Me: “I’m just not very introspective.”
Friend: “But you seem to write a lot about your life.”
Me: “That’s not introspection. It’s narcissism.”
One afternoon at the Coffee Bean and Gossip Leaf
I had stumbled in, mid-morning, to get a big black triple shot of get-me-through-this-fucking-day. The nice girl poured my coffee and I sat down at the giant wooden table they’ve recently put in to make the nationwide franchise look more like an indie coffee shop. I stared at the coffee in the big ceramic mug and remarked at how sad and lonely it looked, topped off as it was with non-fat milk (an oxymoron) rather than with the gooey, fat-studded chunks of heavy cream that, like pink unicorns, populate my dreams nowadays.
Two very pretty women sat down at the far end of the table. One of them was troubled. They glanced at me to make sure I was minding my own business, which made me stare even more listlessly at my coffee and listen with all my might.
The pretty blonde asked her friend, “So what’s on your agenda today, Janey?”
The pretty brunette answered, her face contorted in pain. “The usual stuff. Laundry. Gonna meet this afternoon with the girls from book club. Then fix dinner. Check the kids’ homework. Listen to Brian complain about his job. It’s all so stupid. God, my life is so stupid, Anne. It’s so stupid.”
Anne reached across the table and grabbed her friend’s hand. “It’s not stupid. Why’s it stupid?”
Janey didn’t say it, but a huge wave of my-life-is-passing-me-by swept over the table. “All these things, what’s the point? I’m just taking up hours in the day. It’s all so pointless. And stupid.” She was crying now.
“It’s not stupid!” the other woman answered, and she spoke with the warmth and passion of a friend. “Janey, think of all the people who love you. Think of all the people for whom you’re a ray of happiness and light! Think of your kids who love you and to whom you’re the world, Janey. That’s not stupid! That’s as far away from stupid as life gets.”
Janey was crying so hard that her shoulders shook.
I gripped my coffee cup tightly, feeling it burn my palms as I tried to keep looking listless. But what I really wanted to do was jump up and give that crying lady a hug and say, “It’s not stupid! Listen to your friend. If your life is stupid then all of our lives are stupid. There aren’t any stupid lives, Janey, only people who don’t have someone sitting next to them when they need it most to remind them that it’s not stupid, that their lives have meaning and are important even if they don’t feel it at that very second!”
My hands were trembling from the pain of the hot coffee, and from Janey’s pain, too, I guess. I’m kind of a pain conductor that way. I was frozen with fear for this nice young lady and her sadness. I wanted to say to her, “Janey, my brother thought his life was stupid, too, but after he took it, it just proved how stupid his life really wasn’t. We’re destined never to see who and how and why we are what we are, but don’t mistake that for a stupid life. Please, please, don’t.”
I was sweating now, and took a bored sip of coffee.
The two friends had stopped talking. Janey had stopped crying, and the other woman was saying something that made her smile. It was a beautiful smile, and as the corners of her mouth turned up, her eyes crinkled. She had the prettiest eyes I’d ever seen. I couldn’t hear what they were saying any more; the sounds inside my own head had drowned out everything else.
Suddenly, I had to go, and couldn’t even finish the coffee. I would have hugged her if I’d dared, and thanked her, and told her that she’d helped a stranger, a stranger who loved her anyway.