Saturday, August 09, 2003

Loss in a coffee house.


We’re on the phone, and he says:

Look, I want you to know that you can call me. I want you to know that you can call me up and tell me anything. I want you to know that I’m here for you when you need me. And I’m still going to call you. But when you need to have a break from me for a while…If you need to have a break from me for a while, I understand that.

I don’t think I should call you. I think that me not calling you – it’s been two months and – I think you calling me is better. I think you should have to call me. I think it works, that way.

But how am I supposed to know when you need a break from me, if I’m the one doing the calling? Do you see what I mean?

I’d let you know. If I needed a break. I’m OK…I might need a break from you in June. June would be good for this. I’ll start getting over you in June.

Wait. You’re scheduling when you’ll…

Fine. That’s fine.


For the first time in two months, I had the time and money Friday night to do one of my favorite things in the whole world. I went to the comic book store, picked up my week’s worth of comics. Then I took the comics and some writing stuff to a coffee house, where I could get a treat and sit for a while just enjoying myself and my $15 worth of luxury items, a good snack and a good read and the proper space to write a letter to a friend. This is one of my favorite things to do for myself: comic books, coffee house, letter writing. A big splurge in personal down time, believe it or not.

I got into the habit while in Boston of counting the other single women sitting by themselves in coffee houses, reading and writing. We’re a surprisingly large demographic. On any given night in any given coffee house, there is at least one other girl in her twenties indulging herself this way. The most I ever counted was in Coolidge Corner two years ago; 7 different women at 7 separate tables, alone in the coffee house. I have counted women in Atlanta, in Marietta, in Nashville and Knoxville and Boston and Jacksonville. I plan on counting women on the west coast next.

We are a nation unto ourselves. The women never talk to each other. There is a grim understanding among us that we enjoy being alone, or at least enjoy being alone with our angst about being alone. Friday, in Little 5, there is only one other girl, reading a magazine by herself, hunched over. But to be fair, there was that other girl writing in a spiral bound notebook outside the coffee house, looking suitably angry and displaced.

Women who read alone: we are a legion of the romantically dispossessed.


Ron was good friends with the last solid, reliable boyfriend that I had in a serious way. Ron still has an album that this boyfriend copied for him onto CD. The Blue Man Group Soundtrack played just once in our living room about a month ago, and I froze. I asked Ron to stop playing the disc. He sighed and took it out of rotation.

The music reminded me forcibly of the morning I was last in the boyfriend’s car. The night before he had broken up with me, late, as I was all ready tucked into his bed. So the next morning we had this horrible ride into the city. And quite bitterly, I said:

Well, this is it for me. I don’t think I’ll ever get into a serious relationship again. I’m pretty much determined to be on my own after this.

The now ex-boyfriend turned to me in shock.

How can you say that?

Because I just know, OK? This was it. This is the last time I’ll ever get this involved again. I mean, I’ll date, and of course I’ll have lovers, but this was the last big deal for me.

It’s strange for me to remember that, over two years later. I almost never think of that boyfriend anymore. I spent a summer in grief for him, but all things considered, I moved on rather quickly. I’ve dated since then, messed around since then. I’ve fallen in love again, since him. But I remember the sound his car door made as I slammed it shut on the Fenway that morning. I was late to a conference on microfilming, newspapers, and brittle books. I couldn’t have known then how important that day would be for me.

My attendance to that conference would help make my career.

Decisions that would affect the rest of my life turned on the hinge of that car door.

It’s funny, how the conversations that change your whole life are rarely pleasant ones.

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