--"If It Isn't Love", New Edition
"I know what you mean, though, Heidi. People who only talk about what's best and brightest in their lives are only telling half the story. You can only put a positive spin on so much, you know?"
We were sitting between the aisles of the book store, working hard at pretending to be working hard when all we wanted to do was be settled somewhere talking about the more important things in life like love, gossip, and stupid, corny jokes. You start working with someone, forced to spend six to eight hours of your day with the same person shift after shift, and you stop running out of inane banter to trade. Fairly soon, your conversations progress to the state where you're exchanging dearly intimate details of your life that you normally wouldn't divulge to a person you haven't know for more than a year. That's how it was between us. We spent too many hours getting to know each other while we were helping open the store that, when it came time to actually work beside each other in the trenches, the only thing we had left to talk about was the gory, cynical details about what a mess our lives were.
I'm sure our supervisor could hear us, even all the way up at the register, but as long as we pretended to be stocking and not blatantly just sitting on the stools chit-chatting, we were kosher. One of us would stand up and slowly put away the books one-by-one, while the other would be slowly organizing the cart into pre-determined sections. Of course, what would normally take a two-man team about thirty to forty minutes to finish, we managed to stretch into two even two-and-a-half hours.
"Yeah, that's my point. I'm all for sharing happy stories. But sometimes I want the sad or angry stories too."
I looked at her face--the magnetic grey-green eyes; the shortly cropped, dirty blonde hair; the strong, but warm face--and I remembered why it was such a joy to talk to her. The girl could make anything sound vital to the existence of mankind. Also, she had this husky, breathy voice that made everything sound fraught with more intrigue than someone else could.
"Can't forget about those."
"Like the other week you were telling me about how you had or have this crush. Normally, it would stop there, but then you went into detail about just how sure you and her wouldn't work out. Most people wouldn't have gone there. Most people wouldn't want to burden others with their problems. Yet that's the stuff I like to hear. That's the important stuff," I heard her say.
"And all the rest is fodder."
"Exactly. How's that going, by the way?"
"Crap with a chance of B.S. tomorrow."
"That good, huh?"
"Well, I told you it's a hopeless situation."
"Hopeless or helpless? You can't give out on hope, Patrick. There's always a chance."
I took a seat on the bench across the cart from her, pretending to organize the other side of it. I didn't much like standing for this part. I don't know--when you're trying to share intimate details of your life with someone, it's always better to face them. Standing up wouldn't have been doing my due diligence to the gravity of my plight.
"Well, what do you call it when this person, this girl, you've known for years suddenly strikes as being worthy of more? I don't think it's fair to just spring it on her. Not after years of friendship. I couldn't do that to her."
"And you're sure she doesn't feel the same way?"
"Not a snowball's chance in hell."
"Then I say you'll have to let it go for now until a time she feels differently."
"It's just difficult because it's all I think about. And part of me doesn't believe it."
"Doesn't believe it because if she doesn't feel the same way by now, then maybe she'll never feel it?"
"Exactly. And maybe because she doesn't feel it then maybe it isn't real?"
She laughed. At first, I thought it her making fun of my sorrow in an attempt to alleviate the dourness of the situation. But then she got up and walked over to my side of the cart and began putting books away near me. I watched as she turned her head slightly towards me and continue the conversation.
"I've been exactly where you are. I've been to that place between doubt and hope, and I've looked at myself in the mirror and asked whether or not I can afford to ruin things with this guy. The most important question you can ask yourself is if going after a relationship the best thing for both of you or just for you. I'm all for telling someone how you feel, but if it's only going to hurt things then why do it?"
"Well, did you do it?"
"Not yet. But I've got another problem to deal with it."
"Well, don't keep me in suspense, Miss Heidi."
She sat down beside me, like the spider to my Miss Muffet, or, more precisely, she pulled up another bench to sit down beside me. Normally, we weren't this brazen in just having a conversation with one another. Nomally, the practice of one person's butt on the seat and one person's face to the shelves gave the appearance that we weren't just goofing off. However, we'd been caught before for taking too much time with one another's interest and not enough interest in actually doing our jobs. Yet despite all they did--separating us, giving us two different carts to shelve, or putting one of us back on register--we were right back at it soon. If we didn't go back to our habits later that day, you could be sure we went right back to it the next day.
