This Must Be the Place

He set the coffee cup down on the table in front of me with a clink, sloshing brown liquid over the rim into the saucer beneath.  I caught a glimpse of blue ink snaking up the inside of his wrist as he pulled his hand away to rest back on his bluejean-clad hip.

I fought to ignore the sound of my two children squabbling over what kind of waffle to order.  Instead of intervening, like I usually would, I turned away, and my eyes were drawn up to his face to see if he was frowning at me, judging me for the ill table manners of my spawn.
But I only found the calm half-smile of a twenty-something young man who was clearly not a morning person, yet making the best of his early shift at the diner on Magazine Street.  I studied his red-rimmed eyes and dark-brown stubble.  Together with his lightly mussed bed-head and semi-wrinkled cotton shirt, these indicators of a late night adventure kicked my imagination into overdrive.
As I sipped my coffee, my mind wandered off to all the places he could have been until the wee hours.  An obnoxious bar in the French Quarter drinking Hurricanes?  I doubt it.  A smoky dive in the Warehouse District playing cards?  Maybe.  Or possibly, he was in a local rock band, playing late into the night, until they ran out of songs or there were no more girls. 
I’ll go with that one.
He was handsome, in a scruffy way, and I imagine that if I’d encountered him twenty years ago, I likely would have been intrigued. 
Talking Heads blared in the background, and he tapped his black Converse sneaker not impatiently as he waited for us to place our breakfast order.
His eyes moved around the table and finally settled on mine.  I quickly spat out my order, feeling self-conscious and out-of-date.  Not wanting to keep him waiting, I barked at the rest of my unruly bunch to hurry up and decide. 
I wasn’t sure if he was irritated or just felt sorry for me to be tied down to a place in life such as this.  Loading the crew up on breakfast before hitting the interstate in our SUV to return home.  We were, no doubt, more than his transient, single, fancy-free self could comprehend.
I know, I wanted to say.  I used to be like you once.  I swear. 
Sometimes I don’t know who I am anymore.
As he rounded the corner back to the kitchen to put in our order, he hummed and sang along softly to the music, with almost a bounce in his step.

Home is where I want to be
Pick me up and turn me round
I feel numb, burn with a weak heart
So I guess I must be having fun

He looked up from the cash register , smiled and gave me a wink that promised he believed I was doing the best I could.
 

Comments

  1. Talking Heads bring back so many great memories for me, as does your entire post. Very descriptive. Makes me feel like I was watching this unfold from across the diner (but not in a creepy stalkerish sorta way). ;-)

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    1. Can I just say this is making me BAWL my eyes out? I Have no idea why. I love that song and I love how you love music. I have an idea for a book I want to write and a subtheme is music and I will be reading all of your posts for inspiration. It's so weird to look across the divide and wonder "How did I get here? This is not my beautiful house..." OOps. Wrong song.

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    2. Sometimes a good bawl is in order. There's something about that song that tugs at me, and combined with the interaction with this guy...it left a lasting impression. Music is the key to everything for me. I have a small attempt at a book started, and guess what it's about??!! I'll read yours, if you read mine! :)

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  2. Are you a NOLA girl? I lived there for 5 of the happiest years of my life. Le sigh. What a lovely little slice.

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    1. Not a NOLA girl, but deep family roots there and in love with the city. I fantasize about buying a little house in the Garden District and packing my bags. Thanks for reading.

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  3. ahhh who we used to be... but we all change, and that's not bad, it's just change, right. i was totally engaged in your story.

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    1. So true. I often wonder how I got here...not that here is a bad place. But sometimes we think about these things.

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  4. You know what I love about this? I love that it admits that you expected to be judged, and then admitted that you were not being judged. I'm weary of people complaining about side-long looks and grimaces that more than likely have more to do with the wearers mood or headache than anything anyone else was doing.

    Whoops. Just used your comment space for a mini-rant. Anyway, I really liked the whole thing, but especially that. :)

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    1. Thank you! I'm sure that many times I feel I'm being judged, it's really in my own mind. Thanks for reading.

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  5. Love this post! And you know what, I bet he kind of wants a little bit of your life too. The grass is always greener :)

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    1. Thanks and you may be right...you never know what people are thinking!

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  6. I was so into your story that I was almost jarred when it ended, because I wanted there to be more. I love how in the space of only a few words you went from assuming that he felt sorry for you, to coming to a really nice understanding with this complete stranger who you only crossed paths with for a short time. I wonder what impressions he will take from his encounter with you?

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    1. He probably went and double checked that his girlfriend is on the pill, ha! No, seriously, we did have a moment of understanding between us, and I think we could have been friends in another life. Thanks for your kind words...you totally got it.

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  7. The past is behind us for a reason, we're done with it.

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    1. Well, yes, but sometimes it sneaks up through the trap door to visit us.

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  8. This was so well told, I loved it! Especially the end.

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  9. So, what did you order for breakfast? Hehe...

    We're in identity crisis mode in our hose, too. As in his midlife crisis is forcing me to become someone I never wanted to be. Thinking of the what-ifs and the used-to-bes is a thread that pulls at me all dang day long.

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    1. A sausage waffle...yum! I don't usually wallow in the what-its, but something about this encounter stuck with me long after it was over.

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  10. Um.....winked at you from the cash register? Dude was checking you out! Which is also sort of a nice ending to your story? I know I like to be checked out. :)

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    1. Nah, it was more like a "it's cool" wink than a "how you doin'" wink. But you never know...

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  11. What a nice story. Change. whew.

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  12. I miss who I used to be, too. I love this encounter between old and new life.

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    1. I know, I love who I am now, but sometimes miss who I used to be.

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  13. It's nice sometimes to think of what life is like for people in very different circumstances, as in this case. Sometimes people just knock past each other, or glance past someone in a different station. Sounds like you and this guy had a moment of understanding pass between you.

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    1. Yes, that's it. It was a moment of mutual understanding & appreciation. Thanks for reading.

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  14. I love how the richness of this encounter took place all in your head - until the goodbye wink. Great story!

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    1. Thank you. Interesting the things that happen in our heads :)

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  15. So good! I relate all too well. (What is it about the Talking Heads?)

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    1. So true, Talking Heads songs always make me think.

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  16. I love this post. You have captured all I have been feeling the last few months in a fantastic post. Well done and thanks for making me feel less out of place.

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    1. Glad you liked it, Mary. You are definitely not alone!

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  17. Wonderful writing. I really enjoyed your post.

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  18. I love this post. I can so relate to wondering how we got to where we are and pondering who we used to be. It's a loss almost, the loss of innocence and youth of who we once were. But then again, I think we are right where we are supposed to be.

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    1. Yes, indeed. Sometimes I stop and think, "how did I get here?" Not that I would trade *here* for anything, but, you know, sometimes we think about these things.

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