After running an errand this afternoon, I decided to drive home using a different route, one that I haven’t driven along for quite a while. Before Mr. Helix and I moved in together, I would drive along this route all the time, back and forth between his place and mine. I would often spend the time driving along the route thinking about our relationship. Before I met him, there had been a long dry spell for me without a relationship, and I was always weighing and measuring how I felt about each step of the process, because I was so incredibly rusty about dating and always second-guessed myself. I would sweat all the small stuff… “Do I go up to his place more than he comes to mine? Do we do enough things that I like to do as well as the things he likes to do? When he said thus and such, why did it hurt my feelings? Why didn’t I tell him? Was it really that important?” Instead of torturing him with my insecurities (“Do these pants make my insecurities look HUGE?”), I would work out my feelings in the car, and only bring the things that seemed really pertinent to the table when I saw him.
It was interesting to take the drive down that road so many years later, with so many of the insecurities gone, and new, more practical issues taking their place in my mind. “We need to replace the roof, but I’m not sure how to finance it. Is there anything I can do to alleviate some of the work stress he’s been experiencing? Is there anything I can do to lessen my own work stress, so I am more productive around the house and not wiped out in the evening? Should I make dinner tonight, or do we have enough leftovers from yesterday?” I let the various thoughts roll through my mind, but without really feeling upset or stressed by any of it particularly.
As I came closer to home, I passed a tiny roadside restaurant that wasn’t there the last time I’d been by. It was a gorgeous fall day, they had outdoor seating, and I’d skipped lunch, so I decided to investigate. There were two parts to the place, one for burgers and hotdogs, and the other for sandwiches and salads. I ordered a soup and sat outside, one of the very few patrons there at that too late for lunch/too early for dinner hour.
Suddenly, a man popped out of the doorway closest to me, surveying the outside seating, while talking quietly on his cell phone. He continued to talk as he told the waitress that he’d like to sit at a table which was not too far from mine, facing me. I discretely sized him up, and decided from his clothes that he was wealthy, the type of wealthy that doesn’t have any cheap clothing, and only wears expensive casual clothes. I assumed that he was making a business call, and was paying him no mind, until he slightly raised his voice and something about his tone caught my attention. He was talking to Ann Marie, who apparently was saying things that were so harsh they were causing him alarm. I wish I could remember what exact words he’d used to describe how he was taken aback by the things she was saying, but I was struck by how incredibly articulate and urbane he sounded, even in the middle of what was clearly an argument.
I looked down into my soup, and tried to distract myself from his presence by wondering why every bowl of butternut squash soup seems to come with a garnish of some kind of toasted nuts thrown on top, but I found my thoughts wandering towards this stylish, wealthy man having an argument over his solitary lunch. More phrases wafted over to me, about how she was clearly making her children a priority over him. Something about how he just wanted to get his clothes. Something about documents. Oh no, it’s a domestic argument, I surmised. She’s breaking up with him, I worried for the complete stranger.
I pretended to be completely enraptured by the colors of the fall leaves, which were lovely, but now I was completely absorbed in his story. He had ended the phone conversation quietly, and I became aware that he was sniffling. I risked a glance in his direction, and he had put sun glasses on. I suddenly felt so sad for this man, sitting and feeling so vulnerable, crying and trying to keep his dignity. I marveled at how calmly he seemed to continue to eat his lunch, and even made another call, sounding completely casual.
In the time it took this man to eat his lunch, he had an emotional conversation with Ann Marie, they seemed to finalize their break-up, he had a short sniffle, seemed to get himself contained, and called a friend to meet with later. I marveled at the incredible cycle of emotions he went through so quickly. I wondered if it was obvious that I had heard enough of what just happened to get the whole picture. I wanted to say something to him, something comforting, but to try to comfort a complete stranger about an event that you know nothing of except for what you eavesdropped on would be awkward and incredibly inappropriate.
As I gathered up my things to go, I thought about how many times I had gotten myself all worked up about the various big and small hurdles of beginning a relationship, and how emotionally complex the whole process was – all those car rides back and forth, sorting through my psyche and my heart. And now I am years past those times, feeling so much more secure and happy in my relationship, so many of those insecurities and worries completely in the past. It’s so much better now.
I wanted to tell the man that everything would be ok. That this too will pass, and some day he’ll be happy and ok that things ended with Ann Marie, because he’ll find that something else was meant to be. He could sit at this little café and think back to today, and that phone call, and be okay with it. Somehow, I think he already knows.