Popular Street - by Cary Umhau
When I was one month into my now-long marriage, I lived on Popular Street in a small town in North Carolina. I lived there until I was standing on the precipice of month three of wedded bliss. My husband was doing a Family Practice rotation during medical school, so off we’d ventured, together, for 30 long days in this rural berg.
Marriage was sweet. After dating long-distance all but five weeks of our relationship, I loved seeing this man every day.
Yet having come from a duplex in which I lived with 15 friends in college to -- a few weeks later -- suddenly, marriage, I also wanted some other friends.
And my husband worked long hours.
And I couldn’t work at all… or even volunteer. Because I was a suspicious character in this small town… a persona non grata, it turned out, coming out of nowhere as far as they could tell.
I went door to door on Main Street hoping that some fine establishment would let me volunteer. I was rebuffed at the library where I wanted to shelve books or sweep or just sit around and watch them clean soda stains and petrified gum from the Bookmobile floor.
I was turned away from helping with the upcoming “Miss Allegheny County” beauty pageant. They “had all the help they needed.” Surely I could have pinned sashes or typed up programs or cleaned the bathrooms of the school gym where, eventually, a cutie named Jan (who twirled a fire baton while roller skating) was crowned.
But no… I was a stranger.
And so I spent my days alone, mostly indoors, on Popular Street, writing thank-you notes for gifts I’d received from the many folks I’d so recently entertained at our gargantuan Southern wedding.
I still can’t hear the word “popular” without thinking of our tiny apartment there, where I relied on soap opera characters’ voices (though not faces, for the television had only sound) to keep me company. I picture the soiled, tri-color (dirt, mud and dust), earth-toned, shag carpet and the wagon-train-themed couch fabric.
I recall the view of the parking lot through the one miniscule window, and I remember how hopeful I felt when I heard voices out there, only to realize over and over that none of those voices belonged to people who were coming to visit me.
It was only a month.
Life and relationships picked up momentum as the years went on.
But I felt mighty alone in the social wilderness of both Main Street and Popular Street that month.