing it through the store, putting their groceries in it.

I’d like to imagine that whoever left the cart in the alley is getting help, but I’ll never know. Though I’ve tried to come up with an ending for this story, there isn’t one. I passed through the middle of it.