- Tell Chai Latte I’m moving out and he can’t stop me. Have him beat me up because he wants to give me a going away present. Get an apartment where he’s a permanent fixture, peering in my window. Get stalked for years until I decide I’d rather have him next to me in my bed where I can keep an eye on him than maybe around the corner in a dark night.
- Call the battered women hotline and get put on hold. Talk to an undertrained volunteer who is manning, or womanning, the phone to comply with court ordered restitution. Get a room in a woman’s shelter with a snoring roommate. Get kicked out because I tried to suffocate her with a pillow. End up homeless, living under a dumpster like that cowboy dude.
- Lie back, spread ‘em, and take it, like I’ve taken many before. Whatever he says, say, “yes sir,” right back. Hope he doesn’t think I’m being sarcastic, or ingratiating, or robotic, or too much of a wishy-washy wuss for his taste. Get privately bitter until the Stockholm Syndrome takes over and he trusts me to leave the house. Let him use me to recruit another poor girl to replace me, so I get jealous that he doesn’t hit me and rape me as much as he used to. Go on like this for years until the cops raid his house and I get hauled to prison for being an accomplice.
- Play the Spellbinding Fish Fry over and over again, hoping that the song I’m playing syncs up perfectly with whatever song they are playing at whatever concert they’re playing at. This will make our vibes resonate so that I’m transported bodily to the front of the stage, leaving behind this shit hole and the people in it. Find out the hard way that it’s not humanly possible. Have Chai Latte get so sick of listening to the Spellbinding Fish Fry, even the little bit that leaks out of my headphones, that he rips the buds out of my ears and smashes my iPod all to hell.
- Bat my eyes and flirt with every guy who comes by so they’ll want to save me. Risk Chai seeing and beating me up like he never did before. Listen to a hundred guys repeat what Silent Bob said: “Bros before bitches, dude; bros before bitches.” Find out that the only guy who can stand up to an abusive prick is another abusive prick. Jump out of the deep fat fryer into the searing flames of hell.
- Sneak out late with as much as I can carry in a bag and push my car silently down the block to where I don’t think he can hear it start. Drive like hell in a direction he’d never expect me to go. Run out of gas somewhere in the woods of Maine. Get chased by a moose and a bear until I come upon a trapper’s cabin. Ask him if I can use the phone, only to be told there ain’t no phone. Ask him for directions to a gas station, only to be told you can’t get there from here. Spend the rest of my life tanning hides and missing whatever happens on the Walking Dead.
- When Chai is out, stand behind the front door with a baseball bat. Then, when he comes home, jump out and bonk him over the head. While he’s still passed out, douse him with gasoline from the can he keeps by the mower. Throw a match and watch him wake up to find himself covered in flames. Laugh as he staggers around the room, tripping over the coffee table and banging into the walls. When he sets the curtains on fire, run out of the house, and get hit by the fire engines coming the other way. Have a good looking fireman jump out and give me CPR. Die happier than I ever was in my lifetime, but thinking it really sucks I can’t go home with him.
- Go on doing what I’ve been doing, hoping Chai Latte will change. Enjoy the good days and try to keep my head down on the bad. Nurse my bruises, take a lot of Tylenol, and try to find a good dentist. Take up drinking so I can sleep at night. Count down the days, or years, it takes for Chai to become an old man and need me to take care of him. Then, kick his walker out from under him and, as he lays on the floor with a broken hip, tell him how I really feel. Steal all the money he keeps under the mattress and go to live in Aruba.
I’ve considered my options carefully. It looks like the best one is #7. I’ve always had a thing for firemen.
Little Theresa had been an ordinary teenaged girl, but then she saw the stars.
The stars had always been there, obscured by Connecticut trees; but she had never been to the beach at night, before that night. She had been to the beach when her mother took her, along with the crowds, carrying their beach towels and playing with a Frisbee; when the sea was a gentle playmate, the sand, a new toy, and the sky, a watchful parent. She had never been to the beach at night, until one night, she was. Then she saw the stars for what they really were, some things that were totally indifferent to her.
She had thought she was someone important, after all. She was a pretty girl, a child of God, someone who gets taken care of. But the stars didn’t care. They went on blinking as if she wasn’t there.
It wasn’t just the stars that were aloof, the sand was, also. The sand would move under her print, but it was just as happy to move back, should the water wipe it clean. The sea that evening was no longer a gentle giant, reaching forth to lick her legs and then shyly withdrawing back into itself; the sea was a raging beast which would eliminate her without a single thought if she got in its way.
At first she thought it was the night that did this to the stars, the sand, and the sea. Something about the night made everything so heartless; but she realized that Night followed the dictates of Time. Time couldn’t care less for her, as it went on and on, day in and day out, whether she was there or not, bringing the indifferent stars into being each day.
