In the beginning…I was sitting in Starbucks when I an old friend came over to me. She was also a former girlfriend who had morphed into the platonic friend category when she married one of my closest friends. She stood above me and smiled.
“Hey Freddy is this seat taken?” That smile, still slays me after so many years.
“Ha, once you sit there it will be.” I stood up to give her a kiss on the cheek and a short embrace. “How are you?” I asked innocently, not really interested but what else do you ask?
“Dont ask!” She said.
“But…” I was cut off. She spent the next 20 minutes telling me her problems in too graphic detail and then ended it by standing up.
“Thank you for listening, Freddy, it means so much to me that you care.” She kissed me too close to my lips and turned to leave.
“Anytime you need anything, ya know, call me.”
She turned and smiled that smile.
I sat down and began to check my emails when a lady stood above me and asked me, “Is anyone sitting here?” I nodded, no and she sat down.
“I couldn’t help but notice the way you helped your friend just now. I am also going through…” She went on and on for 20 minutes, stood up, gave me a short embrace, turned and left.
“That was strange.” I thought to myself. I clicked on my outlook button when I was greeted, once again, by a lady asking if the seat was taken. It was then I noticed a line of people staring and apparently waiting to speak to me.
That was the morning I became, well, a spiritual leader to the disenchanted customers of Starbucks.
The next morning I showed up and the table I had sat in was occupied by a lady. She turned and saw me and gestured me over.
“I bought you a cup of coffee – large Pike place with one sugar and 1% milk, right?”
“Yeah, thank you and, I am sorry whats your name?”
“My name is Elizabeth, daughter of Henry and Mary. I wanted to speak to you about…” It continued. She stood up to leave, gave me a kiss close to the mouth and a long embrace. Mouthed a, “Thank you.” Which was accompanied by a soft whisper and left. Before I could sit down a low fat blueberry muffin was thrust at me along with a smile and a “Good morning.” A red head this time and now the question of whether the seat was taken was not even expressed.
This went on and on – one woman after another – until the manager of the store asked me to leave.
“But before you leave, can I ask you a question?” He began to speak for 20 minutes and finished with a firm handshake and free cup of coffee.
“You can stay, but if you don’t mind, can you sit over there in the corner?”
The coffee, the muffins, egg salad on whole grain, a large water bottle, another cup of coffee and a late afternoon large chocolate chunk cookie; they continued to be presented to me along with emotional confessions of fears, guilt, lust, loneliness, frustrations, disillusions about the promises of what life should be and so many other feelings that I could not name them all here. I am sure I left out a lot of stuff that was told to me but have no fear – the number of people have grown and each morning, afternoon and evening I am approached, kvetched to, cursed at and thanked for things that I have absolutely no idea about.
At least I had a job now.
I was even being paid $50, $100 even $500 for each 20 minutes. By the end of the month I had collected $16,210 in cash! For what? I have absolutely no idea but if my listening to these people helped them a little – then bring it on people and remember I like that raw sugar in my coffee.
Throughout the remainder of the month of August I continued to be greeted and needed by strangers who thought I was their friend. There was Elizabeth, who was a lady who had just turned 87 years old the week before and was hoping to turn back time.
“I was so busy my whole life taking care of this one and the other. I dropped out of high school to take care of my younger siblings after my mother decided she couldn’t handle the pressures and left home. I spent the next six years changing diapers, feeding and dressing them. I went from being a typical 14-year-old teenager to feeling like i was middle-aged at 20. The friends with whom I was once inseparable from, slowly drifted away. They lived their lives as teenagers as teenagers should. They moved on – some went away to college, some stayed and others took life one day at a time.”
“What about your father, where was he doing all this time?”
“He kept on doing what he was doing before my mom left, heading to the bar after work with his friends, coming home drunk, falling asleep and starting all over again the next day.”
“I don’t think its your fault. When I turned 20 a beautiful lady came to the front door. She looked vaguely familiar to me and it took me several seconds to see that it was my mother.”
“When she left home her hair was flat and her skin was colored uneven. She was chubby around the waist and her eyes never were always dim and sad. The lady that walked into the house that day was radiant. Her dark hair was alive, her white skin shone and her eyes were glistening.”
