She peered into the foamy depths of her latte as if the design sculpted by the barista prophesied such an unlikely event. I studied the perfect symmetry of my new friend’s face. She could have married anyone she wanted. Isn’t that what they say about beautiful women? Looking at her I thought it must be true.
“Figuratively, not literally,” she continued, though she needn’t have. I knew her story. It was my story too. I didn’t marry the guy, but the relationship, a mere 3 years, had scarred me.
Out of the corner of my eye I watched the interplay at the counter while my new friend delineated the red flags she had missed while courting her husband. Conspicuous for her lack of tattoos in one so young, I wondered what the barista had in mind to do with her life. Sales, marketing, psychologist, wedding planner, a career besieged by people, she was good with them. A customer regaled her with a laundry list of complaints. “You’ll manage it,” she encouraged, raising her voice above the gurgle and static of steaming milk.
The barista was twenty-something not yet weighted by disappointment. My new forty-something friend was an oncology nurse freighted by death, and the burgeoning realization that her marriage might not survive.
“He never touched me physically, but he abused me with words,” she told me, speaking of her father. “In the mornings I’d come downstairs, and he’d greet me with, you look like you got hit by a truck. My husband says things like: you were talking, you made me lose my place. Insidious. Drives me crazy.” She encircled her coffee as if it might escape. The tears were close.
I leaned in searching for hidden flaws in her face, found none. I considered how insecure her husband must be to risk losing this beautiful creature.
People spill their life stories to me unbidden. I listen. I guess that’s why they do it. Something in my face must encourage it. Most of the time I’m happy to listen. Everyone has a story, and I want to hear it.
The barista’s sudden easy laugh shattered my friend’s gloom. We looked at each other, and then at the barista, back at each other, and we both laughed.
“For a long time I didn’t recognize the hostility behind the remarks,” she said evenly, her mood lightened.
My therapist had used that word, Recognize, frequently in our sessions. Speaking about the catastrophe of my relationship that had recently ended, she said he was familiar, so like my father that I didn’t recognize the individual traits. Girls can’t help it, good or bad, they are drawn to men like their fathers.
We watched the barista move from behind the counter to embrace a customer who may have been a friend. “I hope you have the best day ever,” she said. Of equal height their cheeks touched, her affection sincere without condition of reciprocation.
“I recognize it now,” my new friend was saying. “I recognize all the insipid little comments meant to belittle me. You confused me. You forgot to buy toilet paper.”
“That will save you thousands in therapy bills,” I suggested.
“I may need it for the divorce.” She meant it to be funny, and it was.
We rose to leave. I knew my friend would be fine. She and her husband would figure it out or they wouldn’t, but she would come through it. More easily than I had, of that I was certain.
As we approached the barista my new friend said, “I hope you have the best life ever!” Surprised the young woman moved from behind the counter and embraced her, flawless cheek to flawless cheek.