Little Theresa might have gone back home and left the stars, the sand, and the sea to the night and let Time devour them all, but her parents had been fighting. She had left to get out of reach, not only of their yelling, but also whatever it was that transformed love to indifference. It wasn’t the hate they had for each other that troubled her, it was the indifference they both had for her that would make them yell at each other in front of her, not caring how she felt.
Her parents, in their indifference, were no different from the stars or the sand or the sea or Time in their indifference. It was indifference she had discovered that night when she saw the stars, an indifference that would change her forever, even though Time wore on, day arrived, the stars withdrew, the sand sparkled in the sun, and the beach repopulated with beach towels, Frisbees, and little girls playing in the waves. Even though her mother made her breakfast in the morning and, when he went to work, kissed her father goodbye. Even though everything should have been better in the morning, it was not, for she had seen the truth behind the bright smiles, that she was just an object in an indifferent universe of objects, and had no claim to special regard.
Little Theresa arrived at this true knowledge of the nature of the stars, the sand, the sea, Time, and her parents not only by looking at them, but by interacting with them. She spoke to her parents when they were fighting, but they went on fighting. She screamed at the stars and threw sand at the sea, for she was enraged by their indifference. The stars went right on blinking as if they couldn’t hear. The sea registered small splashes but went right on being the sea, and even the sand she threw would, in time, make it back to where she picked it up. It was as if she had no voice in the roar and no presence in the vast emptiness.
For some time afterwards, nothing escaped Little Theresa’s disapproval. She found the whole world to be indifferent. Gravity pulled everything down whether it wanted to or not. Heat heated everything up. She took physics in school and found in its formulas and principles more evidence of callous detachment, the uncaring machinery of the universe. Math repeated the same lesson, squared. Gym was wordless physics. English was fairy tales told to children so they wouldn’t notice indifference. History might have told her the truth, but it repeated the lie that there were great men and forgot the many crushed under the wheels of greatness. Little Theresa, a future saint, even turned on her Sunday school teacher, for she hadn’t become saintly, yet. No, the future saint said, God was not love. God, if He even existed, presided over indifference.
Little Theresa might have gone on like this and progressed from being a gloomy teenager to a nihilistic college student. She might have become a hard bitten business woman with no thought of anyone but herself. She could have taught herself to pretend to care; but, as it worked out, she didn’t have to. Something happened which was an important exception to universal indifference. She saw, for the first time, the nape of a neck.
The nape belonged to a new girl who had forgotten her lunch. Little Theresa had taken up wearing black clothes, the better to blend into the night. She dyed her hair black, and wore it to cover her face. She had to cover her face to feign detatchment; for, if the world was going to be indifferent, she would pretend to be, also. It was not that she thought anyone would notice her face and tease her; she knew they would not, for they were indifferent; but she would know and would be out of step with the world.
From behind her hair, Little Theresa studied the face of The New Girl Who Had Forgotten Her Lunch. When she thought someone was looking, the face of The New Girl Who Had Forgotten Her Lunch said she didn’t care. I’m indifferent, the face said. Just like the stars, just like the sea, I don’t need to have anything to eat and I don’t care if I sit alone. When she didn’t think anyone was watching, the face revealed that she cared very much.
If Little Theresa had just seen the face, she would have gone on just as before, but she also saw the nape of the girl’s neck. The face told an inconsistent story, so Little Theresa could go right on believing what she tended to believe. But, The New Girl Who Had Forgotten Her Lunch could not conceal the expression on the nape of her neck. The nape said, I’m vulnerable, I’m exposed, I can be hurt. I can’t see what’s coming behind me, so my safety is up to you.
The nape changed everything for Little Theresa, just as the stars had before. She had found something in the universe other than indifference, both the nape and her response to it. The nape of her neck was so defenseless, she wanted to protect the girl. Little Theresa knew she had a nape of the neck, too. She felt responsible. She moved over, said hello, and gave her the rest of her sandwich.
This simple gesture was the beginning of Little Theresa’s sainthood. From that moment on, she pulled the hair out from her eyes and looked at people full in the face. She had always been confused about the face, but the nape of the neck taught her what to believe. From that day on, she saw the need written on the face, the weakness, the vulnerability; she learned to pay attention and, paying attention, she saw the truth.
The stars, the sand, the sea, time, and even her parents may be indifferent; perhaps they, like the girl, feigned indifference. Perhaps the stars, the sand, and the sea were the hair in front of God’s face. Behind that hair, God cared very much. Perhaps the The New Girl Who Had Forgotten Her Lunch was the nape of God’s neck: the way that God revealed His vulnerability, exposure, and willingness to be hurt.
That’s how Little Theresa went from being an ordinary teenage girl to the extraordinary saint she is today. Caring was the only thing that makes sense to her; everything else was meaningless.
The Geeky Guy was not the only one who thought he was married to the Lisping Barista. So did the drug dealer, Chai Latte; only it wasn’t exactly marriage he thought he had. He thought he had something that’s often confused with it. He had possession. But, don’t believe it from me. Let’s let the Lisping Barista tell it.