“As the realization that she was my mother began to hit me I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror by the entrance. I was wan and looked double my age. My hair was in knots and my clothes were my brother’s undershirt and an old pair of jeans.”
“What did you tell her when she came in?”
“At first I felt a sense of relief, but as the days went by and I became a second thought to my siblings and a maid to my mother – a tsunami of resentment overtook me.”
She stood up and said, “I need to leave now, is it ok if I come back tomorrow?”
As she stood up to go I tried to understand just what it was she needed from me.
Elizabeth was a beautiful Irish lady. She wore a long summer dress with a soft Angora sweater. She wore her gray hair long and had a pair of reading glasses necklace around her neck. Her eyes were a translucent green and her lips were in a creased into a sad shape. Her voice was hoarse and when she spoke the words would come out in a deliberate way. Each word expressed slowly and used methodically.
The next day she showed up exactly at the appointed time and continued with her story.
“After my mother came back she promptly threw out my father and took out a restraining order. He was, as was his normal state, drunk and didn’t understand what was happening until he woke up on the sidewalk at 5 O’clock in the morning. The door was locked when he tried to get and he began to scream.”
“‘Lizzy, Elizabeth open the door its your father.’ My mother ran down the stairs, gave him a bag of all his belongings and told him to leave and to not come back. He didn’t know who she was and for a couple of minutes he thought he was at the wrong house until she addressed him. ‘John James Douglas, you are no longer a resident of this home – you drove me away one time but you will not do that again. Now leave and never come back again.'” A tear trickled down her face as she spoke, took a sip of her coffee and then paused.
“As he went to cross the street a garbage truck him and he was thrown into the air. He landed squarely in front of the bar he would frequent, dying in the spot he lived his life away.”
She paused and then looked at me. “I need my time back. I am running out of it – I was given all these years and I wasted them..” She stood up to leave, “I need to go…”
I sat there and watched her slowly walk away and I wondered what had happened between that day and the ensuing 60 years or so. Why was she speaking to me and what did she think I could offer her? Time? A rewind button? We all had our regrets but there was no way back and I sure as hell didn’t have any power to do so.
Or so I thought.
We drank the bottle of wine and we went to sit on the couch.
“I will clean up let it stay.” I whispered.
She put her fingers through my hair and began to twirl it, I looked at her and our eyes were locked.
“I love, I am falling in love with you.”
“Me too…I was scared I would blurt it out and feel…” She kissed me and I felt her soft lips part and her tongue, soft with the flavor of the red wine. My heart was pounding and I felt hers – chest to chest – heart to heart.
We lay in my bed, white sheets, one leg covered the other revealed. Her head on my chest and asleep. I felt her breath on me as she slept and thought about the night and smiled.
My phone rang, it was the lobby calling.
“You have a visitor Mr. Freddy, a lady named Elizabeth?”
“An older lady?”
“Please send her up.” I jumped out of bed, put on my clothes from last night, kissed her on the forehead and closed the door behind me. Went into the bathroom and stepped out into the living room to open the door.
Soft knock on the door.
“Is everything OK?”
“I couldn’t sleep all night and I needed to see you.”
“Whats going on? Well, come here, I will make you a coffee? Give me two minutes.” I came back with two cups of coffee and a corn muffin cut into four.
“After my father died my mother brought home a ‘friend’ of hers. Apparently they had been together for a couple of years and she had left her family to be with her.” She sipped the coffee and smiled. “That is good coffee.”
“Thank you, enjoy it.”
“Her name was Karen and she was a tough woman. She acted as if she were my father and would tell me to find a job, get married or to mop the floors across the house. The younger kids she would treat like they were her own – to her I was Cinderella. To my mother I was just the housekeeper and the nanny. For several years it went on like this until one night my mother came back from the Doctor with Karen.
‘I just came from the Doctor, my days are numbered, Daughter.’ I didn’t know what she was talking about. When I asked her what she meant she slapped me and told me she was dying.”
“The next morning I heard a car pull away from the side of our house – I looked outside to see the dirt rising up like flames from the ground – like our own personal dust bowl. I went downstairs and found a note by the door. “
Dearest Daughter, Alas my time is running out and rather than fade away as a sunset I prefer to leave like a tornado. I entrust the care of the children to you and Karen. Mother.
