I had a margarita for lunch and had to walk it off for a half hour or so before returning to the Santa Fe Public Library to continue my work for the day. I am here to drop my little brother off at college, to see some new things, and to take a little break from New York. I tell myself.
I decide to flip through the stores like pages in a magazine. I wander through one store for five minutes, realize they only sell lingerie, and walk out. I don’t need any lingerie, thank you. I go to the “Santa Fe Card Store” and ask the woman at the front desk where the postcards are, load up.
The store I spend the most time in is right next-door. I can’t tell how nice it is from the outside so I just waltz in. It’s filled with exuberant quilted jackets, beaded bags, embroidered scarves. I am the only person in the store except for the saleswoman. She is maybe seventy with Farrah Fawcett hair on top and no hair on the bottom. Her dramatic frontal flip meets her face in a bright white crest that shoots up from her hairline. The rest of her hair is inky black. Her lipstick is bright red, her nails are painted with Mondrian patterns, cut into harsh but perfect squares. She wears black now, but the deep, tousled collar of her silky shirt tells me she did not always wear it.
I stroke one of the scarves, twice with the back of my index finger, then stop when I see the price. “It’s a beautiful scarf,” I say. She tells me each thread is hand-cut, and that they’re the most beautiful of their kind she’s ever seen. And she tells me more—that she’s a designer, but she did not design these scarves. She has a background in fine arts. At sixteen she got a scholarship to go to an arts college in New York and at seventeen she dropped out to work with a fashion company, with scraps and for scraps. During her second week the company merged and she was let go. She found another job doing who knows what. After five years in New York City she moved to Paris with her girlfriend., and after a year in Paris her girlfriend got a job in London. She stayed in Paris though, where she met her ex-husband. When she was in her mid-twenties she moved back to her hometown in Arizona to take care of her sick mother.
“And what do you do?” she asks.
“I’m a journalist.”
“Oh, great.” Then she lays all the keys to life at my feet like little presents. She says with dreamy eyes that life is full of surprises but that they’re always wonderful. She says that you can never talk about doing things, you just have to do them. She says do what you love. Somehow all of her advice doesn’t seem to add up, but I’m on a deadline and not so sure of myself, so I drink it up like watered down margarita mix.
“Are you writing about anything now?” I tell her I am writing an article about the militarization of campus police forces for a publication that millennials read.
“Oh I’ve been hearing so much, not about campuses, but about police.”
I see her retreat slightly, like a runner winding up to shoot down his lane when the gun goes off. “I know you didn’t ask for my opinion,” she says, “but I’m going to give it to you anyway.” She says it like someone who is always right, and disagrees with others for a living. It is a proposal I have no grounds to refuse, though I know what she’s going to say.
“If an officer approaches you and you stay in your place, and you don’t talk back, and you show respect, nothing is going to happen to you. It’s just not smart to argue with a cop.” And she goes on to say what I’m heard so many times before slither from the lips of pundits and people on the street: He got what was coming to him.
I launch into a new discussion with her. I am patient but wary as I explain the biased media reports, the eyewitness testimony, the way cops lie. I try to explain in a few short sentences to a woman who gives out advice so candidly, why I’m outraged that the murder of a young man in cold blood might never be answered for, and why she should be too.
She was once sixteen and far from home, then she was twenty-one and even farther from home. I hold this young woman in my mind. I bet in Paris her hair once undulated well below her shoulders. Or maybe she cut it all off, let it grow back a little, dyed it pink for her wedding. In truth, I only know a few facts about this woman’s life, but I am already building a case against her. I want to know how she could condemn a young black man, and many others, to death, and how I can change her mind.
She asks (and answers): Do you really think a cop would harass a person on purpose?
I tell her about Byrne grants, about how cops are incentivized to arrest the most people possible, with no regard to the severity of the crime. I explain why black and brown people are the targets of these policies, and—in the leanest terms, but they’ll have to do—why she may not be aware of this. I don’t feel self-righteous by the end of it; I feel shaky.
A customer walks in and fingers a beige dress.
“It was nice talking to you, I’m going to leave now.”
“It was nice talking to you too. Thanks for telling me all those things.” I thank her for telling me all that she did too.
I look around at all the nice things in the store, how well they hang, how graciously they fold. And I think about how good it felt to believe for a minute that doing things mattered and talking about them didn’t.