Chai’s been really, really generous. Whenever I need money, he gives it to me. I get all the drugs I want. He gets me some clothes and some jewelry I never thought I’d have. I ask for some money to fix up my car, but he says I don’t even need a car. I ask him, “Do I need to work?” But, he says, “Working’s important for your self-esteem, Baby.” He’s right. He has a good work ethic and lots of self-esteem. He goes to work every day, right there with me. He never leaves my side.
Chai’s got lots of friends and they’re OK, but they’re not my Chai Latte. There’s only one I don’t get. That’s Silent Bob. He intrigues me because he never says anything. He just looks at you. His face says it all; but, not quite. You still want to hear what he has to say; not because you need to, but you want to have the satisfaction. I get turned on by coaxing words out of Silent Bob. At first, I just get one at a time. At this stage, whenever he says anything, it sounds weird; not because it actually sounds weird; but it’s weird he says anything at all. It’s like when the couch or the chair or the refrigerator speaks up and says something. In that case, you really want to hear what it has to say, even if it’s nothing intelligent; but because you want to hear it do it and because you want to be able to say you made it talk.
Anyway, so, days go by with me getting one word at a time out of Silent Bob. Then everything comes all at once. It’s like that old movie about Helen Keller where she finally learns how to talk and then you can’t get her to shut up. Well, not quite like that. Silent Bob is still what you might call reticent; but it felt that way.
My breakthrough came when I asked him where he was from.
“Yoopee,” he says.
I don’t know where that is. I failed geometry; but, before I can ask him, he adds, all on his own, “I’m a Yooper.”
“What’s a Yooper?” I ask.
He tells me he’s from the upper peninsula of Michigan. He shows me with his hands. He makes a mitten with one and a claw with the other. He comes from the claw.
I ask him how he got here. That’s when he really gets talking.
“When I was a kid,” he says, “I used to look ‘cross lake and see land, other side. Door County, Wisconsin. At night, lights. We call them Foggy Cities, eh? I always wanted go Foggy Cities.”
“So, did you like the Foggy Cities?”
“Nope, Foggy Cities just like Yoopee. So, I keep looking eh? But, I take wrong turn.”
There’s something just so adorable about Silent Bob, looking for his foggy cities. We all have our foggy cities. The things that get us going, but we can never find.
But, there’s also something else.
“I like the way you talk,” I say; and I really do. It’s different and it makes me think about words. There’s so many ways to say the same thing. When you find a different way, it makes you think about all the others.
He looks uncomfortable and embarrassed. I know why. I know exactly why.
“I don’t like the way I talk,” he says. “I sound stupid; but, I can’t change it.”
So, he feels the same way about his Yooper accent as I feel about my lisp. I want to make it all better for both of us, so I do a dumb thing. It’s the right thing, but dumb.
I lean over and give him a kiss, right on the lips.
That was the exact moment Chai Latte decides to walk in the room and see us. That’s how I got this black eye. No, it wasn’t falling on a doorknob like I tell everyone. The next thing I know, Chai tells me I’m quitting my job. Only, now, I don’t want to.
In his mind, the Geeky Guy was already married to the Lisping Barista. No marriage license was necessary. That’s just a piece of paper. No ceremony had been held. That’s just for the relatives. There was no reception, no ring, no gown, no honeymoon, no corsages, no awful gowns for seven bridesmaids, or ill-fitting tuxes for seven groomsmen. They’d just be a waste of money. In his mind, there were vows; but they were never spoken. Anytime the Geeky Guy tried to say anything to the Lisping Barista his throat got small, his head began to whirl, and his heart took up tap dancing. But, no need. Vows never need be spoken when love is involved. Vows, paper, and ceremony just get in the way when two spirits are joined. Love is an understanding, fireworks, a little bit of chemistry, people on the same page, tuned into the same frequency, with a certain amount of simpatico. Love is commitment; and, boy, was the Geeky Guy committed.
The Geeky Guy was most certainly married to the Lisping Barista, in his mind; but it was a secret marriage. No one knew; not the general public of the town of Kenilworth, nor even the best customers of the Epiphany Cafe. Rabbi ! never blessed the union and the Town Cop never questioned it. The Therapist Emeritus never analyzed it because the Geeky Guy never told her. One couldn’t be sure whether the Lisping Barista, herself, his very wife, his better half, the love of his life, knew she was married to him. She might’ve, but they never talked about it.
His sister, the High Street Witch, didn’t know; she, especially didn’t know. The Geeky Guy was on the outs with his sister, with whom he lived, over nothing less than this association with the Lisping Barista and his impetuous purchase of the Epiphany Cafe. He and his sister lived in the same dilapidated house, stuffed full of newspapers and electronic discards from the neighborhood, but they seldom saw each other, much less spoke to one another. It was easy to avoid seeing someone in that house, a maze of clutter. It was easier to avoid speaking; for having a long-established routine, the business of the household didn’t require much consultation. It wasn’t easy to feel the icy chill of sisterly disapproval, though, and the implication that, if their parents had been alive to see it, they would have had something to say.
