flashback: an ol’ friend at the au bon pain

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“so why are you here?” Esther asked as we sat together at a local au bon pain.

“there’s no beating around the bush with you, Esther,” I said, stalling as I tried to think of something clever to say next.

“did you come all the way here to wellesley just to see me?” she asked as she looked down at her cup of coffee.

“…well, sort of…. I .. I … don’t know exactly why I’m here…” grasping for some sense out of the swirling thoughts racing through my over-caffeinated mind.

I was lost. I didn’t know where to turn. I didn’t feel like opening up to any of my friends back home at the time. I was deeply immersed in some sort of post-graduation funk. It was a year or so after college and I was totally searching … searching for meaning, searching for a purpose, ..searching for .. myself. I was so utterly underwhelmed with the job I landed right out of school. most of my close college buddies left for either graduate school or some other exciting adventure far, far away …from me. and the girl that I was interested in, wrote and recorded a song for, wined and dined and spent money on, turned out to be just your run-of-the-mill love, unrequited.

slaughtered, gutted and heartbroken, I sought out comfort from an old friend from childhood. her name was Esther. She was the Pastor’s daughter back when we lived in chicago. we used to play together at church as well as whenever our parents got together for meetings and such. It was always anevent visiting her family at their place since she lived in the high-rise projects near the heart of the city. I always wondered why Esther’s parents chose to live in the projects when our church was located all the way in the suburbs. was it a “Jesus”-thing, where He lived and dealt with the downtrodden? was it to be where “God’s Word” was most needed? or am I just remembering these things all wrong? It was so long ago…

As a little kid, she was headstrong and always commanded attention. even though she was a year younger than me, she’d always dominate our playtime. every time I intended to re-create the Millenium Falcon scenes from “Star Wars” with the other kids, she’d end up getting us all to play “house”. It never failed. I was the husband/daddy. She was the wife/mommy. the rest of the kids were the “children”. we’d re-inact day to day life as a family. working out parent/kid relationship issues. the scolding, the disciplinary actions. cooking. driving to the park. it was totally dull and mundane but I played along. what a wimp. i don’t exactly remember how but we started to correspond with each other during college. I always looked forward to receiving her letters. she had a way with words and she always made sure to keep things positive and encouraging while all I seemed to do was whine and be so pessimistic in mine. what she got from reading my letters was anybody’s guess.

“Did you know I still have those graphs I made about you and Jenny?” I blurted out after a large bite of my croissant.

“you know, I always thought that was strange… graphing out how you felt about us week to week. you were definitely a strange one,” she said while cutting away at her bagel. “even more strange now,” she added.

“yup, whenever you made me mad, your status would go way down. and then I’d make Jenny’s go way up. she was your arch-rival, ya know,” I said thinking that this was actually fascinating conversation.

“I hope you’re not keeping a graph on me now. that would be soooo pathetic,” she labored to say with a mouthful of bagel and cream cheese.

“as a matter of fact I am and you just went down a couple points,” I said, hurt that she’d call me pathetic.

after swallowing what she had in her mouth, Esther again asked me, “why are you here? so that you can torment me in person?” I paused for a moment, grabbed for her hand and said “I’m here for you to save me.”

she jerked her hand away and with her eyes wide open she asked “what on earth are you talking about?”

“life is just so messed up right now and you always seem to have all the answers. you always have the right words to say,” I said sincerely hoping she would instantly understand what I was going through.

Esther, a little irritated, leaned forward and said, “you know, you are so self-absorbed. unbelievably selfish. you’re here for some attention after getting denied by that girl you wrote a song for.”

“there’s no beating around the bush with you, Esther,” I said, feeling a bit vulnerable now.

“well, I wish I could but I can’t help you. This is something that you need to work out yourself,” she said harshly.

“so what happens now?” I asked still hoping for simple answers.

“go home and face the shit head on,” she said as she took a sip of her coffee.

“you always know exactly what to say,” I said, finishing off the rest of my croissant.

“that’s why i’m here, my darling,” she said as she gazed out through the shop window.