I’ve never given much power to the whole idea that bad things happen in three’s, but I’d been through a break-up, a death in the family and was in the midst of dealing with what I like to call The Great Teenage Rebellion of 2016. It hadn’t been a banner year, and the bad days far outweighed the good. So, with this dumb rule of three fixed in my mind, I was certain I was in the clear. And not by accident, at years end, I had successfully mastered the art of keeping my shit together.
I was an oak, a rock, unbreakable! It was nothing more than a train of thought. Just as I would feel the emotions swirling around in my gut trying to make their way up and out, I’d think of something funny. The first thing that kept me laughing and grounded was a video I’d come across on YouTube of a flatulent preacher. He’d make the most gas-worthy faces and with every expression, a fart noise followed. When I desensitized myself to that, I made my way through the list of funny movies I love, like the food poisoning scene in Bridesmaids, or the scene in Spy where Melissa McCarthy tells a guy that he “look[s] like a bag of dicks,” or the part where she throws up all over a guy she’s just accidentally killed. All of these antics seemed to work perfectly, until they didn’t.
I remember the day vividly, as it started out with a massive fight between my two, bull-headed teenagers that made me late to work. On my way there, I had a flat tire in negative four-degree weather. Then, I cut hair for a full day only to be dragged into the office at the end of my shift to learn that I was being let go. There goes the rule of three! As I packed up my things, an array of famous movie quitting scenes ran through my head. It was a toss up between, “fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, your cool…I’m out,” or “who’s coming with me?” Instead, I settled on “In case I don’t see ya, good afternoon, good evening and goodnight.” It worked perfectly to keep those emotions I was fighting at bay for the moment, but I could feel a change rattling in the depth of my core.
I got home and it was as if I hadn’t even left. The fight that was raging in the morning was still in full swing. I don’t even think they noticed that I had come in the door, and it was perfect scenario for a getaway. I turned around slowly, quietly and walked back out to my car. I drove aimlessly until my car found its way to my favorite burger joint just a mile down the road from my house. There’s nothing one of their chocolate milkshakes can’t cure.
I loved this place and it’s like a timeslip to the 1950’s. The black and white checkered floors caught my eye as did the red glittery, plastic booths that squeaked and bounced when taking a seat. A good, old fashioned song always played from the authentic jukebox, and pictures of James Dean, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis stared joyously at the customers; inviting them into this era. It was exactly what I needed.
I sat in my usual booth and slurped my shake through a tall straw with my hands by my side. The thought half crossed my mind to bounce up and down in my seat as I’d done when I was little in that very booth. But those times were so far gone, and reality was here. My thoughts bounced around the job loss, the break-up, the death and the screaming, fighting teens that I housed; and I wondered how long I had left on the sinking ship. This was the moment that I realized that I was completely and totally alone, and just as I had that thought, the jukebox read my mind and started playing, “Are you lonesome tonight?”
Keep it together, keep going, not here, I kept repeating to myself. This had become an involuntary thought when my emotions weren’t in check, and it seemed like I had given life to those words more today than in the entire year. I kept a steady breath and in my head, I was flipping for a damn funny, but every scene conjured was the moment whichever character broke down. Kristen Wiig was getting kicked out of the wedding and Melissa McCarthy was telling Bradley Fine that she loved him through tears. Hell, even the preacher was crying. There was nothing more I could do, and in a moment of “I don’t give a fuck anymore,” I let go as tears ran over my rose-colored cheeks.
I didn’t make a big scene, wail loudly, or hide my face in my arms on the table, even though I felt like doing those things. I just let the tears fall, slurped my shake and occasionally grabbed a napkin to wipe my face like it was a natural reaction to be crying in the middle of a restaurant. As the napkins made a mountain on my tray, I decided it was time to leave.
I made my way to the front counter to drop off my milkshake glass and trash, and caught a figure coming toward me from the corner of my eye. While I stared straight ahead in fear of it being someone I knew, I caught a glimpse of her white, short hair and the blue scarf she had tightly wrapped around her out of my peripheral. Don’t make eye contact, I said to myself, trying to hurry up and leave. But something about her demanded my attention. Unexpectedly, I felt a hand patting my shoulder, and when I turned around, she stared into my eyes and smiled. Through my messy face and watery eyes, I smiled back for what seemed like an hour. Then, she turned towards the exit and walked out the door.
I had never in my life seen this lady before, and to this day, I still make myself believe that she was an angel. Maybe she was? Who knows? Maybe she was merely human. It’s still hard to fathom that without uttering a single, solitary word, this angel lady let me know that it was okay to emote. That we are human, and we are nothing without our emotions. That part of living is being able to express how we feel. That being strong is not withholding, but letting go. We are not built to be oaks, or rocks; we are built to be pliable so that when we do break, we can put ourselves back together. To this day, it was the best conversation I’ve ever had.