The Geeky Guy knew he was married to the Lisping Barista because she was all he ever thought about. From the time he woke up in the morning to the time he went to bed, she was in the front of his mind. From the time he went to bed to the time he got up again, she might as well have been at his side. Like some wives, she had never been to his workplace; although he had pictures of her, snuck by his iPhone, appearing in a slideshow on his computer. Whenever he wanted, and he wanted to quite often, he could toggle back and forth between her photos and his spreadsheets and CAD programs. Unlike most wives, she had never set foot in his home; but they spent their time together most of the other hours of the day. The Geeky Guy spent every available hour at the Epiphany Cafe, nursing his cappuccino, watching his wife work. No one thought this was unusual. As the owner of the Epiphany Cafe he had a right to the comfortable chair by the potted plant, with a low table close at hand, and a good view, both of the cafe directly and the street through the plated glass window. No one thought he was married to the Lisping Barista because he rarely ever spoke to her, except a few words pertaining to the business of the cafe.
The Geeky Guy had to be married to the Lisping Barista, even though they could never be seen kissing or touching each other. Plenty of kissing and touching occurred in his imagination, and, being the kind of guy he was, he might not have kissed or touched in public, anyway. They never even looked into each other’s eyes, but the Geeky Guy seldom looked directly at anyone. He was a geeky guy, after all.
Most would scoff if they heard the Geeky Guy was married to the Lisping Barista in those terms. No kissing, no touching, no sex. No cohabiting, no talking, no pet names, no sweet nothings whispered in any ears. But there were also no arguments, no broken china, no visits by the in-laws, no shattered promises, and no tragic misunderstandings. It was a better marriage than most conventional marriages. If only every marriage went so well.
The Geeky Guy was most certainly married to the Lisping Barista, in his mind, and, in his mind, he believed she felt the same about him. After all, the Lisping Barista did say yes to him when he asked her out on a date. He only had to ask once and she had an answer right away. She drove him in her car and they went to hear a band she picked out. He met her friends. They kissed and groped and she had put a very private part of him inside a moist part of her. In doing so, they had performed almost the very consummation of marriage.
So, the Geeky Guy considered himself married to the Lisping Barista. That’s why he couldn’t understand why she continued to go out on dates. Oh, the Geeky Guy knew about the dates. It might be said, he had gone on them, as well. He followed behind, at a discrete distance, when she visited Gillette’s Castle with the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat. He paid the admission fee and looked at them looking at the painting of the actor and builder of the castle, William Gillette, famous for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. When the tour guide had caught them kissing, he had caught them kissing, too. He followed them as they fled, hand in hand, through the woods and into the cave. Peering from behind a tree, he saw again the white flash of her breasts and a pink nipple, before they were covered by wide hands not his own. He was even there to see them leave the cave; the Weather Beaten Man with a Cowboy Hat had the embarrassed look of someone who had seen something he wasn’t supposed to see, and she had the look of someone who had seen him see it.
The Geeky Guy was not present when the Lisping Barista had been evicted from her apartment. If he had been, it would’ve gone quite differently. She wouldn’t have had to stand naked in front of her neighbors. Oh, maybe for moment, but he would’ve been there, taking off his shirt and covering her with it to spare her the shame he would’ve seen on her face. She wouldn’t have had to spend the night in her car. None of that would’ve happened; or, if it did, it would’ve been the kind of story they laughed about afterwards.
The Geeky Guy did see her get picked up by Chai Latte and taken to his house. He watched from across the street as people arrived and left the drug dealer’s place. He saw the bedroom light go on and the two pass through the doorway. He witnessed her smile at someone as they left in the room.
When he was at the Epiphany Cafe, watching the Lisping Barista, the Geeky Guy heard her talk. She would go on, to anyone who would listen: Chai Latte, this, and Chai Latte, that. No one could be better than Chai Latte. She was glad she gave Chai Latte a chance. No one understood what he was really like. She didn’t know what she ever did before meeting Chai Latte. Then, one day, the ultimate happened. The way things were going, it had to happen. The Lisping Barista failed to come to work. She had done so before when she was hung over, or sick, or slept late; but, this time it was for good. In her place, Chai Latte had sent a note. She wouldn’t be coming anymore. She was his.
Was this any way for a wife to act?
The Geeky Guy was confused. You’ve got to remember, dear reader; that the Geeky Guy did not know as much about women as you and I probably know, even though we are likely to not know much, either. The only thing he knew about women, he got from his sister – a strange bird, too – and a pair of books left over by his parents.
And so, the Geeky Guy went to those books. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Sex was not very helpful unless he needed to know the number of days in a woman’s cycle or the exact placement of her fallopian tubes. When it came to the expectations a husband may have of his wife, it was as vague and non-specific as the section that failed to describe how the penis penetrates the vagina.
