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The woman at the cafe

Tuesday 11/22/22

A lot of my weekends are spent going from on cafe to another, doing work. I have nowhere else to go, save the places I go on my own, no one to be with, because I'm alone. I do a lot of work at the desk typically, which can start as early as one in the morning. Or between midnight and one. Weeks for me start on Saturday normally, and they can start very early. Then I do my workouts, run my stairs, walk my miles, do my push-ups. Vast amounts of various things have been done by the end of morning. A lot of day is left. I understand that it's pathetic, going from spot to spot alone, but that's how it is right now. The fear that that's how it will always be is always present, but that fear is behind various other strands of fear that are greater. Which doesn't make it less present.

What I'll see in cafes is how unbalanced many people tend to behave. It pours out. Leaks out. The brokenness. If you observe anything at all, you're apt to notice it.

I was at a cafe on Sunday afternoon, fairly late--it was beginning to get dark. Darkness happens fast in November. There's not much of a gradual tapering off; we move from light, to the absence of light, to the darkness. I know that occurs early now, but it was late in the day, with that larger late-in-the-day sense that you get with November. Plus, for me personally, I'd been up for a while by then. I had ordered a green tea and was reading William Sloane's To Walk the Night, which I'm nearly done with for what must be the thirtieth time. There's a row of individual seats against one wall--bar-style seating. That's where I was. A woman was behind me about ten feet off to my side, at a table by herself. She was a large woman, which I mention for no other reason than everything that was happening visually and audibly strikes me as part of this story.

She was having an argument on her phone, and was very aggressive. She would be doing the talking, was how I imagined she'd decided the phone call would go, before she dialed. She was loud. Everyone could hear her. She either didn't care, or wanted them to.

I don't think she lived in the neighborhood. My sense was that she'd been out all day, had gotten away, and her wanderings had taken her here to the North End, and this cafe on Hanover Street. I don't think she'd ever been in there, or would be again. I don't know this. It was just my feeling.

She kept talking about how this was a hard day for her. Maybe it was an anniversary of some tragedy or a death, a loss, but I didn't think so. She stressed that point repeatedly. She was someone bookish, clearly, because you can tell by how someone talks whether they read or not. And if someone reads as an adult, there's a great chance they read a lot as a kid. Which also means there's a pretty good chance they spent a lot of time alone. And it also means there's a good chance they're both smarter than people and likely to be mentally ill, because rare is the person who is strong enough to spend much time alone--or any--and not come apart.

I'm speaking broadly. I know there are many people who do read and loved to read as children who are fine. I don't want to do that thing where someone goes, "Is he talking about me?" and "I'll show him!" That's not a great use of energy besides. The woman was articulate and she also knew the phrases of the day--"triggered," for instance, was in regular rotation as a verb during this conversation.

She said "my" a lot. This was about her. She wanted to extract a pound of flesh, but I could also tell that the man she was speaking to didn't offer her anything. I don't think either offered the other anything. I think they were together. And now here they were.

She was angry with him, told him he didn't care, had no interest in her feelings. Her style was unabashed flamboyance. This was someone for whom the idea of drama was not a foreign one. Drama is a misleading term. "I don't want drama in my life." People don't actually mean drama. They mean needlessly manufactured theatrics. That's not the same as having a lot going on. Or being in a terrible situation. There is much drama in my life at present, but I am not a dramatic individual in the sense of creating theatrics. I want fairness and a chance. I want what I have coming to me, and deserved long ago. I want someone to love who loves me, and I want art, truth, and beauty, and to make my art every day and have it get to where and to whom it should get. I don't want parties. I don't want 400 friends. That's what I want. I want my house in Rockport and my house on the Cape and a place in Boston. I want to listen to music and watch films and discuss them and catch the ball game and spend a lot of time in the woods, in peace.

At one point she says to him, "It's not your fault, though," while clearing thinking it is. "It's just who you are," she said. This was a story of limited options. It was as if she felt she had none, and this man didn't either. He was offstage, but I had an idea of what he was like. This relationship was a grind. It also would remain intact, so far as it was intact.

She then starts saying how, no, she's not coming over to have sex with him. He just wants his needs met. This was loud. You couldn't miss it. What about her needs? What would they do after having sex? Then much talk ensued about sci-fi. "No, I don't feel like watching sci-fi today. You just sit there and watch sci-fi all weekend." My understanding was that this was usually what passed for fine. She didn't exercise, I think was a safe summation, and this man didn't either, for what seems another likely safe guess. They didn't care for each other, they had different reasons for being with each other--she milked the drama, and apparently he watched Star Wars and then got laid--and thus a sort of scene from that relationship played out in this North End cafe as what remained of the light in the sky vanished so fast that you hadn't a chance to notice it'd been tapering off.

She sounded as if she was going to wander some more. "I'm not even home yet," she said. "I'm sitting in some coffee shop." Home sounded so far away. Far but not far, do you know what I mean? Far in the conceptual sense. Like, Braintree. I don't think it was the Back Bay or Somerville. She also sounded like she'd be wandering indefinitely in other ways.

She said she was going to go, which really meant she was going to go for now, a period of time would pass--maybe just an hour or two--then they'd likely resume. She didn't hang up on him. She said 100 words to his every five. I pictured him playing video games or watching a film and barely listening to her. You thought of just sloppy sex, too, and then two people just there after, with neither likely wishing to be. She seemed exhausting to know, and he seemed like a loser. But that's what it was. I already knew that everything they did, enacted, was a form of repetition. A pattern to be resumed. What flow there was existed in doing what had been done before.

She sat there for a few minutes after the phone conversation after she'd hung up and set her phone on the table. She'd had a sandwich. She told him that. I didn't get the sense that he asked if she'd eaten. She stood up slowly, put her jacket on with resignation. A very weary way to put on a jacket. You know how some people put on a jacket in a manner that suggests it's much colder outside than it really is? She put her jacket on that way. Then she sort of shuffled out, not picking her feet up much, with this side-to-side motion. I watched her as she stood on Hanover Street. It would determine nothing, of course--well, maybe--but I was curious which way she'd go. I guess if you were leaving the North End--and presumably she was going back to more familiar environs--you'd turn right and head towards the Greenway. She stood there for a bit, completely unsure where to wander to next. Then she did go right, walking out of the frame--of the window, of my particular life--very slowly.

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