this story is a little different than that. this story is about kim&will. two travelers from california that my friends and i met one night while we were grabbing some dinner before ethos (our sunday night church that meets in the cannery ballroom in downtown nashville. it is essentially, in a bar.)
here is the way brittany remembers meeting kim.
She was leaning against the bulk of a green and faded army bag. What was not inside was neatly placed on the sidewalk in front of her. I noticed the way she bit her lip as she leaned over a sketch of a cat. She dipped a wooden stick into an inkwell and worked diligently. A greasy strand of hair hung over one eye, and by the dinginess of her clothes I could tell that she wasn’t just taking a break from shopping. The oversized winter coat she wore was more fit for the frozen glitter of ice in the Alps than late April in Tennessee. She had it zipped with the hood up, and the fur of it fluffed around her face as a breeze fluttered the page she was sketching. I didn’t say a word to her, and in spite of my shame, I didn’t even slow down to ask about her trinkets: a feather, a rock and a compass, all in a neat row.
Instead, as I ran a hand through my clean hair, I wondered if the patrons of the restaurant were disturbed by her presence. I wondered if her wan, innocent face was hiding a dangerous monster, and if her bulging old bag was full of weaponry and drugs. I wondered what wrong she had done to become homeless, and why she was crazy enough to sketch a cat with a stick. Some would say that I wondered all of the right things. My friends however, wondered nothing of the sort. Instead they were fascinated by her drawings and the chunky army boots on her feet. They wanted to hear all about her life and her journey, where she had come from and where she was going. They wondered there with her on the sidewalk long enough to hear that she was twenty-one, her name was Kim and she rode boxcars all across the country. They wondered still longer, and were joined by Will, her traveling companion who was also twenty-one and just as filthy. By the end of all of their wondering, they had invited them to dinner and to church that evening. To my surprise, the two vagabonds politely declined dinner since they “had already eaten,” but jumped at the chance to ride with us to church. Before I knew it, their oversized army bags had been crammed into the trunk of my friend’s car, and my friends were happy as clams as we made our way to Ethos church at the cannery ballroom in downtown Nashville. The good dose of caution I had inherited from my mother caused me to wring my hands for the duration of the entire drive. To my surprise we arrived unharmed, and the vagabonds were jovial as anything. They had never been to church, and their dirt streaked faces shone with excitement every time I snuck a glance at them out of the corner of my eye. During worship I could hear them singing “Holy, Holy, Holy” above everyone else. Afterwards, I saw Kim lean over and hug my sister tightly. We took communion together, and though they claimed to know what it was about, they ate it right away like it was a snack. I couldn’t help it, I found myself warming up to them.
When church was over, and my wondering friends realized that Kim and Will had nowhere to stay that night, someone suggested our college dorms. “Yes!” One friend exclaimed, all caution thrown to the wind. I immediately pictured the landscaping of our campus: manicured lawns, bright flocks of freshly planted perennials, the neat, orderly parking lot, and most of all, the quick pace of campus-security golf-carts armed with super power walkie- talkies. No. It was not a good idea. I bit my fingernails to the quick and saw the two homeless kids sticking out like sore thumbs as they passed through our over-groomed campus. Maybe it was the glow of their dirty faces at the prospect of new friends, soft beds, and a safe night. Whatever the reason, I stayed quiet. Not fifteen minutes later, we were getting their packs out of the trunk in the manicured safety net of our campus parking lot. As the vagabonds hoisted their enormous bags onto their backs, my friends and I realized how conspicuous they really looked. My sister spoke up first. “Hey! Maybe ya’ll want to leave your stuff in the car so you don’t have to carry it!” Our vagabonds thought for a minute, Kim running her fingers lovingly over her bag. “No,” she said, “We like to keep our things with us so we have something to do when we’re just sitting down.” Sensing our fear, Will shuffled his feet. “Sometimes we get profiled because of our packs. People don’t like having us on their property because of what we look like.” Feeling relieved, my intelligent, thoroughly fresh and sparkling friends of the blessed, manicured campus nodded in agreement. Kim smiled brightly, “Oh don’t worry Will! This is a Christian University! It shouldn’t matter in a place like this!” Her words threw us all into uncomfortable silence. Now it was our turn to shuffle our feet and look down at our new shoes in embarrassment. I realized that moment that Kim believed without a doubt she would be accepted and fully loved at a Christian University. Her eyes glowed. She was wooed by the thought of a clean bed and all of the accepting hearts she would find on our campus. Her innocence shamed me because I realized that her childish soul could believe in Christianity so fully because she had never been to church. Kim had never been judged by a Christian person. Kim had never been openly judged by somebody like me. We couldn’t break her heart with the truth. Appearances matter more on our wealthy Christian campus than anywhere else. What mattered most among the groomed lawns, pristine flowerbeds, and frequently updated flat screen TV’s in our multi-million dollar institution was above all: the image of the University. We knew that the administration would care most about how campus would look to have two young homeless kids roaming the order they had created. Without another word, we beckoned our vagabonds, and they followed us.