“As I sat on the floor crying I heard the stairs behind me creaking. The sound of two sets of footsteps – and then time began to fly by in triple speed.”
“Did you ever hear from your mother again?” I asked.
She began to laugh and cry at the same time. Her eyes blue as a robin’s egg.
“Would you believe twenty years later I went to answer my front door and there she was.”
“I thought she was dying.”
“Well I wish she had. She came back into my life – by that time the two kids had moved away, Ricky to Santa Fe and Jenny to Cranford New Jersey or something like that. They would send me Christmas cards and once in a while a photograph. So, the old lady, looking better than myself I might add – decided to have me evicted and took over the house since it was in her name still. I didn’t care, if anything i felt like a prisoner being released from a life sentence. The only problem was a lack of funds. When I told her that all I had in my savings was eleven hundred dollars, she promptly wrote a check for ten thousand and told me that she had some visitor coming and it would be best if I left by the morning.”
“Did she have any blood running through her veins?”
She laughed, “You know she didn’t even ask about Karen?”
“What happened to Karen?”
“When my mother left that morning, Karen and I sat on the couch after the kids had left and consoled each other. She wasn’t much older than I was and we found comfort in each other. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer I took care of her and nursed her over a three-year period. During those years the kids left only to come back to bury her. Karen was still the tough bitch but there was a change in her once my mother left. There was a soft side that was endearing to me and I believe I helped bring it out.”
“How many years are we talking now?”
“Well when Karen died I was, hmm, around 30 years old or so? I stopped counting at 15 years old. So I was left alone in the house until my mother came knocking – some 15 years after Karen had passed.”
“Did you work? Socialize? Did you have any friends at all? You are a very beautiful woman, I am not just saying that.”
“I did work, of course I worked. I was a clerk at the pharmacy in town. I started by being a cash register gal and within a couple of years I was filling out prescriptions and running the place.”
“What about friends?”
“I had friends, the customers who would come in – we would sit for hours talking and there were several occasions I would close the store for an hour or two.” She laughed.
“But then the owner of the place, Dr. Richardson, became ill and I was working crazy hours to keep the business afloat. Business was picking up and when he passed away I was hoping for the chance to buy the business from the family. But once again the floor was pulled out from under me.”
“This man I was seeing decided to leave his wife for me. I didn’t want no part in breaking up a family and after I allowed him to share my apartment with me a week later his wife came screaming outside of my window, two floors down, that her husband, Irwin, should ‘come home and come home now.’ He kissed me on my forehead, took all of his stuff and said, ‘I am going home, but thank you.'”
“When word came out about my ‘abhorrent behavior’ I was told that I was fired and any chance I had of buying the store was out of the question. So I packed up my stuff and moved to Cranford New Jersey to visit Jenny for a spell.” She took a long sip from her coffee, cut the muffin into small pieces, offered me a plate and then continued.
“Cranford was not for me. Plus Jenny was not pleased to have me. He kids were adorable and we became close, but her husband wanted his den back and so I left after a couple of days. Headed to nowhere really because I had nowhere to go.”
“I found myself on a greyhound bus heading for Chicago seated next to an older lady who was heading back to her home outside of the city. It’s a long ride that bus – some 20 hours to get there; so we talked and talked. I listened more than I spoke and I ended up living with her as an assistant. She lived alone and was frightened. He husband had passed and her children had moved to New York and left her to fend for herself. She had money and her home was a mansion way too big for her to live alone, so she hired me. I lived with her for fifteen years and when she didn’t get out of bed one morning I could smell that she had gone. I called her daughter who I had met on Christmas and Easter each year; she told me thank you and asked for the keys. It was my last evening sleeping at the house when her lawyer came to me and handed me a check for a half a million dollars. Apparently the old lady cared for me more than my mother ever had.”
“At this time the year was 1972 or so and I was 50 years old with a half a million dollars in my bank account but nothing and no one to spend it on. So I took a bus to Las Vegas.”
The door to my room opened, “Hey Freddy, good morning.”
“Hey Liz, this is Elizabeth a friend of mine. Elizabeth this is Liz my, my girlfriend?” We looked at each other and smiled.
