Winston-Salem is not a large city. Even so it is like every other city in the world, welcoming any number of people who are looking for someplace new or who are simply passing through. Through the wonders of Google I stumbled upon the story of one such person:
Their eyes met and she smiled as she passed Martin Tucker at an intersection in downtown Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The photographer and documentary filmmaker had been downtown setting up a photo exhibit at a local gallery.
"I don't know what it was about her," he said. "She looked dynamic in some way. She looked like she had a story."
Tucker chased down Patulla, who couldn't catch the northbound train until the next day> He wanted to meet up the next day, bring his cameras and audio recorder.
"Well," she replied, "I'm a hobo."
The next day, the two met and talked about religion, politics and relationships. No topic was off limits and she spoke openly, almost too openly, Tucker thought.
In the early evening, Tucker could tell she was antsy to catch her train. She signed a photo release form and was gone, leaving behind only an e-mail address. In hindsight, Tucker wished he had gone with her to the tracks, but he thought he had a complete story…
Tucker produced a 22-minute documentary, "Patty: This is My Normal," based off their afternoon together. The show premiered at a November film festival and will show at another in April.
Tucker read about her death a month later in a Texas newspaper.
He thought he'd told her life's story, but realized then had hadn't.
"I have more questions than I have answers at this point," Tucker said in a recent telephone interview. "This vibrant, 29-year-old woman who seemed like she had everything to live for but decided to check out, was quite a shock. I was crushed. I felt like I had lost a friend."
On any given day you can sit in a car idling at a stoplight on Jonestown Road, Five Corners, Stratford Road or any number of other intersections in Winston-Salem and see them. They are people who sleep outside, who may be passing through or have settled here for whatever reason, and their stories are likely as tragic as Patulla Williams'. We can only pray that theirs don't end as tragically.