(I wrote this in 2010, not sure if I ever shared it here.)
A man sits in the corner of a coffee shop and closes his eyes. His cup is half full but not in the philosophical sense of the word. His life is good, rich and full of love and meaning. Ear buds extend from his computer into his ears and one can only guess what it is that he is listening to. His head bobs back and forth and a soft smile flashes across his face.
It is not clear whether his solitude is self imposed or if he is waiting for someone. At least these are the thoughts and feelings that I have gathered from a brief glance at his corner of the room. As an avid people watcher and story teller I can’t help but look and wonder. It is part of my process- that is the fancy term I use for how I develop characters and story lines for my books.
I head out into the world and set up a place to sit and watch. I stare at the people around me and develop the stories of their lives. The woman standing in line in front of me has a story. She is in her early forties and recently divorced. A mother of children who are about the same age as my own she is busy trying to feel her way in the world. She is not who she was and isn’t really sure of who she wants to be.
Can’t tell you whether any of this is true- but I can make some fairly accurate guesses. I am facing the door so I saw her park a minivan. She is not wearing a wedding ring on her finger and it is early evening. Not to play on stereotypes, but this would be the “right” time for her to be making dinner and or helping with homework. There is no sense of urgency about her so I am guessing that she doesn’t have the kids tonight.
I recognize the little key card on her key chain as belonging to one of the local gyms. Happens to be my gym, but I don’t recognize her. Although that doesn’t mean much as I try to hit the joint during the off hours. Her back is to me and I wonder if she can feel me staring. I sometimes forget how intense my stare can be but I haven’t forgotten about the sort of response such a look can engender. A strange man staring sometimes receives a smile in return but not always.
I am not staring because I find her to be attractive although there is that. But her look reminds me very much of the girl that I lost. That woman from my past who made my heart pound and my soul stir. That is who she reminds me of. It brings a wistful smile across my face and I kind of snort as I picture talking to the lady grabbing coffee.
“Hi, you look like someone I loved very deeply. Would you mind talking to me so I can see if your voice sounds like her? And if it wouldn’t be too much trouble, let me stare at you for a moment.I want to figure out if my imagination is playing tricks on me or if you just happen to be her twin.”
That ought to go over well, as every woman wants a man to tell her that she reminds him of someone else. Might as well call her the wrong name in bed. If you are going to get in trouble go for broke.
The coffee lady stood there for another moment and then her order was completed and she moved over to fill her cup with cream, sugar or whatever it was that she took her drink with. I watched her for a moment longer and turned away. I had her story or enough of it and it wasn’t what I wanted. Or maybe it was that once I associated her with my past I couldn’t see a point in continuing.
It is one of those clever lies that we tell ourselves when something is too painful to continue. That lady from the past was one of the great loves of my life, if not the love of my life. And her absence from mine left a giant hole in my heart that hadn’t ever been filled. That’s not uncommon or unfamiliar to many of us.
We find people that we wish to spend our lives with and for whatever reason it doesn’t work and we end up with a smoking crater in the center of our chests. Sometimes that hole is filled by someone or something else and you move on- but not always.
Some people touch us in ways that others can’t. Sometimes they light up the entire of our being and fill us with joy. If you haven’t had that experience you won’t have a clue what I am talking about or why years later it would still be painful to touch upon that loss. To be clear it is not impossible to move on- even if you don’t find a way to fill the hole you do find ways to adapt and adjust.
Time doesn’t heal all wounds but it does make it possible to move on. The challenge is that sometimes you can’t help but find reminders of what was and those moments can set off thoughts and memories that you might not wish to visit.
When I look back on what happened to us I have a very clear understanding. She might tell you otherwise. She might tell you that I am engaged in revision but that is part of the joy of finding the truth because there is yours, hers and reality. And they don’t always intersect. But the joy of this tale is that I am the one writing it so I get to tell you what really happened.
And in my version I share the story of two people who loved each other fiercely. There was passion and there was love. But there was also friendship. It was the perfect recipe. Or if you prefer math you could say that the fractions added up to a whole. A third, plus a third, plus a third.
That friendship is important. They had the love. They had the passion that drove them to constantly want to touch each other. But the friendship was the glue. They became best friends who understood each other in ways that no other ever had. Come to think of it there might be reason to adjust that equation so that friendship plays a bigger part, but that is not really important now.
I could tell you about how she told him that it was tragic that two people who were meant to be together weren’t. I could tell you about it made his heart break to hear that and how he felt trapped. About how it made him feel like less of a man. It would be easy to relate the whole sordid tale about how something so good got so messy and convoluted.
Or maybe it would make more sense to share other thoughts. Because a day came when she declared them to be nothing more than friends. The girl who would giggle when she talked about bearing his children said that friendship was all they had.
Well I called bullshit on that. Said that I didn’t buy or believe it as it couldn’t be true. But she did all that she could to enforce that and there wasn’t much that I could to change it. I don’t believe that she truly believed it either, but I think that she tried real hard to convince herself of it. If I was an attorneyprosecuting this case I could supply evidence that shows how her actions contradicted her words- but again that is not the point.
By then the waters had gotten so muddy that neither one of us could see clearly. If we had been smarter we would have walked away much earlier than we did. Would have split up so that we would have time to gain the perspective that we had lost. But we didn’t and we didn’t because it hurt to be apart.
So we muddled on and did what we could to keep going. But the wheels on the bus had already broken and the damn thing had become impossible to steer. Little nicks, scrapes and bruises were what really did us in. The little things that we used to ignore pushed our hands right off of the wheel and we crashed into a wall or went off a cliff.
And in my anger I laid down an ultimatum that she ignored. So I decided that it was time to make it clear that though she owned my heart and soul I wouldn’t tolerate some things. I left that day. Walked away and did my best not to look back. Didn’t rant and rave. Didn’t tell her how angry and hurt I was. There were very few words.
I used to think that it was because I was so angry. I used to think that my silence came from simply not knowing what to say. But now I see it differently. I suppose that if you wanted to accuse me of revisionist thinking this would be the time. Because I see my silence now as a last ditch attempt to keep hope alive. I didn’t excoriate her the way that I wanted to because those were words that I never wanted to use. Words that couldn’t be taken back ever.
That was then and this is now. Years later I sit here in this coffee shop wondering about things left unsaid. Wondering if she has ever read any of my books and whether she ever thinks about me. Curious if sometimes in the quiet of the night she thinks about what we had and wonders where I am. So I sit here and I think about the mistakes I made and how that ache never has gone away.
It is disconcerting to have this go on for so long which is part of why I wonder about her. Maybe it is just me. Maybe I am just some crazy idiot- but she did tell me that she couldn’t imagine a time where she wouldn’t feel like that either so who knows.
Can’t help but sit here for a moment and picture her. Can’t help but think about what I would say. Because I still believe that she wouldn’t see me because if she had she never would have been able to fool herself into believing this fiction. Things would have been tough. It might not have been easy, but when we were together nothing felt more real or more right.
I once told her that if we were separated for a decade or more my soul would always know hers. And that if those years passed all it would take for us to remember is that one kiss. One damn kiss and nothing was ever the same. It might sound silly, but I don’t think that I have ever stopped believing that there wouldn’t be another.
But that thought will have to wait a while. For now my liquid mistress needs my attention. This mug needs to filled with some liquid gold or I shall find myself lost in slumber.