Earlier today I met my wonderful friend for our semi-regular walk. I love our walks. They remind me that I am sane. They fill my heart with validation. In this strange, strange world, they affirm that I am not alone. Thank the stars for these walks.
Lately our walks are much less ambitious than the climbs we used to take to places such as the promontory where the local High School’s Initial is painted on a stone face. These days our walks typically lead us to our local Starbucks. The path we take is underwhelming at best. Considering the crazy, wide intersection we have to cross, it is also a little treacherous. I enjoy these walks as much as I enjoy walking in the woods, along a beautiful ocean path, or climbing to the highest point in a new city.
Nearly to our destination, we crossed the crazy strip mall entrance, avoiding oncoming cars. (There is no crosswalk. I think it is because the strip mall entry is actually not meant to be crossed, at least not on foot.) We made our way down a little hill, then walked along the Starbucks drive through, trying to avoid the cars that did not see us. As I was balancing on the curb, my friend slid down the muddy hill next to me proclaiming,
“I think I am going to walk behind you.”
We passed the drive through window, hopped over another curb, entered the coffee shop, and approached the counter. My friend ordered, found a table and probably wondered what happened to me. Here is what happened to me: I am conditioned to get the best deal. I remembered that my Cash App might be offering 1$ off at Coffee Shops. I knew Dave would be happy about my responsible attention to detail. So, before I ordered, I was determined to make sure there was enough cash in my Cash App. There was not. So I had to figure that out too. It took me a minute of me texting Dave back-and-forth. Totally worth a dollar, right? (I’m still on the fence.)
Then I ordered my usual drink: Venti Green Iced Tea, Unsweetened, No Water, Light Ice. I just want straight green iced tea. I want to order iced tea and have the barista put a few ice cubes in a cup. Then fill the rest with green tea. Nope. To get the tea the way I want it, I have to deconstruct Starbucks’ standard way of making it: (1. Pour tea up to line in the cup. Pour ice enough to fill to the next line. Add water to the next line. Add sweetener. Then dump the mixture into a shaker and shake. Dump mixture back into cup. Then add ice to fill the cup. Yes! That is a lot of ice and a lot of water.)
You are probably wondering,
“That was a lot of unnecessary detail.”
What you actually may be wondering is,
“Well, if that is what you want, why don’t you just say I would like Green Ice Tea?”
Believe me, I have tried to ask for straight green iced tea. Once a barista in a Starbucks that was located in a grocery store made me a matcha green tea latte instead. She charged me the latte price and would not take my drink back. Then she scolded me relentlessly for not knowing what iced tea is.
“A Matcha Tea Latte is not green tea!” She shrieked.
I tried to keep my cool.
“Um, that is why I asked for regular green iced tea. I have been ordering iced tea for years.” I responded.
All the other times I tried to order a simple green iced tea, the sweet baristas simply short circuited. Then like a broken robot chanting, “Does not compute. Does not compute,” they asked me to repeat my order. Bless their hearts.
Today I saw that my order was wrong. I grabbed my tea anyway. I looked at the approximately 78 – 101 ice cubes. I laughed out loud and said to another barista while pointing at all the ice cubes,
“This is not light ice.”
At that, the sweet, pink-haired barista offered to make me a new one. Instead, I said, “the same thing happened the last time I was here. The girl insisted it was light ice.” I paused. I smiled. I made eye contact. Then I said, “I will drink this one and get a refill.”
Here is what I wanted to say:
“I have been ordering this drink for fifteen years now. I know what light ice and no water looks like. Don’t get me started on how stupid it is to say, ‘no water in a drink that is 99.9% water.’ And unless you are my mother-in-law, who considers a block of ice with a teaspoon of water to be the perfect ice-to-water ratio, then this is not light ice.”
Alas, I did not unload. That would be rude. I took my tea and walked away.
Before I sat down, I noticed a girl that one of my boys dated. This girl was sitting within ear shot. I cryptically pointed to my friend and whispered,
“Maybe we should move to another table. That girl dated my son. And I also know her friend.”
“We should totally move.” My friend assented.
At that, we were now sitting at a round table about fifteen feet from the first.
