The Diner, Continued

The Diner, Continued (March 2019, Week 1, Day 7)

He didn’t mean for it to happen. He couldn’t have – I saw it all unfold and I’m sure, as sure as I am that I’m sitting here telling this story, that it was an accident. 

He’s a sweet man and has been since I met him seven years ago. We met right here, in this very booth. I had been coming here for about three months. Every day, Monday through Friday, I had come in, sat in this booth, and ordered a grilled cheese sandwich with a bowl of tomato soup. I’m the reason it’s a lunch special now – how’s that for fancy?

I was sitting here, though on the other side and in the corner, eating my sandwich and working my crossword puzzle when he came through the door. He stood out on account of the sobbing. It’s not every day you encounter a grown man overcome with tears, much less one walking into a diner at 12:30 pm. That’s the kind of thing you notice.

He went straight to the counter and leaned on it – didn’t even sit down he was so upset. Have you ever been there? So upset that the normal things are just too hard even when they would be easier? I mean, sitting takes less work than standing and yet there he was, sobbing and standing. That says something about him or his sadness – I’m not quite sure which.

That was what made me walk away from my sandwich. A man that sad needed someone and I wasn’t going to be the one who left him alone. I didn’t need to know him to see his pain. You might have done the same if you’d been there. I went up to him and put my hand on his shoulder as lightly as I could so as not to startle him. He didn’t flinch. He didn’t look up. He just stood there letting the tears flow.

I stood with him for a full five minutes. The sobs quieted down gradually until they eventually stopped. He gave a great sniff and grabbed a napkin to tend to his face before turning to look at me. He conjured up a small smile from somwhere and I said something simple like “join me?” Those may not have been my exact words, of course, but that was the idea. He followed me to my booth and we’ve been friends ever since.

We’ve turned a head or two over the years, to be sure. People seem to be all together too interested in the goings on of people they don’t know when we all know they would benefit from giving their own business some of that attention. These days we’re pretty well accepted as a pair in the diner at least. Seven years of lunches work thier magic even on the most difficult sorts.  

He doesn’t come to the diner every day like me, of course. One of the luxuries of relative wealth is that I’ve got all the time to do whatever I want. It’s one of the hardships, too, but let’s not dwell on that. He joins me at my booth at least twice a week and has since the beginning. We see each other outside of the diner, too, of course. It’s hard to get to know someone fully if you only experience them in one context. Conversations get stuck in a loop featuring the weather, the menu, and whatever thing it was you did last that stuck in your mind. When you go different places or meet at different times you get to really know a person. He is polite enough not to mention that he worries about me. I know that’s why he comes up with places to take me on the weekends and I’m polite enough to let him think I don’t know his motivation. 

He’d been married before, more than once. We had that in common though I didn’t share my tales as easily. The door was opened for his sharing given those tears on day one. It was natural for me to ask after the cause of them once he’d got his hands wrapped around a warm beverage. Oh, it wasn’t the divorce that broke him up – no woman or man is worth that kind of sadness. No, those tears were over a child. Are you starting to see how I know this was all accidental?

He had to tell me about a marriage for me to understand his pain, and I’m glad he did. You learn a lot about a person through what they’ll share about their past as long as you pay attention. If you only focus on the words you’ll miss the important bits, of course. Watching his face and shoulders as he let some things out and kept other little details private spoke volumes. It was heartbreaking to see how cautious his experiences made him when we first met and it’s not like the seven years I’ve known him have taught him otherwise.

I did what I could to guide him, sharing what and when was necessary to help things along. We are different people, of course, so my ‘wisdom’ only goes so far. I am just as surprised as everyone else, to be honest. I wouldn’t have thought things could happen this way after all he’d shared and all I’d offered, but here we are.

I’ll never forget when that woman came in here with all her piss and vinegar. It was two years ago, almost to the day. He and I were sitting in this booth dawdling over our sandwiches. I had my grilled cheese and he was eating a BLT on this dark rye they’d just started serving. That woman – she was as mad as he’d been sad on that first day. She even went to the counter without sitting. He and I looked at each other before he slid out of the booth to go to her. It was like he was looking to do for someone what I’d done for him all that time ago. 

Now, he wasn’t fool enough to put his hand on her. There are certain privelages afforded to ladies who look like me that do not extend to men who look like him. I wouldn’t have said that when we met, but I’ve learned from him as much as I’ve tried to teach him. He stood next to her, with a counter stool between them, and stretched out his hand to her. She whipped her self towards him, ready to vent her spleen on him, and he slid a quick sentence in before she erupted. “We’ve got room at our booth – join us?”

Well, that caught her off-guard. She looked past him over at me. Her eyebrows were still knitted as tight as a tube sock and it was clear she didn’t expect to see someone like me occupying the space at the end of his gesture. I offered up a smile and patted the spot next to me mostly out of curiosity. She looked from me to him and back again before shaking her head and bursting into a fit of giggles that, frankly, had a mad tinge to them. Even the waitress was watching now. When he’d been there in all his sorrow years before no one else in the diner was willing to make eye contact. I’ll let you decide what that was about.

It wasn’t long before the woman joined us at the booth, sitting on my side of course. He took care of introductions while we waited for the waitress to pick her jaw up off the floor and come over for the woman’s order. She, if you’ll believe it, ordered cottage cheese and pineapple as if she was seventy going on death. I should have known then. I do dream sometimes of what would have happened if I hadn’t welcomed her into my booth, or if I’d discouraged him from going to her, or even if I’d given her a piece of my mind between coffee and the check. It doesn’t matter because I didn’t do any of those things and there’s no going back in time no matter how hard you wish it.

Once he got her talking she let everything fall right out onto the table. He and I had taken months to get into the heavy stuff and here she was, just going on and on with no care for who else heard her ranting. She seemed to prefer the highest volume for all sharing which made me wonder about her upbringing. He let her go on and on, nodding at all the right moments. I kept my mouth shut – she didn’t want advice from either of us. It was clear that she’d walked in with the weight of the world on her shoulders and we were giving her room to unload at least some of it.

He escorted her out to the curb and helped her flag a taxi once everything was said and done. I paid for the meal and hoped that would be the last of her. 

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