Chance Encounter

(Flicker Douglas T. Muth)

Baltimore Convention Center offers massive concourses, offshoots in many directions, and ours is wide and relatively empty. Only an hour before we had listened to Tommy Orange, author of the novel There There, deliver a wry, powerful keynote address. I had recently finished his moving narrative told in many voices depicting the lives of Native residents of Oakland, California and during his speech, urged Dana, my friend, colleague and erstwhile longtime NCTE Convention companion, to read it. She really doesn’t need my plug; Tommy has convinced her all by himself of course. How she tolerates my enthusiasm, I don’t know. Every book is “the best book,” every session “the one that will change my practice.” But she does, so when we emerge from a poetry session, and I am quiet, she knows something is amiss.

Aging has educated me to this phenomenon called ocular migraine, “characterized by a variety of visual disturbances including visual loss, blind spots, zig-zag lines, or seeing stars. Unlike other forms of migraine, they may occur without any accompanying head pain” (American Migraine Foundation). Experience has taught me that if I relax, breathe, close my eyes for a bit, it passes. After I explain my atypical calm, we’re headed for a lunch break.

My head is down to avoid light pouring in from floor-to-ceiling windows, and I am trusting Dana to navigate when I hear her voice raised, excited, my kind of timbre,”There’s your boy.” And I look up.

It’s Tommy Orange walking toward me; it’s really him. I’d love to say what I said, but I’m pretty sure dumbfounded me let Dana orchestrate the entire photo op. I’ll be honest—it remains a blur to me, but the shaking and the pounding heart, those chills that course like electric current as he heads away afterward, the “Did that just happen?” sensation? That I remember even now.

And relief, relief in the aftermath, that my migraine is gone, 100% gone. I can see clearly now. The mind, the body, adrenalin— miraculous. Tommy Orange: Medicine Man.

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