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6. The conjured life

October 12, 2011

I chose this café for the quiet; and found, with relief, one person, sitting alone in the back room. Then I realized she was on the phone. Irritation – ok we’ll call it rage – surged through me. I fulminated under my breath, rehearsing witty and biting ways to convey the enormity of her rudeness. I toyed with my own phone – wondering if I should talk loudly into it, or just toss it at her. I fumed into my nonfat decaf latte. Then…I listened (see note below). This is the story I heard:

This woman’s teenage son has some problem with the internet. As in, he won’t get off it. “Maybe we should take his bed out of that room….I mean that’s extreme but….” She says. It sounds like he might get kicked out of school. Again. And her daughter is acting out because she (the mom) isn’t paying her any attention. Because she (the mom) has gotten a job that she needs to focus on and she’s trying to get settled in and “….I’m just bummed that we have to have this conversation so early in the morning.” Then, I can hear her metaphorically squaring her shoulders. She speaks emphatically about her daughter “… she  needs to know that we are a team. We are working together on this.” She says this as though saying it will make it so. As though she’s conjuring this “team” with the force of language – “team” as a performative, a linguistic creation that must now hold fast.

What I make up is that this woman is talking to her ex-husband,  (re)negotiating the ins-and-outs of parenting outside of marriage. Using the same old legs, she’s determined to walk a brand new path—as a team, as a co-parent, as a person fumbling forward in the darkness.

Luckily, and before violence, sympathy stole in and replaced my rage; Eventually, compassion replaced irritation. Then, when she got off the phone, gratitude. For the quiet, yes, but more, for the reminders.  We are exercising new muscles here.

Footnote: Listened, not eavesdropped – because, honestly, anyone who has a phone conversation in a café is inviting the world to share.

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