The second book, Kenilworth, by Sir Walter Scott, was much more helpful. In this Victorian romance he found, not an exact match to his particular plight, but one that was pretty darn close. The heroine, Amy, had run off with a cad of a man. The hero was in pursuit. Since the Geeky Guy figured himself as the hero, and not the cad; he knew what he had to do. He would do what the hero did in the book. He would confront the cad, in this case, the drug dealer, with the point of a sword. The Geeky Guy didn’t have a sword; but he had something better. He had a handgun his parents left in their nightstand.
When he wasn’t killing or not killing his cat, Schrodinger, the eminent and perplexing physicist, wrote a book that defined life. A living being, he said, was a pocket of order, surrounded by chaos. What’s more: living beings grow more orderly as they evolve; in the same way that everything else gets more disorderly. Life is the exception to the second law of thermodynamics; at least as long as it lasts.
By that measure, it was not entirely clear whether the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat was a life form or not, at least by looking at him by the Epiphany Cafe’s dumpster, as he slept off his remorse.
Every morning began inside the Epiphany Cafe as they all do. The customers went about their business of re-ordering the world. They tapped their phones and drew and digested sap from the virtual tree of knowledge. They chewed pastries and converted starches and sugars into inspiration. They filled blank screens with little lines of meaning. They sloshed their drinks, saw it was good, and rested from their labors.
While, the cafe, itself, was a tiny pocket of peace; outside, by the dumpster, the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat had abandoned himself to Chaos. Beset at every turn by the hounds of guilt, the reptiles of regret, and the hissing snake of shame, he wrapped his arms around the legs of Mother Chaos. She offered a dangerous safety from the murderous, madding crowd. A forlorn foundling, he curled in her lap and suckled her shriveled, pendulous paps; not until he was full, for there was nothing there to nourish him, but till he could suck no more. She stroked his hair; not to comb it into regimented rows, but to twist it into cow licks, tangles, and split ends. She told him stories that made no sense; sightless shaggy dogs that lost their way, imparting no moral, and revealing no truth. She rocked him with a syncopated sway that had no swing and deserted its beat. She carried so much everything, that she gave nothing; but, her nothing was plenty, plenty more than he could handle.
He had tried doing it the other way, the way most recommended. He had come to the cafe, carrying his secret, and laid it trustingly at a therapist’s feet. But she handed it back to him. He tried doing it another way, a way fallen out of fashion, but possessing the authority of tradition. He brought his confession to a holy man, the most respected figure in the town’s long history, the Revered Abraham Pierson, Puritan preacher and founder of Yale. But Revered Pierson was a dead man and, when the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat kelt in front of his tombstone and told the story a second time, he heard no response from the inert rock. Therefore, he did it his way, a way that had worked before. He entered a liquor store, carrying no disclosure but what was printed on dollar bills. This offering was readily accepted. What he received in exchange was not sanity or forgiveness, but forgetfulness, and a sloppy embrace with the aforementioned Chaos.
Thus, from a confusing current of impotent thoughts that had flowed unceasingly through his mind, the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat bobbed to the surface. Unmoored from any anchor of self respect, the current took him and he was swept away, unencumbered by dignity. It may be that every ghost that he had ever known visited him that night, but nothing they could say could get a grip on him before he was pushed away by the surge. If guilt was a rock, he glided over rocks. If regret was a maelstrom, he eddied till the exit. If shame was a cataract, he took the plunge into deep pools below. When he, at last, reached the end of the mad cascade down the mountain, he was pushed out to sea and drowned himself, far beyond observation, intervention, or memorial.
His way worked, at least until he awoke. Then, he would do it again.
Inside the cafe, in the tidy pocket of order, we began to be aware of the body by the dumpster. We would never have recognized this man, but for the cowboy hat fallen from his head, tipped open like a imploring palm. We knew him as the former barista, not our favorite, the Lisping Barista, who moved effortlessly between the cash register, espresso machine, and fridge; but the other one, the one who didn’t know how to make fancy coffees, but never stiffed you in your change and gave you all the refills you wanted. We knew that man, but we didn’t know him. We only knew the hat, the self conscious drawl, the little he could do for us then, and the much he demanded now.
He was just a body by the dumpster. He had became as much an apparition as the ghosts who haunted him. We watched him intently as we averted our eyes. As the days went on, his body shrank more and more, while its effect grew larger. It spoke through the set of silent lips. It looked at us through the impertinent scorn of a blank stare.
There was much debate, within the Epiphany Cafe, over what should be done. Some counseled compassion. Through him, they said, we became human. We understood his fears, even though he never told us them. We sympathized with his refutation of everything, even though we would never do the same. It was as if we had been initiated into a mystery. We exchanged meaningful glances, pleased with ourselves, as if we had performed some trick for an eternal reward. We were a chorus of affirmations to everything we imagined him asserting. We spoke of him with the air of obsequious sycophants, so our flattery compensated his humiliation. He influenced the moral tone of our world as though he had the power to distribute honors, treasures, or pain; but he gave us nothing but distant, unuttered contempt.
