Societal expectations mandate that we live life in a particular manner. The best way to combat that is to simply live.
I had a dream last night about a giant tea party of sorts. We were fretting about the quality of the invitations and the décor and the scene and all the other minute details- all the bells and whistles but not the scene itself. What were we to do next? That was the pressing question.
Nothing at the heart of the matter could be discussed because that would surely ruin the flow of conversation which must be maintained for the sake of continuity. My immediate family and a few colleagues of my parents were seated with delicate China teacups in their left hands. They were oohing and ahing over the weather and the attire of each and every person, speaking without saying a word, as is common nowadays. We took numerous pictures- not for the sake of memories but for the sake of photographs that we could later place in an album and show our friends, a china doll on a shelf that isn’t meant to ever be touched by a child’s hand but to be admired for its fine condition.
The elderly ladies were discussing their children’s success; “My daughter,” one lady cooed, “is going to one of the best universities in the country for graduate school. I cannot even begin to tell you how proud Paul and I are of our dear Elizabeth.”
A close friend of my mother’s gently took hold of my hand, and in her sappy, southern accent she said, “Dear, what do you plan to do in the future?” She took a sip of her sweet tea and stared at me intently, placing the lemon wedge on the edge of her glass.
“I’m not entirely sure,” I admitted quietly. “But I was thinking about writing…”
She interrupted me with a chuckled and began to speak. “Oh, surely you must have some idea.”
A Bob Dylan song came on the radio, and Marie, a colleague of my father’s, frowned and wrinkled up her nose. “For the love of God,” she screeched, “someone turn off this horrid music. I don’t want this demoralizing music in my house. Collette, turn it off and put on some classical music.”
“It really isn’t so bad. Just listen to the first minute or so,” I offered.
She raised an eyebrow. “Don’t be disrespectful. If it wasn’t enough that you didn’t bother to buy a new dress for this special occasion. You need to learn how to respect authority and to get some direction in your life, for once.”
I grew sick of the pretentious setting and the pretentious people, of the continuous buzzing of people who spoke without saying anything, gathered around a table to share only that which carried little weight. My impatience seized the moment before I could. I smiled sarcastically, turned up the radio, and kicked off my shockingly white, open-toed heels and placed them on the table. “I’ll respect you when you provide me with the same honor, Marie.” We were on a first name basis now. I would play a part for no one.
“Collette!” my mother barked, and all eyes turned to me, horrified. I blinked without speaking- which seemed apropos at that moment- and now that I was barefoot on my mother’s friend’s patio, I took off running without so much as a word.
It wasn’t my fault, though; I never expected to turn that corner. I was headed in an altogether different direction; my decision didn’t waver until I went astray. I wasn’t supposed to be here, but I made a choice, and I’d choose it again. As I awoke from my short slumber, I realized that I would rather be drowned in the depths of despair than witness another suburban sunrise. But for you to understand, I’ll have to fast forward a bit.
I’m trained in the art of saying painless goodbyes. I like to keep it short and sweet. Brevity mutes sorrow. It’s always easier to say a few words, give a quick hug, and turn around quickly so that you won’t spend your days standing still.
So many times I’ve wanted to slip quietly out the back door and hop a train elsewhere ‘till the end of time. Always in a transitory phase. I’m not accustomed to missing people and especially not accustomed to people missing me. But even if our paths diverge at this point, my dear friends, I came here for a reason. I came here to meet people who would teach me something.
Sometimes the lesson you have to learn is that you should stay and give it another shot. You were meant for the here and now. Or perhaps you should return to a land you once knew and to a place you call home. But sometimes, the only thing you can do is flee. Not because you’re a coward, but because you’re strong enough to realize that if you stay you’re doing so in spite of yourself. So, my dear friend, run away and don’t you ever look back. Not because you’re a coward. Because you’re strong enough to realize that you have known this all along.
The torrential rain poured down and soaked my skin as I hurriedly made my way to the coffee shop. It was four AM and the sky was painted black. As I took a seat by the bar, I realized there wasn’t anything remarkable about the place. The building was dilapidated and hardly what one could call a “hidden treasure” of New York- and that’s what I was seeking. But a Beatles’ song was on the radio, filling the ancient, cramped coffee shop with a bit of light, and so I was born in that moment of clarification. It was not just one moment in particular. On that cold winter morning, I found myself. I found myself in that dilapidated cafe. But it maybe it wasn’t the moment I walked inside. Not even the moment I heard that first verse of “Here Comes the Sun.” But somehow, all the moments blurred together as one.
I pulled an old book off that dusty shelf and began working. There was this twenty-something-year-old kid sitting to my right at the bar. He wore dark-rimmed square glasses and was reading some unidentifiable novel. He had on a deep, olive-green-colored newsboy cap atop his curly, chestnut-brown hair and had deep blue eyes. He seemed rather distracted and consumed by his thoughts as he glanced up from time to time and people-watched for a bit. He liked his coffee black. Whatever novel he had wasn’t captivating his attention much as he let his mind wander. I glanced over at him and noticed that he’d sketched something in the margins of his book. Some sort of a picture, but I couldn’t make it out from where I was sitting. His eyes lingered in my direction for a moment as if he were about to say something, but he did not.
“Excuse me,” I said to the employee. “Could I have a refill, please?”
“Coming right up,” He said wearily, wiping the sweat off of his forehead and heading back to work.
The boy to my right chuckled, looking up from his drawing briefly. “You do realize that it’s about four fifteen on a Tuesday.”
I held his gaze for a moment or two. Then I grinned. “I’m not the only one here,” I said, grabbing the cup. “Thanks!” I shouted to the employee and he nodded. “Plus,” I said, turning to the boy, “I can’t think of a better time for coffee.”
“Oh, definitely,” the boy agreed. He took off his cap and gave me a small smile; I returned the warm gesture. We were both sitting at the bar, pretending to read.
It probably would have turned out differently if he had had the courage to speak further, but he never again would see that smile. That girl that he had noticed a while ago. Never again would be spot her at a cafe or a bookstore or a train station scribbling away with a fascinating intensity. All that was left was of her was a tattered leather-bound notebook with an unfinished tale.