“Hey, wait,” said a voice from behind me. After 180 minutes of concentrating on beats and music in my Monday night dance class, the sound of vocal chords seemed oddly out of place, even when wrapped in crispy Mountain View air. I pirouetted towards the sound and saw one of the guys I’d danced with. His voice was foreign. But his dark eyes, his oval face, his thick nearly-black coarse hair, the heat of his arms was familiar. "Do you want to go get some tea? There’s a place on Castro that has pearl tea. You know, the stuff with the tapioca?”
I hesitated and then asked, “Does it have caffeine?”
“Come on,” he said waving me towards him. “I’m sure there is at least one that doesn’t.” We started walking and the giant blister on my left foot made me limp. He offered to drive us, even though it was only two blocks away. I agreed, even though getting in cars with men I don’t know wasn’t something I typically do. But he seemed safe. Like I already knew him.
We both ordered the Taro tea. We sat at a round café table that wobbled just slightly. Across from me was a man whose eyes I had stared into for 10 minutes. Whose arms had twisted with my arms, whose hands had been on small of my back. But now sitting three feet away from him, I felt strangely uncomfortable.
His water bottle tipped and my reflex grabbed it and returned it to its upright position. “What was that all about?” Defensively, I said: “Motherly instinct.” I outed myself as a mom. And I knew instantly that our conversation was about to go down a difficult path with two choices, and I hadn’t decided yet which one I would take.
“How many kids do you have?” he asked, smacking the water bottle with the back of his hand to return it to it sideways position.
“Two.” My right leg crossed over my left started bouncing in that self-conscious way. My eyes darted around the café and settled on the exit sign.
“Tell me something about you. Something other than that you’re a single mom. I already got that. And why you’re so uncomfortable.”
“I’m uncomfortable because I don’t open up to people I don’t really know.”
“I don’t like small-talk. And you already know me. I’m just like you, like everyone. I want to be loved and accepted. I want world peace. Food for everyone. A safe place to live. Happiness. A long life.” And after a moment of letting all of his hopes settle around the room like dust, he said, “Your turn.”
Iced with fear, my mouth didn’t work. I looked around the café. I noticed the couple in the corner with their laptops and silence. I noticed the man with the black fedora reading a magazine. I looked at my tea and wonder why the tapioca is black. I saw the potted tree in the corner and wondered what kind of tree it was with it’s twisting trunk and bushy green top.
His eyes were sharp with intention. It was like being in therapy with a therapist that I hated. My sweaty clothing lay damp against my chest, chilling me. And I started to shake. I suspect it wasn’t just from the cold. I can only assume that when he said your turn, he wanted more than just a list outlining my basic human wants and desires, a list that mirrored his.
I took an inventory of my choices. I could run away, but I feared that leaving would ruin my Monday dance class. I could stay and not answer his questions. I could confront my fear of opening up and just tell him about me. About my son. But that would mess up my separation of Church and State: the separation of dancing from parenthood, from hospitals. Externally, anyway. He repeated the question: “What do you want.”
I took one last look around the café and shivering turned into convulsions. My eyes went back to his penetrating gaze and I tried to hold it so that he would hear my tiny voice: “I can’t ever have what I want.” My hands went to my face. My head tipped towards my chest. I stopped trying to not cry. I stopped pretending that my life is regular with regular worries about money or my divorce or health insurance and whether I remembered to pay my credit card bill.
I keep hoping that I’m going to discover that everything in my life doesn’t come back to hospitals and heart defects and surgeries. But everything in my life does lead back to it. Even when I think I’m getting along just fine. I’m surviving. I’m living. I’m in school studying and writing. Mostly happy. But everything I write, every story I can imagine circles back to his birth seven years ago.
It’s crushing. It’s disappointing. It’s exhausting.
I always thought that eventually, living with uncertainty would just become part of my wardrobe. It would be that old pair of jeans that I don’t like but can’t seem to donate to the Goodwill and every so often I'd be forced to wear. But that isn’t like it at all.
My son’s medical problems are like razor blades under my skin. And anytime anything grazes against me, I get cut from the inside. And the wounds can scab over and appear to be healed on the outside, but on the inside I’m always bleeding and the potential for pain is everywhere and constant.
“Is it is okay if I come into your space?” he asked in a softened voice as he pull a chair up and straddled my shriveled body. His arms came around me and I sank into his chest. “I’m not going to say it’s okay or that it’s going to be okay. I just sensed a sadness in you and I thought you might need some help getting it out.”
“I didn’t ask for your help.”
“Sometimes we don’t know we need help,” he said.
We stayed there until the guy with the broom told us that the café was closed. As I sat up and looked around, I noticed the guy with the fedora was still sitting in the same place, the couple putting their laptops in their cases. I wondered what they thought of my public emotional break. If they thought anything, they probably thought my boyfriend just dumped me. I got up, grabbed my purse and then he put his hands on my face and held my gaze a moment longer. Then we walked to the car, me still limping from the dance blisters.