At The Same Cafe
Each day I wonder if this is the day you don’t show up. I sit here, staring at that clock in the corner, watching the seconds tick away and try to imagine what I would feel like if you didn’t come in that day. I don’t know why, I just do. I tell myself that today would be the day she decides she can’t do this anymore. I don’t even know what this is. I’ve been coming to this same cafe for months. I’ve waited in this corner for something magical to materialize in my life, a sign to appear that better was on the horizon. Then you appeared.
The first day you walked in I barely caught a glance of you, just the side of your face as you flipped your hair and walked towards the door. You left something behind that I hope to forget one day. A scent. It was something I wouldn’t normally associate with a woman. It was woodsy and some other smells I’m not sophisticated enough to describe. But it trailed after you and I wanted to chase it.
It was that smell that woke me from a daydream. I was staring out of the window; thinking about days I can’t remember and smelled something so familiar that I couldn’t place it, but I knew I knew it from somewhere. As I started to search for where I came across that fragrance, I looked up and you were standing in front of me, saying something I couldn’t quite understand.
Are you almost done?
I stammered. Asked you to repeat yourself. Then looked around and noticed the place was full. The only empty seat was across from me. Where did all of these people come from? How did I not notice over twenty people come in and sit? How did I not hear their conversations? Did I miss them stealing glances at the guy staring out the window?
Uh, no. I’m going to be here for a while. I’m working.
I expected you to walk away, but instead, you asked to sit. It felt like I lived my entire life working towards that first conversation. It feels like we shared our entire lives in that conversation. That first conversation now feels like a lifetime ago. We talked about our childhoods, debated over the real HU, how underrated Kasi Lemmons is as a director and of course, your marriage. Your marriage.
Yes, your marriage.
I was heartbroken when you told me that you'd been married for nearly ten years. You scrolled through the hundreds of pictures of your husband smiling and then the pictures of your two children as well. Everyone looked happy and instantly I was saddened. My own marriage was tumbling towards an end and the first time I smiled in months was because some woman stumbled into a cafe and listened to me and laughed at my jokes.
I had hope.
Somehow, we talked and laughed until almost 9. You missed the 7:49 train you preferred to take and even the 8:48 backup you took just in case the first appeared to be too crowded. Turned out we were similar in needing time to decompress after a long day of work as well. You chose to work later and bypass rush hour. You and your husband developed a system in which he puts the kids to bed and you got them ready in the morning. I preferred to get home after my wife went to sleep and be gone before she woke up in the morning. The less time we spent together, the better for both of us. Especially me. We'd spent thirteen years together, the last four going through the motions. We had one son, who didn't particularly like me, or look like me. I have my doubts if my DNA made him, but I love him.
None of that excuses the fact that each night at 6:30 for the next three months I was in that same seat waiting for you to come. An hour this night, two tomorrow, the length of time I spent with you didn't matter. That I was with you was important.
I realized I was in love with you the night you didn't show up. I was sitting at the table, staring out the window, with "Midnight Train to Georgia" playing in the cafe and in the back of my mind. Somehow, that became our song. Your husband always talked about moving South, to Atlanta, he thought life was simpler there and you could find a job that got you home when dinner was served. Turns out he didn't care about cooking dinner, he just didn't want to eat it without you.
You didn't want to move. You loved your job. You loved the commute. You even loved getting in late and not having to turn into a superwoman; cooking dinner, checking homework, bathing the kids and listening to your husband's stories about work. The children were a compromise, an agreement made after you began to zero in on becoming partner when you returned from your honeymoon. I felt your husband wanted to derail your rise in the firm, but never said so, you didn't either. Not in so many words. But, I got the feeling you felt that was his aim.
You told me how you worked until the day before you gave birth to your daughter and was back in court less than three weeks after. You worked from home four days a week for a year, but not long after you returned to work, you were pregnant again. It was a shock to you, but your husband took it in stride. You were named partner in your second trimester and the birth of your son did nothing to slow you down.
I've never had much to say about your situation at home, nor my own. You know I'm married, you know I'm unhappy and that's about it. I try to keep our moments about us. Be present in the moment before we both realized we couldn't to go on like this. It seemed innocent; a man and a woman just talking, living out a friendship, but it began to feel like so much more.
I spent my time in the office anticipating seeing you that evening, listening to you talk about your cases, waiting for you to sweep your hair behind your right ear and watching for the upward curve in your lip when you thought deeply. I waited to smell you, to hug you goodnight. Some nights I bypassed my train to Queens to journeyed to Penn Station with you.
We were dating without it ever being said. We were cheating on our spouses without it even being thought about. So, the night you didn't show I felt an absence. I recognized the void you filled in my life. It was hidden for so long that I failed to acknowledge that I was using you for all of the things I wasn't getting at home. I'm sure you used me for the same thing.
By the time Gladys' man pawned all of his hopes, I knew I had to let mine go too. I wanted what I could never have. You. More of you. You to myself. You had obligations and so did I, as complicated as they were, they were ours. You were never mine and could never be. The pipe dream of us ended each weeknight around 8:15 and restarted the next evening around 6:30, give or take ten minutes. We didn't text, Skype or email, we met at a corner table night after night. It was as far as either of us allowed this to go.
I still don't know how to define "this". How to define "us". But, I'm sitting here watching the clock and the door, listening to the people around me talk and the music that masked our conversations, waiting. Waiting for you to show up and tell me what happened yesterday. Waiting for you to give me hope for tomorrow. Waiting for today to be made sense of.
"Hey Mark, snap out of that daydream and clean that table in the corner for the lady."