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NODDING OVER COFFEE
NODDING OVER COFFEE
I had that dream again. I'm sitting alone in that diner, the one we used to have breakfast in. I'm eating my two eggs, slurping my coffee and humming along with the muzak.
Then you walk in. You've been crying, your eyes are puffy and red. You spy me and head straight for my booth before I can make a move. You don't waste any time getting to the point.
"Why didn't you tell me?" you blurt through the tears. "Don't you think I have the right to know?" you plead. I sit there stunned, mouth gaped open without words. You keep staring, waiting, hoping I'm going to finally clear up this big mystery. But I don't have anything to say, I know I should, but what that might be, what you might need to hear, escapes me. I'm totally at a loss, paralyzed by my lack of an answer.
That's when I wake up, my heart pounding in my chest, my breathing fast and shallow. Normally I lay there for about twenty minutes and I fall back asleep. Sometimes I have to start counting backward from 500. Sometimes twice.
None of that worked last night. It seemed too real, too vivid. Your face just the way I always saw it. Your eyes cut me the way they always did, your voice just the way I remembered it.
So I got up and wrote this letter. It may seem impersonal but it seems to be about the only way I can get the most personal, emotional things said. Face to face I just start blubbering, or I think I would, so I don't even try. This seems like the best way, the only way really, and I hope that finally I can get some things said that should have been said long ago.
Part of it is just the rush of life. We have to stay busy. We treat it as if it's a virtue, an eleventh commandment that somehow got left out of the original tablets. So the mundane and the trivial occupy the landscape of our lives. The deadlines and commitments push the meaningful to the outback, banishing it to some far country out of mind. We exhaust ourselves with the minutiae, too tired to risk the gamble that laying our hearts open would require of us. So we just talk small. We go on about the weather and last night's ball game.
And we wait. We look for signs, search out signals. An eyebrow raised, a smile turns crooked. We hope we see something, something that's code for "its time." Time to go deep, time to pass a barrier, to know you've arrived. We look for proof that an invitation has been issued not just a cardboard ticket, but an invitation, with calligraphy, and a rice paper insert that covers it til you get it out of the fancy envelope.
But that invitation never came, the signs were never clear. And I'm too alone and afraid to send any myself. Not that I didn't have the chance to do so. But the risk was too great. I might have been rejected, I could have lost. So through all those cups of joe I stuck to the script. We knew the drill and we did it well. "What's on your plate today?" "Any new drama in your office?" Work was safe, boring yes, meaningless probably, but safe, noncommittal, risk-free.
When you ventured close to the edge, I'd pull back. "Been to that new Greek place over on Pembrooke?" you asked me once. That is innocuous enough in and of itself, but you smiled and flushed saying it. You didn't look straight at me, and I wondered if it was more invitation than question.
So I just nodded, even though I hadn't been there. I don't even like Greek food, so I'll probably never go. But something in me spiked when you said it. A red flag was raised. "Watch out man," the privacy Nazi that lives in my head seemed to be saying. "Don't look like you're interested, she might see it, play it cool."
And that's how it went. I'd nod over my coffee whenever you tried to scale that wall. I'd go silent, running back into my cave to try to figure out my next move. You might push a little further, might try to pry me open. After a while I think you just threw in the towel.
I wish I knew why I never took the bait. I guess I'm just a security nut. I have to know for sure. I can't risk the possibility that you didn't want the same thing I did. Perhaps we both held back, waiting for the other to take the lead, both too scared to push it out into the open.
So in the end we both were resigned just to play it safe. I told myself you weren't interested so I wasn't going to risk it. You were good company for breakfast and I didn't know anybody else in that diner, so why not just keep on keeping on? I convinced myself you had told yourself the same thing. I discovered more about the people in your office than I ever would have cared to know. I found it s fascinating at the time, not letting myself realize my fascination was with the teller of the tale and not the tale itself.
How the time flew when we sat together in that booth. If I could have, I'd have grabbed the second hand of that clock on the wall and pulled it backwards. But it doesn't work that way. Time marches on. We both had our jobs to do, our deadlines to keep. But I left there always wishing for more, thinking there could be, but never doing anything about it.
Now it's too late. It was last month when you just stopped showing up. You'd had vacations before but you always told me ahead of time. I knew it wasn't that. Was something I'd said, something I'd missed in the conversation? Maybe I'd insulted you and you found a new place to eat your breakfast. Maybe you found a boyfriend and thought our early morning breakfast huddles would not be to his liking. The waitress asked me where "my friend" was I found myself liking that thought. It had a nice ring to it. I resolved to do something about it. As soon as you got back, I resolved I would ask you to that Greek place, would take the risk, scale the wall, tell the privacy Nazi where he could go.
But you didn't come back. I thought about calling your office. I didn't have your cell number. I drove by the place looking for your car, the one I'd seen you get into. It wasn't there.
I'm not sure why I bought the paper that morning.. Most of the time I just scroll through the news on my phone. I guess you gotta do something while you're waiting for your eggs and there was nobody to talk to. So I went out to the curb and plunked in my quarters.
I wouldn't have seen it if they hadn't included your picture. There were no details about it, just "as the result of a motor vehicle accident." The services are a two day drive from here. I've got a big presentzation to make that day, so I can't go
So I'm writing this because I need to say it, even if I don't say it to anyone but myself. I'm sorry I never told you that I loved you. I'm sorry that I had all these feelings inside me that stayed there, trapped by something or somebody that can't even say why he won't release them. You deserved better than this. You deserved to know.
I don't know what would have happened if I had told you. Maybe you would just have smiled and told me to keep it in the friend zone. But maybe not. Maybe my heart would not have been crushed. Maybe we could have had a torrid fling. Maybe it would have been something even better, a lifetime together.
Now I'll never know. Now I live with the regret. But now I won't let this happen again. Next time I'll tell her. I'll tell her the first time I feel it. No more holding back. Someday I will be where you are. The dust will cover my bones as well. When it does, I want to be able to say I loved enough. Not just that I worked hard, did my job well, but that I loved well too. So no more nodding over coffee. I'm counting on you to hold me to it. Next time we meet up I expect your going to ask- did you tell her? Tell her like you didn't tell me? And I promise the answer will be yes.
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