This is yet another installment of the “thank you, Hippie Dad” theme that I often return to as I try to adult the best I can.
As a child, I was a curly-haired powerhouse of temper tantrums and “Why not?” My father, who returned from military service in Vietnam to grow his hair long and adopt a gentler way of life, would answer, “Why not, indeed.” It wasn’t a question; it was a prompt for reflection. He never said, “You should be grateful, look at all that you have,” but he often pointed the way for me to figure it out on my own.
I returned to Sacramento, California, in 1997. I loved Seattle with all of my broken heart, but there was too much sadness in every familiar location. Had I stayed, would everything have turned out differently?
Of course, but I didn’t, and no matter how tempting it is to mull over the fate of an alternate universe, I’ll stick to watching that unfold in the DC Universe. (Thanks, Flash!)
In my own little world, I came back to familiar territory and started carving out a life for myself. Part of this was dating, because I wanted to meet new people and hear their stories and feel alive again.
One night a friend-of-a-friend’s cousin set me up with a guy he worked with. Dodgy, I thought, mentally trying to trace the connection. But this also meant that if things did not work out, there would be no radioactive fall-out within my own circle of friends.
We met for drinks and tapas at the Kasbah Lounge. He was easy to recognize, very thin and awkward, shuffling his feet near the door. Although I was waving to him, the man was intently staring at the ground, so I left the bar to ask, “Hey, hi. Are you Travis?”
It was definitely him.
Confidently happy to entertain myself while waiting, I had ordered olives with hummus and warm flatbread drizzled with oil. I offered to share as Travis took a seat next to me, but he shyly shook his head…and ordered water.
“How long have you lived here?” I asked.
“My whole life,” he answered softly, so softly I involuntarily leaned towards him. His doe-brown eyes widened, and I sat back up quickly. Still, I thought to myself, this is OK. I could be at home, painting my toes or reading a book or wishing–. With a rueful shake of my head I stopped and turned my attention to our surroundings. There would be no wishing of any kind. I was here, and I meant to enjoy myself.
“Oh, look, the belly dancers have arrived,” I said, gesturing towards the tinkling sound of ankle bells and coin belts and finger cymbals as the ladies entered. For a moment I forgot about my date altogether, entranced by their fluid motion as they formed a circle, smiling and swaying in perfect harmony.
“Can we go?” Startled, I looked up at Travis, who had blushed beet-red, practically apoplectic. Maybe he’s Amish, some sort of religion that does not approve of bare bellies, I wondered, and I felt sad for him. The women were so beautiful, joyful and free like gilded butterflies.
“Yes, just a moment,” I said, gesturing to the bartender for the check. Travis stood up and went outside to wait, and since he did so, I relaxed for a while longer, watching the show and finishing up the last of my plate.
The evening was muggy and warm, commonplace weather for May. We walked for a while and I admired the architecture of the old Victorian houses while Travis mainly seemed to stare at his battered sneakers. Passing by The Bread Store, I inhaled deeply and said, “Oh, I love the smell of bread! Don’t you?”
“I can’t smell anything,” he replied. I must have looked rather crestfallen; I was trying so hard to at least be good company. With a rare glance at my face, Travis elaborated, “I don’t have a sense of smell. Born that way.”
“Really?” I blurted out before I could bite my tongue. My inner monologue, however, ran on and on unchecked. You can’t smell bread? Or mint or roses? You can’t smell fresh coffee? Or chocolate chip cookies?
Through conscious design, we had reached my car. Travis told me I was very pretty, and I politely thanked him, struggling to think of an adjective for this strange, silent man in front of me. “It was a very interesting evening,” I said at last, for wont of anything else. He touched my hand, purely by accident, as he pulled the car door open for me.
I never saw him again, although the gossip was that Travis had immediately phoned the friend-of-a-friend’s cousin and said, “You didn’t tell me she was pretty. I didn’t have anything to say to someone who looks like that.”
To this day, I’m not sure what that means.
What brought this to mind from the far reaches of memory was that today I am eating chocolate chip cookies, ones that I made myself yesterday. The house still smells like sugar and butter; opening the sealed container I can smell the divine delight even before I taste it on my tongue.
Somewhere out there is the saddest man on Earth, and he cannot even enjoy the smell of a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie, I think to myself. Well, perhaps he is not sad; perhaps he is happy and well and full of glorious purpose.
I, for one, am sincerely grateful to be able to enjoy this cookie to its fullest. And that is all I need, for now.