October 03, 2009

Just Lunch

By Betty Underground © 2009

That's how I sat waiting; as if he was watching. Not as if "people" were watching. Because that's a given; a girl sitting alone reading a book in a schwank restaurant on a random Tuesday afternoon. No, I sat as if he were standing across the street watching me. Aware of my every move and how it would look from across the street. Cool. I'd totally be doing it if I hadn't been so early. Had half a mind to pull up a stool at the cafe across the street to wait and watch once I got the text that he was running late. Figured as soon as I did he'd show and how'd I explain appearing as if to be ditching him.

And what's the difference in worrying about people looking at you and focusing on a specific someone watching you? If it were me running late, I'd pause on the corner in view of him, looking for those things I do when I'm nervous. Was he doing them? Looking around for me. Tapping his foot to a beat only in his head. Reading that same paragraph over and over desperately trying to focus on the words and not glance up every few seconds to see if I was coming. Would he be trying to look relaxed? Fumble his water glass? Adjust his shirt so he wasn't showing too much skin? Creating the illusion he was taking this all in stride.

Maybe he'd be so good at it I'd never catch his tell. Maybe it's just me who so obviously wears her nerves like this season's Louis Vuitton bag. Then fumbles deeper into the nerves as I talk endlessly through them. He might not ever get a word in edgewise if it weren't for the need to chew what little lunch I ate.

There used to be this boy who came into a Starbucks I worked in; Triple Grande Soy Latte Boy. So handsome. A singer in a local band, my weakness. And every time he came in, I was a pool of babbling nervous energy. My master swing was to spill a drink on a guy I was smitten with. It was my tell. One morning, I saw him crossing the street headed in, and I started this latte for him. Finished it by the time he stepped to the cash register and promptly spilled it all over the counter.

Pulled the same move with Vince Vaughn and a beer, but unfortunately the beer soaked the lap of my then boyfriend. Ooops. Now I looked uncool and my boyfriend had a soaked crotch. I'm pretty sure that's why he doesn't talk to me anymore. The boyfriend, not Vince Vaughn. Well, Vince Vaughn as well but only because I've been unable to find a super sleuth who can score his number. I'm sure he'd totally talk to me if I called. Vince, not that boyfriend.

My nerves were not as rattled as I anticipated. I know that I hadn't had time really to over-think it all. Days had been busy and nights more restless than they should be. In my professional life I am constantly switching gears. "We" collectively head in one direction one minute, then pause, flip around and run screaming down an entirely different path. It keeps things interesting to say the least. You plan for change the best you can and uncertainty is something that is commonplace. You get used to it. I make decisions requiring business acumen. I am excellent with quick, tactical decisions; a keen ability to see down the path of the unknown and decipher enough details to nail my next step. It's a skill they don't teach you in college and it isn't until you've done it for as many years as I have, that it is second nature. It's only when you stop to think about it, that you trip. Like marching in formation and playing an instrument.

With as consuming as work had been, it all but escaped my mind that I had a wildly exciting luncheon. While I made a joke out of him choosing his outfit the day before, I tossed on the same "uniform" that I've been throwing on since the insanity commenced a few weeks ago; pants and a t-shirt. I'm usually put together in a seemingly effortless manner, largely because I have no time for the effort, so again, you develop the skill. Like survival. Life acumen, if you will. So when it hit me about 10:30am, I quickly checked myself in the mirror and figured it'll have to do. Really, he's not going to care, or notice, that those few hairs keep flipping out and rebelling against the styling pomade.

It wasn't until I got to the restaurant that I even had time to exhale from the past week. No time to bundle the nerves up and bring them with me. Sure I was a mass of fidgety energy, but it was the excitement of it all. No doubt that this would be the first of many endless afternoons. The kind that would go on for days if one of us didn't have "adult like" responsibilities. I imagined it would be the first of many to come. Didn't matter what impression I made really, the certainty that this was only the first, was solid to the core.

Then, I fell into the book I was reading. The restaurant blurred out around me and it wasn't until he was right in front of me that I first noticed a shape. If he had stood on that street corner only seconds before, he would have caught me in those few moments where I was so obviously collected. And that was the moment I realized, I so wasn't. Fumbled the menu sending silverware crashing to the floor. Used both hands to sip fizzy water and feeling the top-heaviness of my glass of Sangria, I clutched it firmly, inched it off the table and hovered it away from my clothing, and him, in case of spillage. A perfectly executed move. Helped by announcing to him first that I was going to NOT SPILL THIS DRINK and to please be very very quiet. "Shhhhhhh." I think a bendy straw would have made an excellent addition to the presentation.

It was silly really, when he with a of a pile of broken toothpicks and me thankful I didn't have a paper napkin to nervously shred, finally admitted that those 3 1/2 hours had been the fantastic. Ping-ponging from one topic to another. Leaving loose ends but filling in some of the big blanks of the last 26 years. A shade of awesomeness filling the space between us.

We're not strangers, though perhaps we should be; the span between the time when knew each other before and now, is vast. Back then, we didn't even know ourselves, and what we knew about each other was drawn with immature minds. When we first reconnected I'm sure we imagined what we thought the other had become. Like reading a book and imagining the movie version. Thought now, in this moment, I don't even remember what I thought of him. What life I had assigned to him. Perceptions erased as the stories of our lives unwind. His life seems to suit him. He'd say the same about mine. Our paths not surprising, except maybe to ourselves, but I think what stirs the childlike curiosity in us is how similar we might be.

Comfort in familiarity and we'd only scratched the surface of our shared idiosyncrasies.

Betty Underground is a writer from Northern California.

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