Others objected to the body’s presence. It was an affront to our acceptability, a risk to our security, a burden on our property values. We looked to Kenilworth’s Town Selectman to do something about it. The Town Selectman looked to the Town Cop. The Town Cop looked to the Geeky Guy, who was the owner of the property near the dumpster. The Geeky Guy looked to the Lisping Barista, not because she possessed any authority, but because he was always looking at the Lisping Barista, and would never want to do anything of which she would not approve. The Lisping Barista looked to Chai Latte because Chai Latte was her new boyfriend and she thought he could do anything. Chai Latte, who was the ne’er-do-well son of the Town Selectman, looked at his father and felt relieved that, for once, someone else was a bigger pain in his father’s ass than he was. He said he should be left alone.
“Don’t hassle the guy,” said Chai Latte. “He’s just trying to live his life.”
“There you go,” said the Lisping Barista, “I told you Chai Latte was a nith guy. Everyone thinkth heath juth a drug dealer.”
Was it even possible to tidy the mess by the dumpster, or was the very presence of a dumpster a concession that there were some things that could not be fixed? We had it good here, in the Epiphany Cafe, everything was finally right. Perhaps the only thing that kept it in order were the walls that kept the chaos out. As Schrodinger might say, a stalwart membrane is necessary for life.
While everyone was busy looking at everyone else in the Epiphany Cafe, most failed to look at the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat and consider what he really needed. Some brought food, but with the dumpster nearby, he didn’t need food. Some tried to get him to go to a shelter, but the dumpster provided shelter. Some even tried to talk, but the dumpster’s hulking presence was all the company he needed. Its cardboard boxes became his clothing. Its decay his perfume. As the buffalo was to the American Indian, as the seal was to the Eskimo, as a Salvation Army Thrift Store is to an urban hipster, so was the dumpster to the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat. But there was one thing the dumpster did not have. It could not provide alcohol, the one thing he most needed.
Fortunately, there was one person in the Epiphany Cafe who knew what he needed. She knew because she knew how to pay attention. She knew because, by crying the tears of God, she had acquired the generous, libertarian sensibilities of God. Every day, instead of buying a coffee at the cafe for a random customer, she would buy a bottle of vodka at the liquor store and leave it anonymously by the dumpster. She reasoned: just as God provides seeds and worms for the birds of the air, and soil and sun for the flowers of the field; He made vodka for those who need it.
What a difference a day makes. The rest of the Epiphany Cafe, as well as the general mental health of the Kenilworth area, was far worse after the Therapist Emeritus retired. But the Lisping Barista, on the other hand, seemed well rested, collected, calm, and back to her happy self. She had all her piercings in. Her tats glowed with a vibrancy they have not had since she first got them. She could be overheard singing a song from the Spellbinding Fish Fry. How could this be, after working a double? Was it especially restful, sleeping in her car?
I had to wait most of the day to find out, when she finally had a chance to write in her journal and I had a chance to snoop.
I had underestimated Chai Latte. I thought he was just a slimy drug dealer, but he’s a nice guy. He let me stay last night in his apartment.
Nothing could be more gratifying for me than to see she had the same name for him I did: Chai Latte. But, she’s a barista; why wouldn’t she?
I was really hoping that cowboy dude would show up yesterday. One, I needed him to work his shift, so wouldn’t have to work a double. Two, I would’ve asked for the keys to his place, so I could get some sleep. I was going to make it worth his while, but he never showed up. Then, when I’m done with his god damn shift, I clean up and take out the trash. He’s passed out, shit faced drunk, by the dumpster. I nudge him with my foot. “Wake the fuck up,” I say, but he groans and turns over. “Whatever,” I say. Too late to work for me, anyway.
I was getting ready for another night in the old car, when Chai Latte drives by and asks me, what’s up? Normally, I’m like, fine, keep it rolling. I don’t need to get messed up with a drug dealer’s shit on top of everything else; but every problem, when you look at it in a different light, looks like a solution. So, I tell him I’m having a fight with my roommate. Can I sleep on his couch?
He says, sure, and I say cool; so I follow him over to his place. He shows me the couch and I play him some Spellbinding Fish Fry. He doesn’t even roll his eyes when I tell him the Deep Fries are going to save the world. I must have been tired because the next thing I know, I don’t know anything. I’m passed out on the couch.
When I wake up, he’s playing some shred rock and there’s a bunch of guys sitting around with beers, passing a joint over me. I know them all from the cafe, like I know everyone, but not their names. I’m a little embarrassed because I’ve been sleeping. When I wake up, I slurp a whole gallon of drool from the pillow, but they’re cool. They pass me some weed and offer me a beer.
