Don’t change a hair for me

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By Sean Dietrich

It was a Wednesday. I know this because on Wednesdays the Baptist church had family suppers.
And although I wasn’t exactly a faithful Sunday churchgoer, I was a devout mid-week supper-eater.
That night, I stood in line behind a girl, holding my plate. She was funny. She had so much personality she hummed like a neon light.
Later, I sat beside her during service. That week, there was an out-of-town preacher. The kind with big hair, sweat rags, and nice shoes. He invited people to walk the aisle to get born again.
My pal, Craig,—who lost his religion every football season—recommitted for his thirtieth time. He said he felt something in the air that night.
I did too.
When service let out, the girl wasn’t ready to go home. Neither was I. So, I suggested we drive. She liked the idea—though I’ll never know why.
I pointed my vehicle east, we headed for nowhere, traveling as slow as my engine would run. The miles of pines made her more chatty. She propped her feet on my dashboard and let the words roll.
She talked about things. About how she saw the world, about her favorite kind of mustard, about religion, and the proper way to eat fried chicken.
I gave one-syllable responses because I didn’t want to interrupt. She had a voice that sounded like Escambia County in June.
By the time we landed in Port Saint Joe, her one-sided conversation had faded to a stop. I looked at her. She was sleeping.
So, I pulled into a gas station and got lukewarm coffee.
On the ride back, I thought long and hard. Not just about the sleeping girl, but about how I’d gotten a late start in life. And about how my childhood was a pitiful one.
So pathetic, in fact, it embarrassed me to talk about—kind of like I’m doing now.
When my father died, he left a shadow on me, one I didn’t think would ever lift.
But that night, something did lift. I was someone else. I was the me I’d always known I should’ve been. Not the quiet young man who was too serious for baseball.
This girl. She’d done it to me without even trying. And even if I never saw her again, I was grateful for her.
When I arrived at her house, it was three in the morning. I walked her to the door. I hugged her and whispered, “Maybe I’ll see you again, sometime.”
She said, “What’n the hell’s maybe? ‘Course we’ll see each other, dummy.”
Every good thing in my life can be traced back to that night—the evening I became who I am. With her I have everything. Without her I’m a blind man.
That was the Wednesday I got born again.
Sean Dietrich is a columnist, novelist, biscuit connoisseur, and barbecue competition judge. He is known for his commentary on life in the American South.

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