That night, on the porch of my dorm, I watched Will sew patches on his pants with sinew, sharing some with my sister so she could make a windchime out of rope, glass bottles and whipped cream chargers. He asked for some pennies which he into spirals and gave one to each of us as a gift. The bulge of weaponry in his bag turned out to be an old banjo, which he played expertly as curious students filed past, some glowering at the sight of him. Kim played a washboard that she had acquired in North Carolina, and when we asked if she wanted anything she requested only a can of coke, because that was all she was craving. She read all of the philosophers we were studying for art history. We sat together on the porch for hours, playing music, creating things, studying and just sitting together until the rain sent us to bed. We learned that Kim and Will had come from good homes and chose to travel the country by boxcar, hopping from train to train using a book of destinations that had been hand copied. They had some college education, owned a cell-phone and were making their way to visit Will’s grandmother all the way up in Wisconsin. That night they slept peacefully, tucked safely away in beds reserved for University students.
Oddly they chose not the shower in the morning, but consented to breakfast in our dining hall. Standing out like sore thumbs, they acted oblivious to the scowling stares of Christian students and ate their fill. They left with three oranges, three cookies, a deli sandwich, and a cheeseburger wrapped in a napkin that Will attached to Kim’s bag. I prayed that none of the staff would boot them off of campus. I even prayed against the President of the University catching sight of them as he took a morning stroll across the lawn in his suit and tie. We steered them clear of a university tour---which was wrought with high school students and their parents appraising the flowerbeds and the dorms, deciding whether to spend their life savings there. Thankfully their visit went off without a hitch, and they rode with my friend to the rail yard. That’s where they said goodbye, thanking us for our friendship, and promising to call and check in along their way. Before they turned to go, Kim pulled a washed out peanut-butter jar from her bag. It was filled with lavender and animal parts that she had found on her journey. Reverently, she handed my sister two teeth she had found in an animal scull along her way. I picture them huddled together on a boxcar now, their riches on their backs and in the passing landscape of golden cornfields at sunset. Not one of my classmates, with empty eyes peering at me from within a new 2010 beamer can compare with the humble innocence of my vagabonds, and all that they showed me to be. I am positive that they had more impact on a handful of University students than we had on them. Yesterday Kim and Will called. Happy and healthy, they’re somewhere in the throws of an unexpected Northern Michigan snowstorm. Surely Kim is warm in her huge winter coat. I see it now, still zipped up, the fur of the hood keeping cozy her glowing and beautiful face. Sometimes while walking across campus I hear the power of relief in her words: “Don’t worry Will! It shouldn’t matter in a place like this!” It shouldn’t matter. Manicured lawns and marble stairs -- Not in a place like this.
First day the meadow was so full of tall green life; within the week paths wove their ways; another few days and the thousands of people stomped our living room flat and dead and brown. The bridges we coated in steaks of moss and the rocks they stacked in the river with candles atop.
A baby was born there, do you have blankets, extra blankets? we then fed everyone and everything was free. When I went into Walmart the forest was aisles of products and prices and flat things and imaginaries and everyone was just... pretending. I laughed!
Hi I hope ya'll are fine what with the floods. Thanks so much for your love, you and the crew are unforgettable. Hope to visit again. In Missouri with thirteen people and four dogs on a HIPPIE BUS! Kepp on shining.
Good, I'm glad everyone is safe! You have no idea how cool it is to see those pictures. I barely even see mirrors day by day and to see those moments is really like time travelling. So beautiful. I love your photo taking. Love you :)