Saturday, July 13, 2013

Coffee with Mike.

Last night was my night off.

I'm a full-time mom of two spirited unschoolers and sometimes my job is downright exhausting, so my husband gives me the right to a night off once in awhile.

It's always a little guilt-ridden and a little gleeful all at once. 

Last night I went to Barnes and Noble and spent far too much money on stuff for me and stuff for the kids.  I stayed until the store closed at 10PM.  On my way in I'd missed the store entrance at first and I drove mistakenly down the road a few blocks.  As I was driving where I shouldn't have been driving, I noticed a coffeehouse and told myself I'd like to hit that up if it was still open after my book binge.

And so it was.

The hours posted on the digital sign read: 6:30 AM - Midnight.  My kind of coffeehouse.

My plan was to grab something decaffeinated so I wouldn't keep myself up all night and then sit at a table all by myself and read.  This activity would be something like I imagine heaven will be, I thought, and went up to the counter.

 They had one fairly traded brew, but it was only available with caffeine.  This was a little disappointing, since I back fair trade as much as possible, so I made the sacrifice (I say this as though there aren't little children starving in Columbia and Uganda because of coffee that isn't fairly traded) and got the caffeine.  I asked for a for-here cup and took my seat after my order came up.

The place was practically empty.  I had my choice of any sort of table, and I chose one with four chairs and short legs and sat down to work with my reading and my joe.  Behind me was a man waiting for his date.  She'd given him a long order that made the cashier laugh in a text message, but she assured the man it was possible, and he breathed a sigh of relief.  This date was important.

In front of me were two men at separate tables, each busy with their laptops.  Each oblivious to anyone else in the room.

To my left, about three tables away, sitting alone at a booth meant for several people, was a man in his early to mid-twenties, surrounded by a bookbag, coffee cup, saucer, iPhone, laptop, and headphones.  He was mostly staring at the wall in front of him.

I thought I was in for a quiet night.

I smiled as the man's date arrived and they exchanged pleasantries and I eavesdropped a little while they chatted about her day and her work-out at the gym, and then I focused on my own things.

The coffee was great.

And then, suddenly, the silence was broken:

"People here are mean.  They're like cactuses, don't you think?  Like burrs."  The voice was loud, nervous, tenor...  I put down my reading and looked around - what?...

"I mean they're mean, right?  Sorry...  you're not from here, are you?"  It was the man surrounded by his paraphernalia.  The one who had been staring at the wall.  He sounded a bit maniacal: talking fast, looking angry, ravaging his fingernails with his front teeth.

"Oh, me?  No, I'm not from here."

"Oh.  Well I just think the people are so intolerant, so unfriendly, don't you?  Do you get that impression?"  I glanced around nervously - I assumed most people in the place were from around here and I was certain everyone in the room could hear him loud and clear.

"I don't know.  I haven't had any problems."

"Oh.  Sorry.  I don't mean to assume things."

"It's okay.  No worries."  I went back to my reading.

"I'm gay."

I put my things down again.  I sipped my coffee.

"It's hard?"  I asked.  I reached back into my listening class days: Sanford Meisner on acting - listening.  Your partner is your life's blood.  Listen, and repeat.

"Yeah, it's hard.  It's hard here."

"You're not from here?"

"No.  I'm from Florida."  His speech was slowing a little.  He wasn't so nervous.  I wasn't so scared of him.

"Oh.  It's better there?"

"Yeah.  A lot better.  I mean - the guys here won't even talk to you.  The women - everyone is just mean.  My mom moved here from Florida and I had to come with her."

Part of me wanted to run.  To drain the coffee, get up, and get out.  I could feel the couple behind me staring at the back of my neck.  Waiting.

I drained the coffee.  I packed up my stuff.

"Sorry.  Sorry to bother you.  I don't mean to assume anything.  I mean, I don't think you're gay or anything, I just..."

I slung my backpack over my shoulder and returned the cup to the counter, then went over to Mike's table.

I put my hand out toward his chest.

"I'm Missy."  I said.

He stared at my hand for a moment, then took it in his.  His entire body relaxed into his seat.

"Mike.  Sorry to bother you...  I didn't mean to interrupt your coffee..."

"No, it's totally fine.  Why are you here with your mom?"

Mike and I talked for a long time.

He'd been living in Europe for the past three years out of a backpack.  He'd left the states after college and gone backpacking in Europe with nothing but clothes and a calling card.  He'd lived off of the kindness of strangers.  He'd met amazing people and heard their stories.  The shock of coming back to the U.S. where picking up a hitchhiker was a death wish was getting to him.  He hated having to use a car to get everywhere...  to get anywhere.  And the judgement was the hardest part.  People finding out he was gay, and deciding he wasn't worth their time.... or worse...that he was.

"I need to get out of here.  Maybe go to Vermont or something.  I heard it's better.  Up in New England."  I nodded.  I wasn't really sure about anything, but I thought there ought to be hope for Mike somewhere.  If not here.

I shook his hand again before I left.

He told me good luck in my travels.  I smiled and wished him the same.

I asked him how he was going to get out of here - get a job elsewhere?  What would he do?

"I'll just grab my backpack and go," he said.

I nodded.  You do what you know.

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