I'm running late as usual. I whip my van into the parking lot looking to the side for her car as I note in my mind that I really need to clean it up. Shifting it into park I feel half empty water bottles slide into my foot and a soccer ball rolling around behind me. Leaning over I scramble for my handbag. It's a tiny little thing stuffed to overflowing with all my essentials which really means a bunch of kid stuff.
I get out of the van trying to compose myself, think of a reasonable excuse for being late again and still scanning the lot for her car. At last I see it tucked over behind a tree. For just a moment I pause, pretending to be putting my keys into my bag, but really whispering one last prayer for this meeting.
One deep breath. Steady my hands. Slow my steps. Another deep breath. Smile. Open the door. Walk to her table. Look into her eyes. Take her hand.
"It's good to see you again. It's been far too long." I say gently.
"It has been a long time. How are you doing? How are the kids? What's been going on? We have so much to catch up."'
She's piling on the questions to keep the conversation on me.
"How about if we start with some coffee? I'll be right back." I head to the counter to order us some drinks, coffee for me and tea for her.
Slow down, I'm thinking. I need to be quiet. I need to be gentle. I notice my own hands shaking as I carry our cups to the table. She has been folding and refolding a napkin.
I'm not the only one with a pounding heart. So much has gone into this moment and yet it's really all nothing.
"Here's some tea, de-cafe."
"Thanks for remembering. You didn't have to treat, really."
"So, what's going on with you? We haven't talked in so long. I want to know everything."
"Well, I'm not going to talk long, but I'll give you an update. My kids are all doing well and getting bigger. They just keep growing. School is good for them, they love their activities, you know, all the regular stuff. Things are still good at work for Ted, so no real news there. His travel is at a minimum right now, so that makes everyone happy."
I smile as I look into her eyes. I see it again. I take a long drink. It's bitter and burning my throat. I must have gotten the last cup from the pot. It's ok. I look again over my cup and see a tremble.
I know why my hands shake, but not why hers do.
"Linda," I say gently as she searches her cup, "tell me what's going on with you?"
She looks right on through the cup for a long time before she comes to herself and can begin an answer to me. I see the anger before she has words for it. I see her desire to confront me and be right. I wait for her words knowing that I will absorb it.
"Everything is fine Emily." She says with a trace of bitterness.
Another long look at the tea. A small sip. Resolve. I can see it forming.
"Let's just get to it Emily. I really don't want any small talk tonight. I want to talk about what happened. I want to know your reasons, your motive, your logic. What were you thinking when you did this to me, to us?"
I had almost forgotten about the whole thing. Perhaps I'd just pushed it from my mind to get some peace. Sometimes you're led to do things that don't make sense at the time. They get their meaning later. This was one of those things.
I'm sure she had my email in her purse. My list of complaints that were really just a list of my brain rambling. I was trying to make sense of things and I always do that on paper. She and I never talked, always emailed. So I emptied my brain into her email. A poor choice. I don't think I could even recall the whole list and I'm betting she's going to want to go through it item by item to work it all out so that she's right and I'm wrong.
How can I make her see? Now that I've had space and time I understand. My leaving really had very little to do with the things on my list. It was in fact much bigger than that. It was huge.
I'd had to walk away for a long time to see it. It was clear on a number of fronts in my mind, finally. But now that I felt I had clarity, I had a rather ugly situation to deal with.
"You said you supported me. That you'd be there for me. That I could count on you. Then you walked away. How could you do that to me?" she whispered with tears in her eyes.
"No matter how long I stayed, or what I tried to do things would not have changed Linda. We both know that. It's just the way it is right now. I was getting really bitter and angry. I needed to walk away before I did damage that couldn't be undone. I tried to make it clear to you what I was doing, but it took some space before I could really understand what was going on."
"But you went back on your word and left me." Said from the depth of her cup.
"Linda, I'm going to be honest. It's going to sound brutal, but I don't know another way." I sighed.
She looked at me with pain and sadness. Betrayal in her eyes.
"Linda. Nothing in our relationship at that time made me think that it would matter to you one bit whether or not I ever crossed your path again."
"How can you possibly say that? We had all those coffee dates together, we emailed, we talked."
"Yes. We did. But right now, this conversation we're having, with you on the verge of tears, yes I did just say that to your face. This is the closest we've ever come to being real with each other. This is what I want and expect out of my friends and my life. I want to be with people who actually feel things. I want to be with people who know themselves enough to have feelings."
She paused. I could see her reeling from my less than nice answer. I wasn't playing by her rules. It was so politically uncorrect to be speaking "disprespectfully" to her. Someone needed to say these things to her.
"Do you really believe that Emily? Do you really believe that I haven't been real with you? That I haven't been open or honest?"
"Yes. I think you may have tried a little, but just couldn't bring yourself to let down enough of your guard to be anything. We spent hours on small talk. It's ok, but I want more. You deserve more. I wanted to be a real friend to you. I wanted us to be in a genuine friendship."
"Maybe, Linda, you don't even know yourself how to feel. Maybe you're not being open and honest with me because you're not being honest with yourself."
"Emily this is too much. How dare you? You have no right to sit there and accuse me like this, to judge me."
The quotes began. Everyone can quote scripture to back up what they need to back up. She was partially right. I was judging her and I really had no right.
"You don't live in my life. It's not that easy."
Linda looked down into that cup again. She was silent. I watched her, waiting for the next sting of words to fly from her, when I realized it wouldn't come. Her hands shook. Tears fell onto the table.
Quietly I got up from my chair and slid into the chair next to hers. I reached for her hand and held it under the table.
Gently I said, "Linda, talk to me, take this chance and trust me."
A deep breath. One sideways glance.
"Emily. It's so bad. It's so hard. I'm dying in this. I'm trapped and I can't get out."
"Linda, I'm not sure what to say."
"I know that people don't like me. I know that I don't have any real friends, but I can't."
"But what kind of a life is this?"
"It's the only life I have."
"Trust me. Talk to me."
Linda is slowly and methodically ripping her napkin into strips. She's piling them up neatly to the side of her cup. Her tea is cold.
"It's almost over though."
"What do you mean Linda?"