“I need to leave now anyhow – remember what I asked for the other day and I will see you soon.”
“I don’t know what you want from me I am just…”
“Time, Freddy, Time.”
The door closed behind her and I looked into Liz’s eyes, a blue as a robins egg.
There was a storm and the power went out one evening in my building. Liz went to stay by a friend and I was not going to be home until late that night. It was an early morning when I was thrust into a conversation with a man named, “Doc.” We were discussing life and the ability to stand tall time and again after being knocked down.
“But there is no currency in resilience, backbone or heart. Resilience does not pay the bills. But resilient I am and resilient I must be.” I told him sounding kind of pompous but not feeling so.
“Of course there is currency in resilience. You could have just rolled over and quit so many times – but you kept at it. You re-invented yourself, changed careers, marketed yourself and then changed careers again and again, why?”
“Because I have no choice.” I put my head in my right hand and tried to force tears that didn’t exist.
“What do you mean you had no choice?”
“I am by nature not a quitter. Plus there are bills to pay.”
“Hence my statement that there is currency in resilience.”
“Its getting me lately, Doc, its causing me to flinch where I never did before. Its causing ‘tearless’ crying which makes me feel as if I have never shed a tear.”
“Crying is not defined by specific terms. Crying means to shed tears because of an overwhelming emotion. But the tears can be the feelings or the words expressed. Not everyone can understand that. We all mourn in our own way, we laugh to heal the inner hurt, we cry to open up the wounds to help them heal. You cannot heal unless you feel – you cannot scar unless the wound has been allowed to bleed.”
“I don’t either understand or agree with what you are saying.”
“Bottom line? Don’t worry so much about expressing your feelings – just feel them and don’t fear them.”
I walked away from the discussion still feeling like there was a grenade about to go off inside of me – any misstep would cause it to explode – so I walk softly and try not to jump, slip or fall. Walking on this trampoline its not as simple or as fun as it sounds.
The old lady Elizabeth died last night. I couldn’t give her the time she wanted back. Time is not something we can refund – once its spent its gone forever. He funeral was this morning and only myself and the Reverend for hire were there.
“In life some walk alone and then in death alone again.” He took a sip from a plastic cup. “We are given finite time in life – in death we are thrust into infinity.” He said a prayer, picked up his cup and walked away.
I wanted to say something – but there was no one in the room but her and I. I walked towards the casket and whispered to her – “Well, time is reset and its a do-over for you. Live in this death as you were not allowed to in your life.”
I turned to leave and noticed a clock on the wall, the arms spinning into the future.
Who am I? Why am I here?
I walked towards the train station and walked down the stairs to the platform. I stood there waiting and in a daze until I noticed a lady staring at me. I wasn’t in the mood to be “God” right now and I wasn’t in the mood to be social. She walked towards me, she looked familiar.
“Hello.” She smiled.
“Hello.” I responded, disarmed by her smile.
“Thank you, Freddy.”
Something was awakened within me – an emotion or a dead part of my psyche. For the first time in a long time I felt stirrings within. As the train lunged forward I turned to see the girl but she had gone.
The train slowed to a stop between stations – I looked outside the window and all I could see was an infinity sign on the walls in the darkness. In my memory it looked like this.
I went home that night to a dark entrance and I found a note written by someone I love.
“Can you handle this night without me? See you in the morning – Love you…Liz.”
If love is indeed infinite in one sense or another; is it possible that time and love are constant? That love surrounds us from a time and place that is no longer tangible in our minds – but in our hearts we reach out our hand to be held, we long for the embrace and we thirst for the kiss. So we keep on filling in the void in our hearts with literature, art and rock n roll, until the day will come when time and love are in tandem. When we will reach out our hand be held, when we will open our arms to embrace and we will thirst no more for the kiss…
Love and time both wasted and so often taken for granted.
Love and time both needed to sustain a sense of a life, a sense of a meaning in a world filled with tornadoes of falsehoods.
So we live our lives towards the goal of an infinite time and an infinite love.
As the sun rises, I can hear my front door opening and the sound of keys on the table by the door. Soft footsteps and the door to my room opens slowly. Time and love…