It was shaping up to be a good morning.
South Tampa is a thirty five minute drive without Dale Mabry traffic and could easily become an hour with one broken stoplight. I was not about to make that hike until I was certain my client was actually in the office. It just wasn’t worth it.
A delay like that always means a trip to my favorite Starbucks, not because it was physically any different from any other location, but because the people are always friendly and they don’t screw up my order. It’s a simple pleasure.
Parallel lines converge in the distance.
With coffee and breakfast in hand, I settled into one of the big comfy chairs in the back. I breathed deeply and opened my laptop to complete the only task I had for the morning. I began to enjoy the shhhhh of the steamer, the voices in varying languages, and the clinking of the tumblers against the big espresso machines. The air was thick with the smell of coffee, an aroma that has brought me comfort since I was a little girl in my Abuela’s kitchen.
I wasn’t there for more than five minutes before a man walked in that I was sure I’d dated many years back. Moments later, a loud voice infiltrated the quiet of the restaurant as another man entered, still chatting on the phone. Naturally, he sat right next to me. Mysterious ex-boyfriend sat down at the table with him. The morning was getting more interesting by the minute. I put on my headphones and buried my head in my laptop.
I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation going on next to me because it was still quite loud. Something made me look up, and when I did, I saw the ex looking at me as he recognized who I was. I caught his eye, smiled, and said, “Do you still play Scrabble?” He had been the only person to ever consistently beat me at Scrabble. I was still a bit bitter about that.
Serendipity smiled and the air in the space changed. Ex and I realized that we still liked laughing and talking together. Turned out, also, that loud phone guy was a man I’d known for twenty five years. Suddenly, I was having a good time.
Before I realized it, an hour had gone by. Fifty people came and went and still, me and my two friends enjoyed interesting, topical conversation. It became much easier to wait for my client to call.
And then opposite forces collided.
Ex had to leave for a few moments. Naturally, I saved his seat. Who wouldn’t? Phone friend had to leave as well, so I was temporarily alone.
Within a minute, I receive a text from my sister in law. My uncle (through marriage) is not going to make it. His brothers and sisters and his son agree that it’s time to let him go. My younger brother is struggling with it, too. “I’ll meet brother there,” I tell my sister in law. Things got heavy.
Knowing that ex would return soon, I wanted to wait until I could tell him why I had to leave. I decided to catch up on my reading as a distraction. Perhaps five minutes passed before a tall, handsome, older man came to sit in ex’s chair. “Someone is sitting there,” I said politely, smiling and looking at older man’s eyes. I always engage.
“Oh, alright.” He said, and turned and walked to an empty table on the other side of the restaurant.
Another five minutes passed. Older man returns. “You know, if your friend isn’t back in another five minutes I’m going to take this chair.” Rousing the 300 pound gorilla that lives in my head.
“My friend is returning, and will be sitting in this chair, continuing the conversation we’ve been having all morning.” I said, as the bass line of my heartbeat set the new tempo.
“Fine.” He said, returning to the empty table in which he’d been sitting.
“I’ll be leaving in a minute, he can have this chair,” said the voice at the next big, comfy chair.
“Thank you,” I said, returning his smile.
Another five minutes passes. Nice, other man has left the second big comfy chair and older man comes to take it.
“You know it’s not right to save seats.” He says, while planting his bony ass in the chair vacated by nice, other man.
Heartbeat now blaring in my ears, I struggle between kindness and retribution. “Is it just that you are in a bad mood?” Gorilla began beating her chest.
“No. You can’t save seats.”
“Yes, I can. Especially considering that my friend has occupied that seat for the last hour and a half and is returning momentarily.” The gorilla had wrapped her big hand around my voice box and was now squeezing her way out of my mouth.
“I’m going to talk to the manager about this,” he said, folding the paper he’d been comfortably reading in the other BIG, COMFY chair for the last five minutes.
