By continental breakfast, a scribbled plan on hotel note paper marks a new phase of my adventure. Helen risked talking to me when she refused all other interview requests. She urged me to search for the story that might make a difference. I feel emboldened. I feel ready for anything.
I check out of the hotel and drive back to Helen’s house. She tends the scraggly front flower beds but she won’t let me help.
“You don’t want all this muck on your pretty clothes,” she says. I’m pretty sure my t-shirt has holes. My jeans are deeply faded. It’s all a matter of perspective.
“I can’t let you work alone. What can I do?”
“Well, I’ll tell you. Go through the house to the back. Up on a tall stump you’ll find the sun tea. Fetch it to the kitchen. After I clean up, I’ll meet you there.”
I obey. The back yard boasts green grass and several small trees. It looks completely different from the dry, browning front. The flower beds are night and day with huge blooms towering over ground cover back here and pathetic sets of marigolds in front. Helen may be strange, but I have a feeling she tends her plants with purpose. What purpose? I couldn’t say.
Only six cabinet doors line the kitchen wall, so glasses are an easy find. The tea iced, I dash to the car and get some pastries I bought this morning. When I return, Helen has washed and dressed in clean clothes.
“You didn’t have to bring sweets,” she says.
“I wanted to.”
“You have a new look about you.”
“You know what you’ll do.” She doesn’t ask.
“I think so. I have a lead on another family.”
“Far from here?”
“Yes, but I’d rather not say where exactly.”
“I hope they can help you more.”
“You really gave me courage to continue. I appreciate what you said yesterday about finding someone’s story to tell.”
“Computers don’t agree with me, but I know there’s a lot of bad stuff on there. Something ought to be done.”
“What do you think could be done?”
“Heavens! I don’t even know how to turn on a computer, let alone fix this mess of problems.”
“I’m not sure either. I mean, maybe I could carve out a place for people to treat each other better.”
Helen washes down a bit of pastry. “I thought you might be doing more. Once a life has been changed, you can’t just change it back by being nice. If you’d go into people’s houses and take their stories, you’d better be able to offer something real.” She speaks evenly, not harshly; yet, I am annoyed.
“What do you consider something real? I don’t have a million followers. All I can do is try to bring these stories and their effects to light.”
“That’s not good enough.”
If I had millions of followers or some huge platform, then I could raise awareness. As it is, I’d have to find a killer story and then get somebody to pick it up. Even if it caught national attention, I’d need to stoke the fire indefinitely. My note pages full of childish what-ifs shrink in my bag. My courage falters.
“What you need is purpose beyond making your own name.”