Sitting on a park bench overlooking the bay, I pretend I’m somewhere tropical. The eighty degree temperature plays along, but the cool breeze whipping my hair into a frenzy betrays the fantasy. I put on my jacket.
A barefooted walker slips by, only noticeable by her flip-flopped companion.
The sun has settled beneath the horizon, the pink tints have all been leeched away from the clouds. The open water is left in inky darkness. There’s nothing tropical about this place now.
Families pack their children into car seats. Headlights flood the streets.
The tree branches wrestle with the wind, showering the road with little leaves and brittle branches. Rain is coming, but I can’t smell it yet.
A family traipses past me, daring to step foot in the brisk, dark water. The three stand there at the water’s edge as their dog leads the way charging in. The boy follows, a quick intake of breath tells me he’s going against his body’s wishes into the cold water. His parents stay on shore, shoulder to shoulder, until dad gives in. He takes four giant leaps then dives under the water. He comes up shaking the water off his head like the dog in the shallows. Mom waits patiently in the cooling sand, a glorified towel rack. The boys stagger out of the water and they all head back to the car, dripping as they go. It was just a quick late night trip to the lake, they leave refreshed.
The only thing illuminated on the shore is a solitary birch tree. It’s been singled out by a street lamp, its white bark a beacon on the beach.
“Waiting for the bus stop. Waiting for the concrete black top to settle down. Long enough for me to get off and get a little ground. I’m ready for the sea change. Helpless, felt this coming from a mile away.”
“I wanna buy a new heart out of a vending machine.”
Wouldn’t that be nice? Forget about your heartaches, just slip a few coins in, punch in the numbers and select a new heart. Be whole again. No missing pieces, nothing given away. Start anew.
Some days that really does sound good. I wouldn’t compare other faces to yours, or think I see yours in a crowd. I wouldn’t recall the movies we watched or the jokes we laughed at together. Nope, I could start fresh.
If you could get a heart from a vending machine, there would have to be a selection. A4-Impressionable, B1-Falls-for-anyone, C8-Ready-for-love, D6-Cautious, and the ever popular E2-hard. If you could buy a new heart, would there be any need for a hard heart? Sure, you were hurt, but the new heart doesn’t know that. Take your chances and try again. What do you have to lose? You could just start over again anyway.
But that’s not how it works. Of this, I am grateful.
We experience pain and loss. We have to push through and overcome the feelings. The pain of loss only proves all there is to gain. I know how much I’ve invested and how much it hurts to lose, but I’m more willing to put in the effort because I know there’s something so much greater in store.
Somewhere, somehow, someone.
There’s a lot of shaping being done in my life now. The pain is part of it. It’s part of me, molding me into something new. But not vending machine new, not foreign. New, improved, built upon, revised Me. I’m being shaped, refined, directed down a new path. Who would I be if I didn’t carry those experiences with me? If I just tossed them in the trash and ordered a new heart? Not me. I’m grateful for what life has brought me through. I’m better for it.
This is the account of the weirdest day ever, events fit for fiction, for a sit-com, because we all know things like this don’t happen in real life. The names have been changed to protect the innocent. You decide what’s real and fake.
Amy and Renee find a parking spot not too far away, cross the street, and enter the bar. It’s fairly empty on a Sunday night. Amy spots a friend waiting at the bar and winds through the maze of seats to get to him.
Amy: Sorry we’re late.
Joe: No worries, I got a drink while I was waiting.
Renee places her order as Amy flags down another friend at the door.
Bartender: What for you?
Amy: I don’t know yet… (thrusts menu into Jack’s hands) what am I having?
Jack: She’ll have a girly beer.
After Jack orders his drink, Amy’s three friends introduce themselves, having never met before.
The foursome leaves the empty bar and enters the bustling portion of the building. Music from a hometown band washes over the talkative crowd from a second story stage.
Jack: Over there.
The foursome makes a beeline toward the only open table in the room. Casual conversation ensues. It’s Amy’s first time at this bar, so she scans the room taking in the scene. The three carry on talking when Amy sees something and starts muttering.
Amy: No way… it can’t be. Sure enough, it can be. Recognition lights up in Amy’s eyes as she sees someone she knows at a nearby table. She scans the other people at the table, searching. No, nope… can’t see. She cranes her neck to see past the person she first noticed at the table. Close up: tattoo peeking out from under a white shirt sleeve, a sliver of that scruffy face she knew so well. Amy abruptly turns back to her own table, but does a quick double take backward. No doubt.
Amy: Renee. (slams hand on the menu Renee is reading, interrupting whatever conversation taking place) Renee!
Amy: Look. The table over there (without really indicating where).
Amy: Back there. Guess who?
Renee: Where? (looks around flustered)
Amy: Matt. (Just that one syllable is needed. Renee gasps, zeroing in on the targeted table). What are the odds? (Amy sits back in her chair, letting the guys in on the dialogue). My ex-boyfriend, who lives an hour away, is sitting at the table behind us. (Amy keeps glancing backward, wondering if the man at that table has realized she’s there).
