So as not to attract undue attention, I stowed my camera discretely inside my arm-bag. It was around 9:30 AM when I began my walk around the merchants for a look-see.
Eventually I walked by two booths situated next to each other with shade covers, and where the vendors each looked to be in the 20-30 y/o range. Considering my recent streak of octogenarians, lovely and interesting as they are, I wanted to engage with some younger people.
On the left was a bearded hipster loudly blasting some dub (loud vocal-free drum and bass music) who was selling mixed tapes and old records. He was wearing dark sunglasses under the shade of the tent cover, and his music volume would have required me to shout to ask to photograph him. I let him provide the soundtrack to my encounter with the next stranger.
On the right was a young woman selling paperback books, trinkets and random bits of this and that. She was sitting between rainbow-colored organza curtain panels. These were a portiere hanging at the ledge of the small rental van that was backed up to her merchandise area. The curtains were blowing around either side of her in the breeze. She was wearing a brightly flowered house dress and a pair of green eyeglasses that caught my attention.
I walked under her shade cover and up to her and explained the stranger project and asked if she would like to participate. She agreed and we introduced ourselves by name. While she is the second stranger whose name is pronounced the same as mine, her spelling was different from mine and from that of my stranger No.30 also with the same name.
Meet Raechel, my 69/100 strangers. She is 24 years old and originally from Alaska. Raechel is a mother of two children. The oldest is a 5 year old boy who lives in AK with his father. Raechel didn’t explain the details of the custody arrangement, but she expressed a longing to see her son. She mentioned that her own mother is helping to raise him and the fresh air in Alaska is good for him.
One of the reasons I noticed Raechel was her green eyeglasses, which I mentioned to her.
“These were cheap glasses, even with the lenses,” she said. “I bought them online and they used to be my backups. I’ve been wearing them for three years. Luckilly they haven’t broken yet like all the others. I’m sure my prescription has changed, but I still need them.”
In her present situation, Raechel lacks the extra money for an optometric appointment and a new pair of eyeglasses.
Right now, Raechel is a full time mother of Everleigh, a 2 y/o daughter who was within earshot behind her inside the van cabin. As we were speaking, the child moved out of the van and closer to her mother, eventually into her mother’s lap. The toddler’s orbit lifted the forlorn mood. Children are a blessing in so many ways.
Raechel doesn’t speak Spanish, the Lingua Franca of the Flea market and she’s not used to being in New Mexico. She moved here to be with Everleigh’s father.
After the photographs and conversation, I bought an orange plastic bracelet from her for $1.00 (.) It could easily have been worn as part of the ensemble she was wearing. It was put on the table to move on to a new owner and hopefully bring in cash.
Raechel gave me her email address, I sent her the photos, and I never heard back from her. Subjects from the millennial generation have grown up with Myspace and Facebook. I get the sense that they don’t place much value on images of themselves considering the abundant selfies stored in their phones and the cloud.
In light of her disinterest, it’s particularly ironic that Raechel’s portrait is one of my most viewed and liked images on Flickr to date. This portrait was picked up to EXPLORE on 09-19-2015, and has since been viewed nearly 32,000 unique times. There are instances when one’s camera equipment, subject, available light, interpersonal rapport, patience and note-taking come together in synchrony. This is such a confluence of elements.
When I view this young mother’s face, I re-experience the anguish of her separation from a loved child. I simply could not pry into her private life to complete the backstory of her separation from her older child. Raechel is so young, and yet she has weathered something heart-wrenching. It takes emotional strength to rise and shine and reveal those dimples through feelings that I am certain are dolorous. I wish her only the best.
I don’t want to take away from Raechel’s portrait, but need a side note:
Today is a February 29th, which means it’s a leap year. If today is your birthday, HAPPY BIRTHDAY leapling! People who need a reminder about why there is a leap day every four years can visit this link.