I need to get this down before I forget the details…
Eating lunch over at the mall and the young student sitting next to me has a thousand yard stare as she picks at her food, swirling her french fries in ketchup but not even really eating them.
I glance over briefly at the motion and there’s that awkward moment as we both see each other and pause as one of us has to decide if it’s been too long an interaction to leave it without saying something.
I start to look back at my newspaper but she stammers out the start of the conversation.
“Hey… uh, can I ask you something? I mean, if you’re not busy.”
“Okay, I guess. Ask away.”
“You know guys, right? I mean, you’re a guy, so is it okay if I ask you about a guy… about what he’s doing?”
“Tell me what’s going on and I’ll try, sure.”
She thinks about it for a sec.
“There’s this guy. We’re not going out or anything but he calls me up every couple weeks for… I guess like a hook-up or whatever. It’s fun sometimes and other times it’s weird.”
“I bet that would be.”
“So I decided I didn’t want to do that anymore and I told him in December, so he stopped calling.”
“I know, right! I like him though. He’s nice to me when we’re together and stuff but then just nothing. Nothing.”
“That sounds manipulative, not nice.”
“But here’s the thing. So I saw him on the weekend with other friends of ours and I just said ‘Hi’ and walked on and it would’ve been okay, but then he runs up after me and says ‘Is it okay if I call you? We need to talk about stuff. I want to see you more.’”
“It’s brutal. It’s brutal ‘cause I like him and think maybe he’s done some thinking or whatever. So part of me was excited that he was going to call and we could work things out.”
“He didn’t call?”
“He didn’t! And I’m stupid and I texted him and he texted right back and said he’d call and he still didn’t! What’s that?!”
“I think you’ve got your answer right there. If he can’t even communicate then you can’t work with that…”
She eats a few fries and takes a big bite of her hamburger.
“I don’t even eat this stuff normally. I don’t eat burgers. I don’t know… I’m just being impulsive and dumb.”
She glances over and sees my wedding ring.
“Holy shit, you’re married! That’s so cool.”
“Heh. It is actually.”
“Almost four years. It’s great. She’s wonderful and supportive. Nothing’s perfect but we make it all work.”
“Cool… I’m Nadia, by the way.”
She just shakes her head and sighs as she takes another bite of her burger. I decide to keep the conversation rolling.
“How old are you?”
“Already 21… almost 22 though. You?”
“How old do you think I am?”
She’s looking at me and I can tell she’s embarrassed as she tries to figure it out.
“Oh god, I don’t know… 35?”
“Good guess. 37.”
“Ha! What’s your wife’s name?”
“Jim and Stacy…”
“I met Stacy in college but we didn’t get together until later on. We both had to grow up and figure out who we were going to be before we were right for each other.”
“Yeah. I don’t know this guy and I don’t know you, but I do know that communication is the least you should expect in a good relationship. It’s the ground floor. If that’s not happening then it’s not a relationship and you’re not going to be happy.”
“Yeah… you’re right. I kind of know that, but it’s good to hear it I guess. It’s hard to figure out people, y’know?”
“Yeah, I do.”
I turn to face her more directly now because I want to make sure this point sticks.
“I know it feels like time is vanishing but you’re young. You’re good. Don’t settle for that.”
“Okay, I won’t.”
She takes a long drag on her soft drink.
“It’s hard to figure out people, right?”
“It is, but you’re here at the University meeting tons of people every day so you’ll find better people to spend your time with… I mean, what’s your major?”
She pauses for a second and, even as she’s saying it, she starts to turn red with embarrassment.
“…Oh, you know… Psychology.”
We both laugh so hard that tears roll down our faces.