I’m not big on beer, but I like weed an awful lot. I take both to be sociable. One guy is talking about how he’s been in the hospital. He still has that plastic bracelet they put on you. That’s their mark. His girlfriend had called the ambulance when she found him passed out. Passed out just like I just was and passed out like the cowboy dude. Anyone else would just say, whatever, like I did, or pass a joint over him, like they did, but this girlfriend calls the ambulance and they bring him to the emergency room.
“Bitch,” says one guy. That’s all I ever heard him say, other than “Honduras black”.
Plastic Bracelet Guy wakes up at the emergency room and goes all ape shit on them because he was supposed to have been to work hours ago. He’s on an asphalt crew, which he doesn’t need to tell us about. We can smell it on him. They’re not going to let him out until they ask him a million questions. He doesn’t like that one bit and charges at the security guard, who used to be a bouncer at a tough club in New Haven and probably should still be there.
The bouncer bounces him right back to his room and, in no time, they have three out of his four limbs immobilized. A doctor shoots him up with Haldol and Ativan, but it doesn’t take effect before he lands a right cross on the doctor’s jaw with the one free limb.
By the way, Plastic Bracelet Guy didn’t know they shot him up with Haldol and Ativan, I know because I’ve been shot up with it before, at an emergency room, as a matter of fact, under very similar circumstances. Since I knew this, I contributed by informing him.
“Haldol and Ativan,” I said.
“Bitch,” says Honduras Black, looking right at me, like I just said something wrong. But, I could tell he wasn’t talking about me. He was still talking about Plastic Bracelet Guy’s girlfriend.
When Plastic Bracelet Guy wakes up a second time, it’s late at night. The shift at the hospital had changed and he missed a whole day of work. He’s probably fired because this isn’t the first time. He’s still tied to the bed, so he starts calling, but no one hears him. He starts to try to get out of the cuffs, straining this way and that, till he succeeds, not in getting out, but in tipping over his hospital bed. That’s when the staff comes with another shot of Haldol and Ativan.
“Bitch,” says Honduras Black, again. All this is still the girlfriend’s fault.
Right about now, I notice another guy in the room. I’ve never seen him at the cafe and, all night long, he never says anything. I call him Silent Bob, after the guy in the movie named Silent Bob, even though he looks nothing like him. Silent Bob keeps his eyes on me, only it’s not creepy. It’s kinda nice, like he’s got a thing for me, or something.
Plastic Bracelet Guy wakes up a third time, but I don’t have to tell you what happened. I’m not sure how many times he woke up and they kept giving him Haldol and Ativan, but it was enough that I lost count. The weed starts to take effect and I’m on my second or third beer by the time he’s home and chewing out his girlfriend, who started all the rigamarole in the first place. She calls the cops on him again and he runs out of the house before they get there. He skips over telling us the reason she had to call them.
“Bitch,” said Honduras Black.
I was about to bring up some important questions, something like: did they release you from the hospital or did you escape? Why did your girlfriend call the cops? Are they likely to show up here, looking for you? Or will the guys in the white coats come by, with another shot of Haldol and Ativan? I was interrupted by a knocking at the door. I almost jumped out of my skin. They all laughed. All but Silent Bob, who just smiled.
It was just a geeker, looking for some cocaine.
“Awe, Man,” said Chai Latte. “Look at yourself. You’ve had too much already. Let me give you something else to bring you down.”
The Geeker didn’t look at himself, but I looked at him. He was a mess. His hair was a mess. His eyes, which pointed in two different directions, were a mess, too. Even his clothes were a mess. That’s when I changed my opinion of Chai Latte. He isn’t just a drug dealer. He’s a nice guy, too. He cares about people.
The Geeker takes something into a corner and shoots up, sitting on the floor, like he’s been in a geeker world so long he forgets what chairs are for.
Chai’s friends stay the night. Plastic Bracelet Guy crashes on the couch next to me. Honduras Black glowers over his last beer until he falls asleep. Even his snoring sounds like he’s saying the word, bitch. Silent Bob nurses his beers and stays awake long enough to watch me and Chai go in the other room. I give Silent Bob a smile as I go.
Here’s another thing about Chai Latte. You know how I can’t even follow through with fucking anyone without some crazy shit going on? Well, Chai is the one guy who has the decency to get me drunk first so I don’t think about it too much. That shows consideration.
For the first time in forever, I fall asleep without crying myself to sleep first. In the arms of Chai Latte, with violent Plastic Bracelet Guy, misogynistic Honduras Black, a mollified geeker, and Silent Bob in the next room. I’m finally with my people, a tribe of misfits who have the good sense not to judge.
Those of us who spend a lot of time tapping on our laptops at the Epiphany Cafe know that the mood there varies according to circumstances and the characters who walk in through the door. It’s most often energetic, ebullient, and elated; seldom staid, sluggish, or sleepy. It has the personality of an over-educated grad student home to see his parents; someone who has plenty to say, but can never be understood. As a gathering place, the Epiphany cafe will never be mistaken for a barbershop where events of the day are combed over, or a diner, where they’re chewed over. Those places process the things that happen; the Epiphany Cafe makes them happen. They’re like your great aunt who spends more time cleaning than making a mess. The Epiphany Cafe is your two year old nephew, who’s just learned that he can reach the shelf where the knick-knacks are kept. That is to say the the Epiphany Cafe is always a little bit chaotic; but never like it was immediately after the Therapist Emeritus announced she was retired.