As my friend and I talked about my life falling apart, how I think I completely suck as a parent, that I cannot seem to connect cohesively with my husband, and that my inability to feel grounded in any sort of direction is making me really sad, I stared, fixed on my iced tea.
“There is more ice than tea. I will be done with this in no time.” I laughed.
“That’s how they want it.” She said, and followed compassionately with something like, “It’s a total rip off.”
She is correct.
The ice filled 75% of the cup. The tea was almost the color of water. I began snapping photo after photo of my Venti Green Iced Tea, Unsweetened, No Water, Light Ice. For like three seconds focusing on my ice imbalance gave me purpose. For a fleeting three seconds, I had a pure, unadulterated cause: righting the ice in my green iced tea.
I laughed and said, “Last time I was here, they did the same thing. I think they auto-piloted my drink. I think most people auto-pilot life. It’s easier. We live in a world that does not listen. While the other person speaks, we are at best thinking about how we are going to respond. We are distracted. Understandably, there is also so much input: Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, Tik Tok, Fox News… There is a lot to keep up with. We do not pause. It is hard to remain present. And when we are present, no one seems to care. And they fill your cup with like 700 ice cubes. It is not personal. It is what it is.” Noticing I was getting ahead of myself, and because I mentioned that fact that people do not pause, I actively made myself pause. Then I took a breath, and said, “I am so glad you listen. I am really grateful you care.”
“I am sure you are right about our world. It is nice to have a friend.” She kindly responded.
Life is not happy, nor is it completely dark. Life is hard. Life is breathless. Life is joy. From one second to the next life is connected and wonderful and the next it is soul crushing. I am often not sure what to do. I have lived far too many years living life so other people would like me. I have lived far too many years stepping back and stepping out of the way. When Dave says, “WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO WITH YOUR LIFE? I usually get flustered and proclaim, “I DO NOT KNOW.” Now at least I often add, “I DO NOT KNOW BECAUSE I AM THINKING OF EVERYONE ELSE. GIVE ME A SECOND. I WILL GET THERE.”
I am not a martyr. Thinking of everyone else kind of protects me from risking being me, you know what I mean? I am sure that is why I have lived my life trying to use the right words, trying to advocate diplomatically, trying to use the damn Cash App to save a dollar in an attempt to make my husband happy. I also really love the positive feedback looking out for others brings me.
Alas, when I do catch my breath and when I do attempt to claim my space, I feel totally exposed and insecure. These days I wonder if it is too late. Ageism is definitely a thing, a thing that now gets into my head. But mostly I get in my own way. I always have. It has been a hard lesson to learn. I understand that performing and pleasing does not work, or better, is not sustainable. I see now that I will always let you down. In truth, I do not think it really matters. I hope I have not wasted my life stepping out of the way, or stepping aside. I should have remained in the car in Athens. I should trust my judgement, even when it completely goes against the flow. Ultimately, I hope it is not too late to ground myself and stand in my own space. I am not sure I even know what my own space looks like.
And for today, I hope my boys do not hate me. I hope I have not failed them. I hope they soar. I also hope we remain close. I hope Dave and I can figure each other out and forgive each other more. I hope I do not give up on me. I hope I do not become a cup filled with too much ice because I am too disconnected to read the instructions. Seriously, I do not want to be an ice block. Cold ice hurts my teeth.
I set a high bar. Maybe that is why the hope for something more terrifies me. I want to get it right. I want to live without regret or anger. I want to get it with love.
Oh hey, and please take a listen to this song, “No Hard Feelings,” by the Avett Brothers. It says it all:
“…When my body won’t hold me anymore
And it finally lets me free
Where will I go?
Will the trade winds take me south
Through Georgia grain or tropical rain
Or snow from the heavens?
Will I join with the ocean blue
Or run into the savior true
And shake hands laughing
And walk through the night
Straight to the light
Holding the love I’ve known in my life
And no hard feelings
Lord knows they haven’t done
Much good for anyone
Kept me afraid and cold
With so much to have and hold
Under the curving sky
I’m finally learning why
It matters for me and you
To say it and mean it too
For life and its loveliness
And all of its ugliness
Good as it’s been to me
I have no enemies
I have no enemies
I have no enemies
I have no enemies.”