The 2014 Champaign County Fair opens tomorrow. Though I’ve lived in Champaign County for twenty-six of the last twenty-seven years, I have only been to the fair one time.
The year was 1989, and I was in some kind of relationship with…let’s call her T., so she won’t find this on Google & come looking for me. My friends knew T. better than I did, and were unanimous in their warnings: I was making a terrible mistake. Alas, such counsel fell on callow and clueless – not to mention deaf – ears.
I think now that T. had a much clearer notion than I did of what she wanted, and of what sort of relationship she & I were pursuing. Whatever it was, I wasn’t holding up my end of it; we blundered along for a few months, then it all fell apart.
One day, not long before the end, T. wanted to spend an evening at the county fair, so that’s what we did. She went on the midway rides, while I was tasked with minding K., her three-year-old daughter.
K. didn’t know me, didn’t want to have anything to do with me. I tried holding her hand; she pulled away. I tried picking her up; she squirmed & struggled until I put her down again.
Poor K., she must have been feeling abandoned. At each ride, she waited – standing as far away from me as she could get – for her mother to return.
K. never spoke. In all the time I spent with her, she never said a word.
At one point, T. persuaded me to try one of the rides – a ferris wheel – myself. I was terrified, rattling around in circles on a machine assembled by sleep-deprived, drunk and/or stoned carnies; I expected the thing to crash to the ground, any second. But I survived.
…and that was our evening at the fair.
I am less callow now, being middle-aged, but I doubt that I am any more clueful. I haven’t seen nor heard news of T. in twenty-five years. I wonder, sometimes, what became of her.
K. is fast approaching her thirtieth birthday. She’s talking now, I’m sure.
And the county fair? I haven’t been back.