I hadn’t been in the city for thirteen years but walking down the street to the café felt oddly familiar. Like I had strolled down this sidewalk before, catching glimpses of memories reflecting off storefront windows. The scents of a city don’t ever seem to change much no matter the passage of time. I could not linger at any one storefront to gaze at window displays because the bitter winter air was already numbing my nose, the tendrils of cold already filtering in through the weave of my gloves. I walked on, checking the addresses to gauge how much farther I had to walk. I remember the address but knew I’d check my maps app on my smartphone the closer I got to my destination just to be sure I wasn’t way off track. The honks of cars, the white noise of bangs and clacks and pounding all meshed together as the song of the city continued to play its daytime tunes. A block away. Time to check the map. There I was — that pulsing dot–similar to the heartbeat of my increasing nervousness. There was the coffeeshop on the map and I look up and down the street ahead. No sign standing out, but it was there.
I had been over possible scenarios a thousand times, my head whirring with all the variations of those first sentences of greeting. And really, why was I nervous? This was a person with whom I already had hundreds of conversations, spanning months, topics ranging from simple, funny to controversial. That gave me a little courage, lifted my spirits, and I heard
“It’s going to be okay.”
“Of course it’ll be okay…as long as I make it there.”
“Why would you not get here? You are so close.”
And my thoughts sped through all the unlikely possibilities. Still so much unknown. Like when we talked so our ears could hear, would we still be conversing on the side in that mindspace we had been shaping? Or would our inner voices be quieted by those projected by our vocal chords? The only way to find out was to keep walking forward one foot in front of the other to… and I was there.
The sign of the coffee shop printed on the door’s window. As I pulled open the door, the handle’s chill pressing in on my gloved hand, I imagined myself walking through a portal, one of the many tunnels we all have traversed in our daily lives. That goal was somewhere sitting in the coffee shop, time slowed as I was crossing the threshold–all the struggles, all the pain, all the problems we had faced–gone in an instant.
And I was inside the shop. A quick breeze of cold slipping through the closing door, and the outside now muted as the door shut. I walked slowly into the entryway almost too scared to look around. I needed to control my emotions. With all the haywire sensations and thoughts these past months I needed to calm myself.
I pulled strength from the knowledge that this man wouldn’t care whatever happened to slip past to show on my face–a smile would be better, but I know I was a hug away if I needed him to soothe me. And I didn’t care anymore how I would appear to him or anyone else in that coffee shop. We had waited too long to care. And so naturally I moved my head to the right, and there he was just staring, smiling, waving me over. I smiled back–not beaming, but a subtle “there you are” and in an instant I was calm, in a peaceful bubble. I knew he was making me feel better–that magic reaching me as it had for the long months leading up to this moment. And I thought, and I felt, tremendous love for this man who had helped me through the turmoils–how we each had lifted each other up and carried each other during challenges just like this one. This one, obviously, being no great challenge. This one being a challenge only like any other first encounter: the fear of awkwardness. But the only way to get over the awkwardness was to meet and start talking.
I approach the table and you get up out of your seat not knowing what else to do. I can see you are having trouble deciding how to greet me. I save you the trouble. I smile, extend my hand and say
“Nice to finally meet you.”
“It’s great to meet you as well.”
And we both look into each other’s eyes and smile, excitement lighting them up.
Let the dialogue begin.