Finally, I think it just became easier to monitor how much we were slacking off rather than try to ban it outright.
When she sat down beside me I knew I was in for something more poignant from her than the usual banter we traded. This suspicion was confirmed when we began to whisper our replies to one another rather than let people in the next aisle hear us.
"Did you ever come across the situation where you thought somebody was perfect for you, but then you spent some time with them and realized that they probably make a better friend than boyfriend?"
"Can't say that I have. I'm usually on the other end of the spectrum."
"Well, that's where I'm at. I like this guy, but part of me thinks that all the behaviors I think are cute in a friend would be annoying in somebody I was dating. It feels strange to say. I think I have a double standard when it comes to guys."
"Like it's okay for him to act a certain way around me because we're not serious, but, if we were serious, it'd be a different story. Does that sound right to you?"
"Kind of. Maybe there are people that we feel an attraction to as friends, but don't quite feel once we move beyond that stage. Maybe the attraction we feel is the hope of something more."
"But then the reality sets in and all you're left with is the wish you had the hope again."
This time it was my turn to laugh.
"Remind me to never have a crush on you, Heidi, because the way you talk we might be long-lost cousins or something."
She laughed at that remark and this time we both stood up. We both began to put away the rest of the cart.
I liked looking at her at times like those. It really felt like we'd settled something, came to some deep answer about the mysteries of the universe, when possibly all we'd come up with was the notion we were both deep enough to have such thoughts. It didn't mean the thoughts were of any consequence, but the knowing that we had the capacity to challenge ourselves emotionally was enough of a milestone for us. We were fumbling our way through the experience of learning love and maybe the baby steps we were taking were like the baby steps of youth. It didn't matter how exactly far we got. All that mattered is that we were taking our first steps somewhere.
"Do you think that's what love is?" I asked.
"What's love like?"
"Maybe it's when two people have that implicit understanding that they feel the same way about each other. Until that point is reached, maybe it's all conjecture and hearsay."
"I think so. I think before you get to that stage, you're only imagining what it can really be like. You can like someone or even date someone, but, until you reach that point, you're only trying to get to it."
I paused for a second or two.
"I really wish I could get her out of my mind. She's just so cute, so everything I want in a girl."
"You'll be fine. I have faith that you'll find someone, maybe her, maybe not. You'll find someone, though."
It wasn't until five minutes later that she ventured further thoughts on the matter.
"I've been considering your problem, Patrick, and I think that you should tell her. I'd want you to tell me if you had a thing for me."
"Even if it meant these lovely chats had to come to an end?"
"Even if. If I can't take a little honesty then I'm no kind of friend to you and neither would she be."
"It's nice to know that if there were ever sparks between us I have your blessing."
She didn't say anything further about resolving my problem after that, but I put in my last two cents regarding her problem.
"And in regards to your problem, I think maybe you should give him a shot to be the man you want him to be. Maybe he'll act differently if you act differently towards him. After all, I think if he knows there are higher stakes involved he'll take you more seriously."
"You think so?"
"I really do, Heidi."
And that was the end of our serious talk for the day. The rest of our time spent on the cart was spent joshing around.
It was back to crawling once again for us, knowing that tomorrow or perhaps the next day we would try again at figuring out the way the whole process of caring about someone really was like.
Sure, we'd stumble and fall. However, the more we talked about it and discussed it, the more we had each other as a soundboard, the more we began to figure out it's a process for everyone. We also began to figure out that maybe it's a process that never really gets solved, like some journey to the horizon, where you reach one goal only to have it be replaced by another. We were keen on finding out, though, and it was through that curiosity which was fanned on by Heidi and the rest of my circle of friends that I began to formulate exactly what I wanted in a woman and what I wanted in myself.
Maybe it wasn't the talk that changed my life. Maybe there isn't one specific conversation you can point to that gives you all the answers to all the questions. Maybe the quiet talks like this with people you trust are all you have to go on.
And maybe the quiet talks like this with people you trust are all you really need.