“Please! By all means, speak to the manager.” I seethed. Gorilla’s hand was escaping. I was experiencing a full-on, Hemlock Grove transformation from the petite, 110lb woman sitting comfortably, legs tucked under me, playing Words with Friends.
Older, cranky man stood up, out of BIG, COMFY chair and asked for the manager. I stayed in my chair, thinking that this was going to go away as soon as the manager told him to sit down and shut up. The first words out of old man’s mouth were, “This woman was rude,” which translated to, “This woman was demonstrative, spoke up for herself and her friend, and I don’t have the cojones to handle her.”
Transformation complete. The Gorilla got up from the big, comfy chair in which I sat and took three big steps to the end of the counter. I almost felt sorry for older, cranky man. I definitely felt sorry for the manager. Her voice was a bit deeper and more forceful than mine. “I was not rude. I was very polite. This man does not understand the concept that my friend stepped out for a few minutes to run an errand NEXT DOOR. He doesn’t seem to be satisfied with the chair he now occupies.”
The gorilla sat down. My heart raced. I was shaking in anger. Over a damn chair! I couldn’t believe it. I began thinking of my half brother and his mother’s family, waiting to find out if they could simply let my uncle die in peace. They were waiting because two doctors couldn’t decide if it was okay to let him go. Two egos were fighting over a human life, while the family paced, because that is all they had the power to do.
I could hear fragments of phases between older, cranky man and nice, calm manager. “Yes, sir, it is perfectly acceptable for people to save seats in here. Business owners sometimes save entire tables for meetings. It is our policy to allow people to meet here. They’ve been sitting here all morning.”
Older, cranky man threatens to contact corporate.
“You are certainly welcomed to do that.” Says nice, calm manager.
“I will,” says cranky, older man, again planting his bony ass in the BIG, COMFY chair that he’d previously occupied, that I would not have allowed anyone to take from him, because that’s who I am.
“You do need to understand, sir, that what she did was perfectly reasonable. She and her friend have been there all morning.” Said the manager.
“I don’t care. It’s MY opinion that you shouldn’t save seats. I’m going to ask corporate. This is about what I want.” He made sure to point to his chest, in case anyone doubted who “I” was.
Suddenly, 300 lb Gorilla got it. She was out, standing in the middle of the room beating her chest. Before I could contain her, she exploded in a torrent of psychological evaluation that would have made Freud stand and applaud. “Do you hear yourself?!” I said, rather loudly. “So, only YOUR opinion matters? No one else in this place matters, but you? So, YOU are a narcissist.”
By this time, my friend had returned to his chair and was now a bit stymied by the change in the atmosphere. He asked me what had happened. Older, cranky man had gotten OUT of his BIG, COMFY chair to continue to argue with the manager. The nice, calm manager handled it with grace as he went about his actual job, running one of the busiest stores in Tampa.
“What happened?” Asked Ex. I paraphrased. I’d lost interest in being angry. Gorilla and I realized that life is too short. Ex and I returned to our laughing, conversing and Word with Friends. Gorilla climbed back into my head and for the next ten minutes I forgot where I was headed next.
I got to the hospital and after kissing everyone, and getting details on what was happening, I sat with my brother and made him laugh. Eventually, I used old, cranky guy to make them all laugh. That’s what I do. I am, sadly, very good at grief. They’d all known me since I was a child. They were very familiar with Gorilla. They laughed heartily for a few minutes. It was rather comical to imagine me shake an intellectual fist at a man who was not only twice my size but rigid in his entitlement and his opinion of strong women. I recounted the story, sitting at a table with some very strong women.
The two egos didn’t show up to sign the DNR that day. They didn’t get around to it until the next day. Finally, the family could stop watching him suffer and start the business of missing him. Uncle Leo left the world at 5:23pm yesterday, surrounded by his family.
If I see old, cranky man at Starbucks again, which is highly likely, I’m going to tell him how, despite his best efforts, he did some good that day.
Rest in peace Uncle Leo. Have a drink with Daddy and Uncle Mike, and try your best to stay out of trouble now that the three of you are back together.