I am sitting in Starbucks on a Friday morning, between two occupied tables. From one I hear shop-talk–a couple insurance salespeople talking figures. The table behind me is occupied by two women chatting. Their voices fade into the cacophony of shouted orders and scattered conversation. All I hear from them is the occasional expletive, “Awesome!” followed by the fake laugh women do so well in each other’s company. Two men sit nearby on their laptops. Both are dressed in charcoal suits with identical white shirts and ties. I can’t tell if they know each other but I assume they do.
One of the guys with the laptop is wearing Brut aftershave. My first love wore Brut. Though cologne can alter depending on the chemistry of its wearer, this man smells just like Jeremy did. Jeremy. This February 5th he will be dead 18 years. Dead the exact number of years he lived. The wafting cologne reminds me of necking in his parents Audi. How many people can so vividly remember the taste of Brut aftershave?
“I’m going to need enough time to get my girls….,” the female insurance salesperson has broken into my reverie.
“Where’s that?” said one of the women behind me.
“After the 40 hours logged on time and whatever dinners…,” said the male salesperson. I stare at his back: buzzed haircut, wide back, the suboccipital fold that only beefy men get. He wears a blue checked, button-up shirt and blue jeans—I imagine him carefully selecting a wardrobe that will convey approachability to his clients. Contrary to the suit clad brokers to my right who must convey power and acute business acumen. I reflect on how much I hate people who manipulate others for their own gain.
“I have an appointment with my eye doctor,” I hear from the women behind me as they leave their table and walk past mine. Their conversation is lost to me as they exit the coffee shop. The opening door creates a chilling breeze that blows Brut back into my senses. I am thrust back to the summer of 1993 when I could smell Jeremy on my hands after a day spent in each other’s company.
“Thanks for meeting me!” said the female insurance agent.
“Yeah. I figured it was a shot in the dark,” said her companion as they arose to leave.
“I had a buddy who just sold a bunch of shares…,” one of the laptop wielding brokers has finally addressed his companion revealing their relationship and the confirmation of their occupation.
I realize all the tables around me are now vacant and I have been thrust into coffee shop isolation. I feel like a social pariah. Should I shout, “Unclean!” like a Biblical leper?
I finish my Americano and wonder why it doesn’t taste as good as normal. I contemplate another. It’s rude to occupy a table without a drink.
An elderly couple enters the coffee shop and sits behind me. They are discussing the development of their spring time flowers. I wonder at such devotion in January. Then wonder at my level of stupidity in spending hundreds of dollars the previous winter to attend OSU’s Master Gardeners program upon the recommendation of a psychic. I can be such a bubble-head!
“I told her I think that’s what makes a good employee…,” said one of the brokers to his headset. His companion has disappeared into the bathroom.
I contemplate staying longer or leaving. I don’t know where I will go since I still have a couple of hours before work. But what if I stick around and a car group comes in? A “car group” is a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses out in the door-to-door work together—in the same car. I grew up going out with car groups and stopping for a coffee break between 11am and 12pm. It’s the only part of the ministry people look forward to.
I grew up here as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and last spring, April 4, 2012, I was disfellowshipped for apostasy, witchcraft, Satanism—the story changes depending on who you talk to. But the result is the same—expulsion, banishment, figurative death. When I see people I was once friends with, they run the other way. I am a pariah—the leper. I don’t need to cry out, “Unclean!” because everyone here knows my face. They know I’m unclean.
Every suit that walks in the glass doors makes my heart stop. The coffee shop reaches a lull of conversation–awaiting my decision. I arise and gather my belongings. I flee before the hatred of those who profess love. I will always flee.