Today I’m at a coffee shop because the mantra of my morning yoga YouTube video was BE OPEN AND EXPERIMENT. Pulling out an uncomfortable wooden chair, I sit at a table made of stained glass and tell myself, It will be great. I’ll get a stellar cup of coffee. I’ll be like everybody else. But I’m having a hard time being normal, being a girl with a computer and a wedding ring and a latte. Rationing each piece of my awareness to death, allocating just enough time for each task, I open a Word Doc, pull up work emails, and place a library book beside me. Yes, I’ll corral abnormality into efficiency. Focus on the blueprint of my life. The one drafted on a TO-DO list.
My brain is ready! My brain is a power drill, a headlamp, a shot from the gun at the start line. My brain is typing, chewing, and grabbing. But my heart. My effing heart. My heart is an entire box of Valentine’s Day chocolates, a wrong turn, a fox breaking free from the fur trap and leaping through forest trees. My heart is zigzagging through agility poles, dancing in the wind, and napping.
Lastima begins to spread itself from said heart, zooms down through my fingers, into my toes, and it shoots back up to my head again. It puts a paper bag over my mind. The lights go out up there. And now I am only a feeling. I am a ball of feeling. Energy sensing other energies, a prisoner to happysadangryguiltyafraidlonelyanxious. Yes, the world’s emotional landscape seeps into me, and it grows loud and fast, and it tastes bitter and sweet, and it smells like something is burning.
Suddenly the song from my one-woman show comes on over the speaker, and I know it’s a sign. It’s a sign that I am powerless over these feelings, just as I am powerless over wishes and disappointments, mine and yours, or when creativity comes easy or when it is hard. I start crying at a coffee shop because of nothing and because of everything. Naturally, this is the moment the waiter decides to deliver my salad and French fries. He wears a tight line for a mouth, like a zipper closed and stuck, like the only way to fix it would be to rip it open. I want to rip it open. I want to see him smile. I want to connect.
I offer a grin, which he looks past. A rhyme: “Greens and fries. The ultimate compromise for thighs.” Nada. I almost bolt up and take him in my arms – he, a stranger who may not need holding, a stranger who I’m certain needs holding – until the table beside me barks for more mustard.
Turning my head to avoid his scurrying-for-mustard movements, I glance out the window. And there is a guy walking in black pants so short, I see his thick, white socks. Why is he passing me now? Am I not lucky enough to see a man in normal-length pants? In his hand is a burrito wrapped in foil, which he devours angrily, a trail of beans bellyflopping from his half-open mouth onto the pavement and leaving a trail. When the cops come on the scene to investigate the Eagle Rock Bean Killer, I’ll tell them I witnessed the whole thing. The sketch artist will draw a man with high-water pants, and I will try to beg for his pardon. “Forgive him,” I whisper as Bean Killer crosses the street. Sure, I am being crazy. Sure, he is pretty gross. But in my craziness and in his grossness I see you and me and everydamnbody.
Now the door bings and demands my attention. A tiny mom has arrived with her giant baby – a thick, fat tyrant of a child who wants to take over the world, beginning with her mother. They clink glasses, they wear matching braids, and I stare at them from the corner of my eye. These two are having a mommy-daughter date and eating eggs. Impatience descends and takes me by the throat, demanding my baby grow up quicker because I want dates with eggs, and I want twinsie hairdos, and I want it now! Until NO. Mama whips out her cell phone. And this kid, this kid who cannot be more than three years old, I watch her cheeks fall. I watch her earnestness, the option of a tantrum flickering across her face, until she crushes and crumbles, the kind of crush and crumble that echoes, “Am I important?” Mom fixates on her screen, and the last things I see before running to the bathroom are the little diamond studs in her child’s ears and chubby hands clutching Minnie Mouse.
In the mirror I find myself – a naked, stripped, live wire. If I wash my hands I’ll electrocute myself. I close my eyes and picture the fancy cup of joe waiting for me at the table. I haven’t even sniffed its mochaness or added brown sugar. Beside it is my computer, sitting like a desperate lover, its cursor clicking blankly on an empty page. But I can’t with the cursor and the blank page and the work and the foam shaped into a heart in my coffee mug. I can’t because I’m not here anymore. I’m with the woman in a leather jacket smacking the Cholula hot sauce bottle onto hash browns and talking with her mouth full to somebody not listening. I’m with the old man eating alone, reading The New Yorker, his toenails uneven. I’m with the Shepherd mix outside eyeing his owner’s plate with such intensity, with such hunger, I almost throw my salad at his paws. I’m with the fire station on the corner where heroes gather to walk through flames. I am the revolution of beings surrounding me, needing and hoping and regretting and laughing. Beings making it through one more day. I feel them all.
This is why I don’t get out much, why I usually write from home, with the doors closed, with my dogs to talk to if I need stimulating conversation. But I came here, and these lives are now a part of mine, we are woven into one story. So I tip the waiter huge. I put away my things. I keep my eyes and ears open, my heart on the line, and I breathe deep. I do nothing but breathe deep. A layer of padding begins to embraces me then, a centering that grows from the inside. Just enough to comfort me, to calm my electricity. It does not protect me or stifle me or make me look away. That would be too easy. The opposite of lastima isn’t turning off. The opposite of lastima isn’t forgetting or avoiding or building an artificial divide. It’s leaning in.
I lean in until I fall in, and zap away into the day.
p.s. Live wires get stronger by connecting with other live wires. Be mine.