To be fair, before she left that day, the Therapist Emeritus referred every one of her clients to someone else. Before abandoning her people in the middle of multiple simultaneous nervous breakdowns, she gave them all a number they could call, negotiate a fee, and get an appointment with a stranger, two or three weeks hence. It was the least she could do, as a medical professional.
The telephone crew had come in for coffee when she first broke the news. They spread it to everyone else. They had little else to do, since no one used landlines anymore, but get coffee and spread gossip. Within an hour, all the neurotics and psychotics in the Kenilworth area were streaming into the Epiphany Cafe to get their number, too. Not since the last Emo concert had so many people who needed therapy ever been in one place at one time.
The Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat got referred to a colleague the Therapist Emeritus didn’t like, for no shrink likes to treat a patient who actually needs it. The Geeky Guy got someone who specialized in geeky guys. The Dog Fearing iPhone Pecker had already pecked her iPhone, found someone else, and was out the door before she could say goodbye.
The Therapist Emeritus didn’t leave the Epiphany Cafe without first saying goodbye to everyone, except me, of course. Like I said, I’m a fictional character and might just as well be invisible. Rabbi ! gave her a blessing. The Waving Man, had he been there, despite the fact she wasn’t a car. The Therapist Emeritus even had a word for the homeless Lisping Barista, who, by that time had worked all day, not slept all night, and was a hot puddling mess. The Therapist Emeritus asked how she was getting on with her journalling and encouraged her to continue, ignoring what any therapist emeritus might be expected to see.
Just before she left, Little Theresa came in the door to buy her daily cup of coffee for someone else. Little Theresa didn’t even make it to the counter before she stopped in her tracks. She looked around, got a feel for the place, and began to cry. She didn’t know why she was crying, that is, she couldn’t tell anyone what was sad; but she did know why she was crying. It was the only reason she ever cried, except whenever she barked her skins on her Landlady’s coffee table. She was crying the tears of God.
You see, God can’t cry on His own. He has no tears, nor eyes to weep them. He has to use the tears that Little Theresa provides. She doesn’t mind, even though this kind of crying is just as painful as any other. It’s the least she could do. It’s something that needs to be done.
Just before the Therapist Emeritus left, she stopped to say goodbye to Little Theresa. Then she made an error that, perhaps, demonstrated that she was right to retire. She made a serious mistake that showed that she had lost her diagnostic stuff. She mistook Little Theresa for someone who needed therapy.
The Therapist Emeritus did not sit down right then with Little Theresa and shrink her head. She was retired. But she did give Little Theresa the number of a colleague she could call, even though Little Theresa had never been a client of her’s. She then bid the Epiphany Cafe farewell, forever.
Despite all the hours we spent at the cafe together, I had never spoken a word to the Therapist Emeritus. I was always afraid she would see right through me. Still, I was sorry she was gone. I had depended on her to draw out the stories of many of the characters I met here. Moreover, I was losing more than someone else’s shrink. I was being abandoned by a literary device. My imagination would henceforth have to compensate for the loss of data.
You never know how much good a therapist emeritus is doing until you don’t have one anymore and chaos takes over what had been an orderly arrangement of specious interpretations. By the time she left, the nerves of Epiphany Cafe were already shorting out and blowing a fuse. The drug dealer, Chai Latte, enjoyed a sudden spike in business. The quick exit of the Therapist Emeritus did more to jazz up and jangle the nervous system of the Epiphany Cafe than gallons and gallons of coffee ever could.
The panic stricken state of mind was not any more obvious than it was with the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat. His eyes darted under his hat, as if he was being surrounded by a posse of ghosts. They had their guns drawn and had him dead to right. There was nothing more he could do than to run out of the Epiphany Cafe and flee to the grave of the righteous Reverend Abraham Pierson. There he would fruitlessly ask for an intervention, saying that he had confessed his sins already, couldn’t he catch a break? But the good Reverend Pierson did not appear. Perhaps he was off duty, sleeping late, or preferred to haunt at the stroke of midnight.
The Lisping Barista was sorry to see the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat go. She had been counting on asking him for a place to stay. It was true she thought he was crazy and his running out of the cafe seemed to confirm it, but the Lisping Barista wasn’t afraid of crazy. She was also sorry to see him go because he had been scheduled to work the next shift and it didn’t look as though he’d be back soon. Dead tired and homeless, it looked as though she was fated to work a double and then sleep in the car.
Without comprehending why, Little Theresa – so sane, she might be mistaken as crazy – sat in the middle of the cafe, face up, tears streaming down; doing the only thing that could be done: crying the tears of God. When she was done, He felt so much better.