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Jessica, chapter 1


t was July 30 and I was standing at the colorful crosswalk across from the courthouse in Decatur, Georgia when a girl in equally colorful pants showed up beside me. I was trying to get in a couple hours of photography before making the three hour drive home but the on-and-off rain was keeping most people inside. We exchanged a few words, commenting on how long the crosswalk walk signal was taking to change. Seeing my camera, she asked if I was a photographer. I told her I was. She asked if I knew where the train station was. I told her I didn’t because I was from out of town. Then I said, “wait, I do. I was there last night.” I pointed her in the right direction and she started walking. She walked with that flouncy style of the working girls parading up and down Dixie Highway in Lake Worth used to, but unlike those girls, she looked sober, clean and she never asked me for a date. I headed the opposite direction down Ponce de Leon Avenue.

I had been in Decatur  the previous night with hopes of doing some street photography but that too was a washout because of rain. That night I met a black man named Joel at the train station. He was from the Caribbean by way of Brooklyn. He was selling knick knacks in hopes of making a few dollars. His finely chiseled features were brought out by the soft evening light. We talked for about twenty minutes before the rain sent me back to my car. I regretted not giving him a few dollars in exchange for him letting me photograph him. But I only had twenties.

I didn’t find anything happening two blocks down from where I left Jessica so I headed back toward the courthouse. There she was again. “I thought you were going to the train station" I asked. She replied, “I don't have money for the train anyway.” Her uncle Carlos had dropped her off in town that morning for a supposed court appearance. I learned that she was 22, and the court appearance was for domestic abuse charges against her boyfriend. “He just grabbed me by the arms that’s all. My arms were red. I don't want to put him down. That’s not right is it?” Watching her talk I decided I was not going to miss another opportunity. “I want to take some pictures of you. Let me show you my website.” She said that she had always wanted to model and I told her she probably could. I took out my phone and we sat on the wet bench. As I flipped through the slideshow on my homepage she seemed interested and commented on details others might miss. She really enjoyed the photo of the senior citizens in front of the antique store. “That is great! You should sell that to a store, an antique store, the biggest one you can find.” A man with three hats walked by. I said to him, “How many hats do you have on there?” “Count em’ he replied.” Seeing my camera he added, “ It’s gonna cost you if you want to take my picture”  I gave him a few bucks to which he responded, “Today is a glorious day. Praise the Lord. Let us pray" and he took the girl’s hand. After a moment of bowed heads and silence he asked my new young friend, “What’s your name?” “Jessica" she replied. The three of us talked a few minutes then it started to rain heavily. Derek the three-hatted busker headed for the train station. I said to Jessica, “come on, I'm going to buy you breakfast. There’s a diner down the street.”

Jessica was different. It was as if she hadn’t been touched by the 21st century. She had no smartphone, no visible piercings or tattoos,no earbuds and she didn’t begin every sentence with “Like.”

Trying to make up her mind what to order for breakfast, I was taken by her childlike innocence. When the waitress served her eggs and grits I offered her a piece of bacon which she crumbled into her grits along with a packet of sugar and butter. “They’re good like this, here taste” and she pointed her spoon toward me. I tasted and said, “mmmm, they are good.” She told me about herself. She didn’t quite finish high school and had been in a mental health facility for awhile when she was 17. They gave her lithium and it made her feel like a zombie so she wouldn’t take it. She hadn't seen her father in two years or her mother, who lived in Virginia, in over a year. She said she was four months pregnant but she didn’t look it. She was shivering in the air conditioned diner so I gave her my overshirt.

Jessica was obsessing about the court appearance and didn’t know why her uncle said she had to be at the courthouse. She pulled a folded piece of paper from the small fabric clutch she carried and handed it to me. “What does this say? Maybe you can understand what it means.” I read the letter and it said that the arraignment of Jacob Amos was on October 6 and that she did not need to be present, I told her about the contact information on the page for a victim’s advocate. “I still don't understand why my uncle told me I had to be at the courthouse.” After discussing this for a few minutes she finally accepted the fact that she did not have to be at the courthouse that day. Judging my age she said, “I like the Beatles.” We sang parts of a few songs together. Then we sang a couple of Eagles’ songs. I was fascinated as I watched her, wondering what kind of damaged life she had led. What had people done to her, or not done for her? How could such a beautiful child suffer such a life?

She often put her hands to her face in expression, her long graceful fingers touching her lips.  “Let me see your hand. Here, put your hand up to mine” I told her as I held out my hand. We laughed. Remarkably, her hand was as long as mine. “You could be a hand model" I told her.

The waitress came and brought more coffee. She commented on how pretty Jessica looked with her red hair and freckles and wished she had them. Other than seeming to have led a sheltered, difficult life, my time with Jessica seemed normal. There was a comfort between us that felt like we had known each other a long time.  I did not see any sign of learning disability. She was a sweet, shy young woman with a troubled past. At least that was my impression.

Why was I in Atlanta?

For a good number of years I have been experiencing this weird vision thing, especially during highway driving. When it first started, a highway exit sign might say SUMMIT BLVD., I would see SUMIT BLVD. It was some sort of parallax thing. I went to Bascomb Palmer Eye Center in Florida before we moved here but the specialist prescribed glasses that made things worse. So I just lived with it. Last year that distortion started affecting depth perception. If I was driving down the interstate it became difficult to determine exactly what lane oncoming traffic was in. Well there was a median so I knew where it was. I was sitting in our community annual meeting last June, and looking at the financials on the screen I was finally able to describe what I was experiencing. So I did mockups in Photoshop of left and right eyes and went to see a local ophthalmologist. He didn't really say but I knew he had a hunch. He sent me to a retina specialist in Asheville. After hours of tests he came back with the diagnosis - Macular Telangiectasia or MacTel for short. So I asked him how it is treated and he told me, it's untreatable. That's grim!

There is a worldwide research study on the disease and the closest participating facility is Emory Eye Center so I went to Atlanta to enroll in the study. As of now there is nothing they can do for me but if a treatment becomes available I could be eligible.

The good news is that for now, I can still operate a camera and still work in Photoshop (although the tiny menu items are challenging.) Overall, reading small text is difficult. I won't be reading War and Peace anytime soon. The bad news is that eventually reading will become more difficult except for large text. Where that will have the greatest impact is when I have to renew my driver's license in two years. I won't pass and that means I become dependent on someone to take me wherever I need to go. Not much Uber here in the hills.

All in all, I am more bummed about losing my SD card in San Francisco. I had some good images on it!!! I'll deal with the eye problem one day at a time.

colorful crosswalk, colorful pants

Derek the three-hatted busker

let us pray

it was as if she hadn’t been touched by the 21st century

she often put her hands to her face in expression

her long graceful fingers touching her lips

she was a sweet, shy young woman with a troubled past, or so I thought

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