I haven’t seen Shirley in a really long time. I’m sitting here at Starbucks with my iced mocha wondering what was I thinking when I said yes to Shirley’s invitation to “catch up”. I think I will have to claim temporary insanity or at least amnesia. Her phone call was from out of the blue and I let my guard down and agreed to this. It’s too late now. I can always hope for some big riot or car wreck that prevents her from getting here on time. I’ll give her the “10 minute professional courtesy” and escape out the back door. We’ll have missed each other and I will have escaped this un-wise calendar event. Oh, damn, there she is at the counter. Maybe this won’t be so bad. Maybe she’ll have changed… Maybe she’ll actually be happy and maybe she’ll want to here what I have to say. Yep, and maybe gravity will change or we’ll all get hit by meteor… not very likely….
“Shirley, how are you? It’s been a long time! What’s new?” I might as well start this ball rolling. The sooner we start, the sooner it will be over and I’ll be free. We do the “casual acquaintance hug thing” that seems to be required, even by people who don’t like each other that much. She pulls up her chair, bangs down her coffee, proceeds to complain about the drive, parking, cost of coffee, and the calorie difference between non-fat and low-fat milk. Oh, man, I hope the cringing feeling in my chest doesn’t actually reflect in my eyes.
She asks how I’m doing. Well, cool, maybe I was wrong. Hope springs eternal. Maybe this will be a two-way conversation. That would be great. I start off with my art classes and my latest creative endeavor. Then I start to talk about my up coming trip to the coast. Nothing big or flashy, just lots of walking on the beach and I’m actually hoping for rain so less people will be there. I’m enjoying my life and still am amazed with the satisfaction of small events. I used to be a Shirley “twin”, where life was meant to be suffered and dramatized. And there was actually nothing worse in the world than the focus of our current complaint or imagined transgression to be addressed and corrected. We didn’t want the thing fixed, God no, then we’d have to find fault with the fix or find another target. I remember those days and those feelings. And I don’t miss them a bit.
Somewhere during my fourth sentence and my hope that maybe things were different, it finally filters through. She’s not listening. She’s not paying attention. She’s starting to spin up her thoughts on what she’s going to say as soon as I take a breath. I used to struggle so hard to make sure the “scales were balanced” and that I got to talk and complain as much as Shirley. It used to make me angry that there was such an unjust level of sharing. I really do like who I’ve become. This is actually funny and it’s like conversing with a small child. Let her have her moment and audience. Somewhere mid-sentence, I stop. I can see her impatience start to spill over and I’ve played with her focus long enough. So for it, Shirley. It’s like someone starts to play a recording mid-speech. I pause and she launches….
“I was so upset when Gerald left. I took all the photos that he was in and threw them away. All of them. He broke my heart and I never wanted to see the bastard again. I took all his stuff and boxed it up and gave it to the Goodwill. Even his favorite shirt. That was the most God awful shirt. Ugly yellow, like it came from the 60s. Like the color of the stove. Harvest gold or some crap like that. Right up there with avocado. Geez. He loved that shirt. I hope it ended up as a oil rag in a garage. All the old photos. There isn’t a single one left. Remember Anthony? I loved that guy. He was such a great listener. I wished I hadn’t thrown that picture away. It was a picture of Anthony. I wonder where he is now. Gerald is such a prick. It’s his fault the picture of Anthony is gone.”
I realized, somewhere in the midst of Shirley’s dramatic colloquy that I didn’t actually have to listen. As she continued, I’d shake my head or give a comforting “humph”, that’s all she really wanted. She was happy and kept on without needing any other feedback or response.
I watched a dad and son, clearly headed for the Mariner game, 6 year old boy proudly wearing his Moyer shirt. Son was complaining that he wanted the chocolate cookie, it was bigger. They start young, I guess. Dad reassured son that it wasn’t bigger, but clearly son wasn’t buying that one. Then Dad asked if he was going to finish his cookie. Dad asked the same question: “are you going to finish that” four times. Same tone, same tempo, same words, four times. Son didn’t really have to listen. Dad knew son wasn’t listening, so they worked out their conversation dance, repeating and changing places as needed. Finally Dad decided four times translated to “no” and wrapped up son’s cookie for later and stuck it in his backpack pocket. “Go wash your face and hands and then we’ll go”. They both got up together and headed towards the back of the store for their chores before continuing their big night out.
I watched another Dad and child outing. This six year old girl was wired for sound, bouncing and laughing and clearly glad to be. Dad was sitting back, relaxed, arm over the seat back, smiling at her antics. They clearly spend a lot of time together, very comfortable with each other. Somewhere Dad knew it was time to prompt her into a new direction. “Go up there, girl and get your drink”. He handed over some money and she went bouncing up to the counter. She was outgoing, clearly she’d done this before, and placed her order with confidence. Dad had shifted in his chair ever so slightly, so he could see her clearly but let her feel independent and in charge. She bounced back to Dad, with her iced fruit smoothie in one hand and the change in the other. She leaned over, got a hug and bounced off to get a straw. I haven’t seen so much happy energy in a long time. It was contagious.
Oh, I’ve not been paying a lot of attention here. It’s probably way past time for a response, so I both shake my head and grunt. I have no idea where we are in the history, but Shirley’s clearly starting to wind down. There are pauses in her dialogue and if I was so inclined, I could actually interject something about me. Nah, I’ve actually enjoyed this get together, why spoil it. It’s been relaxing and fun to listen to “The Shirley Monologue” wash over me, like some radio talk show in the background. It was fun to watch people with their own stories and adventures. It’s been OK to not measure and weigh to ensure even sharing, it’s not worth the energy. I think I’ve spent my time well, but even saying that, I’m not inclined to sign up again anytime soon.
I watch Shirley check her watch and start to gather her coat and belongings. “We’ll have to get together again real soon. It was great to hear all about what’s happening and we would do this more often”. I nod my head and finally let a bit of a wise smirk hit the corner of my mouth. Yep, it was fun. I have no idea what she said, and she hasn’t even figured out that I didn’t say much of anything. It was great to see the humor and irony and know I’m in a pretty good place right now. But I’ll let the answering machine screen the calls and hope to remember that hanging out with Shirley is a bit like visiting the dentist – it happens every so often, not a lot of fun during, but feels good when it’s done. I hope that life treats well, what ever that means to you. Bye Shirley. And we head our separate ways out of Starbucks and into the city.