“God, why can’t you let my life be normal?”
I needed to sit down and think.
The moment I walked into the cafe, I saw her. It was as if that little voice that told me to come all the way out to this hipster joint overlooking the city to work had also outlined this woman with some highlighter.
“Go talk to her.”
Ha, I thought. As I ordered my drink, I observed her from the corner of my eye. She looked to be in her mid-thirties and was hunched over a notebook, thoughtfully playing with her pen and staring intently out the window at nothing in particular.
“Go say hi.”
I carried my tea dutifully to my laptop and proceeded to set up my workstation. The insistence in the voice was intense and I didn’t have the energy to fight. I’ve done stranger things, I thought.
On my way back from the bathroom, sense escaped me and my legs veered toward the woman’s little table by the window. Suddenly I was standing before her, unshowered in my red plaid shirt and jeans. All at once acutely aware of my rumpled appearance, I stammered and tried to smooth my shirt.
“Um…hello?” She removed an earbud I hadn’t noticed before, looking at me curiously. Her face was gentle; inscrutable.
“I’m not a creep but I have a feeling I’m supposed to talk to you. My name’s Skye. I’m glad to meet you.” For lack of anything of value to say, I thrust my hand out.
“I’m Shelley. It’s good to meet you too.” Her voice was soft and collected. Her face broke into an uncomfortable grin and we shook hands.
I blushed my way back to my workstation, wanting to sink into the floor. Then the voice in the back of my head started up.
“You were supposed to talk to her.”
I clenched my jaw. This was not a good time for me to seek distractions. For the next twenty minutes I worked away on my laptop, trying to ignore the nagging feeling that I needed to get to know this woman.
I stood and closed my laptop. If she is still here after I smoke, I thought, then I will go talk to her. Seizing my keys, I went out to my car and lit up, leaning against the cheap frame. The backseat was littered in paperwork, spare clothes and takeout cups. I took a long drag off my cigarette and looked away. Life won’t be like this forever, I promised myself.
Shelley and I made eye contact the moment I entered the cafe, leaving me no way to chicken out. I made my way over to her again.
“I’ve been sitting and working and I can’t for the life of me shake the feeling I’m supposed to talk to you” I was more confident this time. “Can you humor me and help me get whatever this is out of my system? Is it ok if I sit and talk a bit?”
Shelley’s face broke into a cracked warm smile and she cleared the table as I sat, laptop forgotten on the other side of the cafe. She managed a small laugh.
“You’re not crazy. I wish I had the courage to follow up on my impulses too.” Her eyes were grayish blue, tinged with signs of sleep deprivation.
“I’m sorry I smell like a homeless person. I’m going through a divorce and sleeping on a couch at a friend’s. I haven’t had time to go to the house and shower yet.” I began by talking at the table. By the end of my statement, my eyes rested on hers again as they widened.
“Me too. I’m going through a divorce and staying in a motel.” She looked at me with fresh eyes, the barrier of strangerhood shattered.
The dam broke slowly; comfortably. As the time passed and our cups emptied, we shared more and more, our lives blending together with the same hues of pain and worry. Her pen continued to dance between her fingers in time with the shrieking of espresso machines and overplayed hipster music. She shared how strange it was to be a marriage counselor going through divorce. I shared how my own divorce was costing my health.
Two hours whittled away steadily. As we shared, coincidences turned into parallels and our similarities became assumed. By appearances, we were good friends having coffee; it was better. Two strangers with the same reality bumping against each other, we laughed together at our dismal situations.
For two hours, God changed normal to match my life.
We swapped numbers on scraps of paper, neglecting our cell phones. A week went by and I found myself walking into the cafe on a warm Sunday afternoon, once again seeking to center myself and get work done.
I didn’t even make it to the barista before I saw her. Ditching the line. I strode outside to the table she casually leaned on, notebook of thoughts before her.
“This isn’t normal! I haven’t been back since I saw you last time.” I exclaimed, this time grabbing a char to sit opposite.
“What’s normal though?” Shelley looked much better, I noticed. She had definitely gotten more sleep.
“We should probably throw the word out altogether” I sighed, happily looking her over. “You look really good today. How are things?”
Shelley shared how she had managed to find a home and was taking her son to see it for the first time in a few minutes. Her eyes glowed vibrant blue against her pink sweater as her smile beamed across the table. We chatted about her new developments for some time. Finally I couldn’t resist.
“How do you do it? How can you sit across from someone for a living and get pummeled by negativity for a living?” Shelley set her jaw and looked at me thoughtfully.
“I just believe that everything is ok all the time. I can listen to clients and know that even though they’re upset, they’re ok.”
“Everything is ok until it’s not.” I said slowly, adjusting to her viewpoint. “Do you think there is a point when it’s not ok?
“I don’t know. I just know that right now I’m ok.” Shelley’s eyes radiated sincerity as she rose to leave.
Me too, I thought.