BACKSTORY: Angie Elsbury
Angie Elsbury is the first person I’ve ever known to whip out her cell phone to share photos of raw meat. If I hadn’t met her and sat down with her a number of times, I would be frightened by the fact that she has used an image of a boneless rib-eye as her Facebook picture. And even having met her, I’m still a little freaked out by the idea of how proud she was when she told me (excitedly) that she knows how to skin a pig. I have to admit that if she were more manly, less effusive and gregarious, I might not have gone back behind the Vons meat department counter where she stores her knives. But because of her disarming exuberance, her meat mania comes off just this side of scary.
Angie is a journalist’s dream in terms of her willingness to talk. The challenge I experienced with writing about her was that the amount of stories inherent in the life she’s lived far exceeded my allotted word count. The profile I wrote about her in the Reader could have been a story about her life on the streets, her time in prison, or her experience as a mother who gave up her child for adoption. In the end, however, I focused on her work as a butcher and meat department manager because it is unexpected and, as a frame, allows room for bits and pieces of the other aspects of Angie’s life.
Making that choice, however, meant choosing not to focus on the aspect that had the most emotional impact on me, personally. As an adopted child myself, I am always eager to hear the stories and perspectives of all members of the triad (biological and adoptive families, and the adoptee). And as such, I knew Angie’s adoption story had the potential take on a life of its own. So I kept it at a minimum in the profile.
But I kept asking questions, and when she realized I couldn’t quite leave it alone, Angie invited me to join her on one of her visits to the home where her daughter, Gabby, lives. Gabby’s adoptive mom, Laura, welcomed me in, too. The brief video below captured part of the experience, which turned out to be more emotional than I expected. Whatever small bit of journalistic detachment I may have gone in with flew out the window, and after shooting this footage, I had to put my camera, pen, and paper away.
It was hard to leave them when my time was up. The intimacy of the moment didn’t really belong to me, though, it belonged to Gabby, Laura, and Angie. But the following day, Angie sent me a text message that read, “Thank you so much [ellipses hers]. . .I haven’t seen my daughter express emotion like that toward me. . .I am starting to feel like she loves me. . .thank you again. . .you have a lifelong reader and fan of yours.”
Someone please hand me a tissue.