Joe: You know, we could all just yell his name really loudly and get this over with…?
Renee: That could work.
Amy: Or not. Perhaps just the creepy stare technique. (which ends up working. Matt glances Amy’s way, a friendly smile, then the realization washes over his face and turns to confusion. Matt looks around the table and lands on Renee).
At this point, nonverbal communication takes over between them, in the form of pointing back and forth and arms held out in the universal what the heck is going on position. That escalates quickly to Matt indicating Renee is crazy, and Renee shooting Matt with an invisible shotgun.
Amy: What is going on? Guys, I’m so sorry. This is weird. (She glances back to see Matt slipping off his bar stool, heading her way.)
Matt: What are the chances? I’m Matt.
Matt: So are you just in town for the weekend?
Amy: Yeah, I had a wedding to go to on Saturday.
Matt: (looks at the two guys at the table, then over to Renee) What happened to Bob?
Amy: (screws up her face in response) I don’t really know. Long story. Anyway, how’s life?
Matt: Good, good. I’m actually moving. I’ll be closer to work. Just put my security deposit down.
Amy: Will you be happier in this new place?
Matt: That’s to be seen. I just need to find some good community. (he crosses around the table, talking with Renee. Matt’s friend Harry steps into the conversation with Amy. Meanwhile, guys at the table sit in awkward silence).
Harry: It’s so crazy that you’re here. How’re things going with your new job?
Amy: Things are going great. I love what I do. How are things back home?
Harry: Keeping busy with work. My brother’s actually moving here. That’s why we’re in town. We’re gonna head over to a different bar. (With an awkward long-distance wave, Matt steps away from the table and leaves with Harry. The girls dissolve into a hysteric , unintelligible conversation where the only distinguishable words are “what just happened” and “that was so weird”)
Joe: What’s really funny is the look I was getting from the couple across the room.
Amy: Wait. What?
Joe: That guy clearly thought it was funny that the two girls at our table were turned talking to two other guys.
Renee: Oh, I’ve seen that happen to people before on a date. So awkward.
Joe: Yeah, I had a friend whose date actually left and he didn’t know it. He got up and looked around, then came back and sat down. She was nowhere to be found. (fades to black during laughter).
Amy, Joe, and Jack stand outside the bar, waiting for Renee.
Amy: I’m sorry tonight was so weird.
Joe: Haha, no worries. It happens. (Renee exits the bar)
Jack: Which way are you?
Amy, Renee, Joe: This way.
Jack: Ok, I’m that way. It was nice to meet you Renee. (shakes hand) It was nice to see you again. (hugs Amy and walks away. The three walk a block and then Joe heads off toward his car.
Close up of the two girls in Amy’s car.
Renee: That was so weird, right?
Amy: So weird.
Amy: tell me about it. ugh. (She throws the car in Park in her driveway. The two sit there reveling in the awkwardness of the night). I mean, really. How does that happen.
Renee: I don’t know. I’m still in shock. So weird. (A cat pounces onto the hood of the car and stares at Amy. She’s startled and grabs the steering wheel. Renee looks over and squeals in surprise). What on earth? There’s a cat?! (the cat jumps down to the pavement and stands by the driver side door, staring up at Amy).
Amy: The cat is staring at me. It doesn’t have a tail. What on earth?!
Renee: Is it still there? It’s staring at you? (she climbs over Amy’s seat to look out the window) Ahhh! It doesn’t have a tail! It is staring at you! (she settles back into her own seat) That’s so weird. Is it still staring at you? (before waiting for a response she climbs back over Amy and shrieks) It is! Why?! (The girls laugh uncontrollably. Amy opens her door to leave, trying to shoo the cat away. It lets out a ridiculously sinister meow. Renee exits the other side) Was that you?
Amy: Nope, it was the cat.
Renee: So weird! (she runs at the cat yelling. It stands perfectly still and stares at her.) Why isn’t it running? That’s so creepy. Ugh. Ok, I have to go.
Amy: I’m so glad you were there tonight.
Renee: Me too. I’m going to vomit. That was so weird. I’m going to get in my car and just scream.
Amy: Me too. (the girls hug) I love you.
Renee: I love you too. (Renee starts walking to her car. The tailless cat chases runs after her. Renee squeals and runs to Amy who’s heading toward the house.) Save me! Why did it run after me? (she huddles behind Amy, wrapping her arms around her legs. Amy doubles over in laughter.) It chased me!!
Amy: I know! I saw it. That… (in between laughs) was… the funniest… thing… ever.
Renee: It chased me!
Amy: I know! I’ll protect you. I’ll walk you all the way to the car. The tailless cat won’t hurt you. (Amy chuckles and walks with Renee to the end of the driveway.)
Renee: (from her car) That was the weirdest night ever. Thanks!