Were you talking to me? Oh my god, yes you were. You were talking animatedly while I was looking toward your face but wondering, Will I ever feel as enthusiastic about work in my 50s as I did in my 20s? Should I cook dinner tonight or announce that it's every man for himself? I should see a doctor about that itch.
You are sitting across the cafe table, bringing your coffee cup to your lips and looking at me expectantly. But what is it you expect? The last words you said -- although I have no idea what they meant -- were "It's kind of hard to believe." If I respond enthusiastically, and you have just told me your mother-in-law has three months to live, you will think me rude, and rightfully so.
But If I respond with a flat affect, only to discover you had just announced you and Miguel are taking that trip to Italy, that too would be a strike against me.
So I say, "Whoa" then play around with the words of your last sentence. "That is hard to believe." Still, I am afraid you'll see through me, as you have raised children and have a husband and surely have mastered this technique at home.
Were you talking to me?
Look, I want to say, it's not you, it's me. I like you. We are friendly coworkers. But my mind wanders a lot lately. I have a friend whose mind shoots into orbit immediately upon hearing his wife start a sentence with "Oscar" or "Would you." But this isn't that. It's not the defensive listening or conversational combat of marriage.
This is a middle-aged person's mental walkabou, one of those cognitive flights that occur during large gatherings like work meetings and cocktail parties, or small ones like this after-work chitchat here by the elevator. Trigger words and phrases run along the lines of "budget," "election year," and "my cat," and monologues that don't include me in any way. Best-case scenario: I am at a liminal point in my life, no longer consumed by children and career, and screening out societal noise in order to pay attention to this inner journey and find new meaning during this leg of my life's journey. Worst-case scenario: dementia. They might look the same to you, so perhaps it doesn't matter.
You talk me?
Me sick of gathering all day. Me return home to cave too quiet since Og Jr. left and wonder do me cook with fire dinner for just two? Now me discover Og left another rambling petroglyph on wall. Please stop etching! me think. Too much information. This point life, need quiet.
Is it my turn to order? The last words that reached my inner ears were about the breakfast specials -- you were reciting them in far greater detail than I cared to hear -- and so I told my ears to stop listening. Instead, I focused on your dewy makeup and that tiny silver nose ring. I really wish you were not wearing that when you served my food, but I suppose that says more about our age gap than about you. Anyhow, at some point you were telling us about the locally-sourced eggs, chef-made sausage and then your lips kept moving while I began to think: four more "Mad Men" episodes . Mad Men lasted seven years. My math: Four, possibly five, similar TV series lengths left, then it will be curtains.
That is why I was not listening to your breakfast specials.
Were you talking to me?
We are standing here in the hallway after work at 5:10 p.m., waiting for the SpaceTimeEvator, and I just now realized you were saying something important and have reached the "voila!" of your story; you and Phil will attend that IBC event on Mars after all.
Clearly, it's my turn to respond. Oh please, god of SpaceTimeEvators, deliver a pod and let the merciful "bling" that announces its arrival save me from this social embarrassment.
But the transportation gods punish me for trying to recall the name of that cheap but surprisingly complex merlot while you talked. Scenic Meadows? Meadow Horses? Meanwhile, no other passengers arrive outside the doors to naturally disrupt our conversation.
You smile. You had used the words "after all." Clearly you had already explained the IBC event by the "voila" point, yet but I cannot recall what IBC stands for.
I change the topic to your children.
"How are Gravity and Galaxy?" I ask.
You light up. "Gravity's a senior..." you start to say, when a soft "bling" heralds a pod's arrival. The doors part to reveal a half-full car and I step forward. I am saved. For now.
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