Late weekend mornings at the bakery is all confusion. Meandering lines of smiling couples saddled with babies and loudly laughing daters. I usually feel as if I am in black and white while they move around me in color, as I’m always alone, ignored and silent. I rarely run into friends. Of late, my prayers to God have been just one word: Really?
I assumed Saturday to be like all the others. I was pirouetting around people crowded before the bakery display case, until this one woman turned to me and caught my attention. She reached past me into the stack of cowgirl cookies at my eye level I hadn’t even noticed.
Oh my god, she said. Have you tried these cowgirl cookies? Do you know about these? Um… No. I said. Stay away. She said. Don’t do it. Oh my God they’re crack infused — You’ll come back every week.
She was cute with an indelibly warm personality, her eyes glazing over in a faux drug addict sheen.
I bagged my scones, moved around her as we were both crowded in front of the display case, and grabbed another bag for cookies.
Seconds later, we exchanged names.
We chatted but briefly, me improvising with her– me staying open and listening and responding instead of my default Eeyore setting; pessimistic, gloomy, unloved. My dark bat-infested castle of a personality I kept in check. Hers was the exact opposite. She was talky, open and one of those people who’ll stop any stranger on the street and start a deep, involved conversation. She had mango complexioned skin, long hair fastened into twin braids. She reminded me of several people I’d known.
She got in line while I was still bagging cookies. I got in line which by now had extended to the door frame. Several people had crowded in line between us. She then did something that kind of astounded me, dropping my heart into my stomach a bit.
She turned, stared at me briefly, then asked the group between us to let me come up to stand with her.
What do you do, she said.
Law firm, I said. She seemed to deflate, as if the job itself were a crime. I let her know in a way: its where I work, its not what I am. I said: I’m a poet, performer. Though not enthusiastically. I wasn’t ready to recite or prove anything. When I asked her something about herself, she mentioned having to go to Los Angeles for school in a few days. She said she was studying law, but there was nothing in her expression that said that was true. It felt like she took my story and reflected parts of it back.
We got to the head of the line and split up. She went to one cashier, sharing with her about the conversation we were just having. I went to the cashier adjacent. The bakery was standing room only. I pushed my way to the door, then turned and stopped.
Now: Was I supposed to wait for her? That conversation, spontaneous and warm, was great. Friendly. But now what?? Am I expected to wait for this stranger? Am I supposed to join her day? Was this lightweight stalking? What would you do?
Standing at the door, I packed the scones in my backpack. She had left the cashier and, perhaps, was getting water or something. Was she avoiding me? Engaging someone else spontaneously? I kept the bag of cookies to munch on while I slipped on my backpack. I thought: she must do this to everybody. Maybe she’s manic or bipolar. I turned and walked away.
Two or three storefronts away, a voice: How are those cookies? Aren’t they amazing–
You were right, I said. They’re rocking.
We crossed the street. One vendor here I do know was talking with a customer. I waved and kept walking, chatting with this young woman until we stopped at another vendor selling framed photographs of black celebrities. She pointed to Angela Davis and mentioned seeing her in Oakland somewhere and asked the vendor if he took those pictures or just copied them. I looked at the framed photo of Marcus Garvey and said nothing. He pointed to his digital signature on the ones he took.
We walked on. She told me she was in town with her friend, whose birthday weekend it was. She mentioned where they were from, some small town in California that my parents used to drive through to get to the fishing hole. She text her friend back and forth. Where was she?
Meanwhile, we stopped in front of the Uhuru food truck. My heart, out of habit, kept thinking I was supposed to excuse myself and bounce. But she said she was hungry, I hadn’t eaten either. We got in line and ordered plates. I got a breakfast wrap. She immediately complimented the eyes of the young brother who took our order and sent him blushing. She asked if he was an artist and interviewed him, then chatted with the chef and got a sandwich recommendation. I got my wrap and offered her some potatoes while she waited, but she said no, preferring instead to examine my wrap and approve it.
She got her plate and we started looking for somewhere to sit, but it was late morning at the Farmer’s Market and we instead carried our plates around until she stopped a couple of older white women at random and started talking. The two women were a good decade or so older than both of us, but they were equally friendly. I stood with her and finished eating while she chatted with the ladies, holding her full plate, as if she knew them.
I remember her saying: I love the Jews! (A beat.) I’m half Jewish. First lady: I can tell by your nose. The Girl: My dad’s black and my mom’s Jewish. I get my bad skin from her…
And the three of them stood talking like that for several minutes. With these ladies, talking black hair, Jewish hair, skin and family. In a couple of minutes, I learned a lot her.
She asked the ladies: Are you partners?
First lady: No. We’re just very good, very old friends. We’re both married…
Second Lady: …To men.
But after a second, the first lady warmly put her arm around her friend, pulls her close and kisses her on the corner of the mouth. They laugh. I think: They never would have done that if it weren’t for this girl.
We walked on. She texted her friend again and soon that friend pushed through the crowd to us.
The woman who met us, Val, was gorgeous, her skin like a models, even as she was dressed for the gym, her hair wrapped modestly. Some 20 year old had just hit on her, she’d said. I didn’t expect her to be my age and she didn’t look it.
In the seconds of them glad to see one another and hugging, I thought: Here’s my natural breaking point. Now that they’ve met I can let them go on with their day and chill. What else was I supposed to do?
This is the guy I was texting you about, the girl introduced me.
And then said: Let’s find someplace to sit and get to know one another.
We walked over to what looked to be the last open bench at the edge of the Farmer’s Market and sat down. The girl sat between Val and myself, and we stayed that way for just over two hours, talking. My phone rattled twice and both times I let it go settle untouched on my thigh. As we sat there, the girl who did most of the talking now held back. And the conversation from then on was this huge exchange between this woman and myself. A deeply personal life exchange, none of which I’ll reproduce.
There are no coincidences. We had some interesting pains in common. Somehow when I mentioned my mom being dead– this was the weekend after Mother’s Day– she reached over and held my hand while I finished talking.
We three of us stayed there until the farmer’s market closed and the child’s bounce house was deflated and folded and trucked away. The talk was surprisingly real, and positive and comfortable. We exchanged numbers and they took my photo, though I was overwhelmed and didn’t think to do the same. We hugged. They went off to finish their weekend adventure. Unexpectedly, I was due for more adventure later as my friend from high school had driven down from L.A. to reconnect with old friends (SPOILER: I’m his only old friend not dead or in jail, so we hit up the weed spot and went to see Mad Max and Poltergeist).
This stuff never happens to me. Afterwards, my brain rattled, overwhelmed, overloaded. It was like God heard my whining and slapped me in the mouth with more spontaneous loving acceptance I could deal with.