I ran into Stacy at Starbucks today. It was by chance as all run ins are. Since I last heard she had moved to Toronto.
It had been five years since I saw her. We were dating at that time. Though it was only for a weeks I'm able to remember that. What I don't remember (or don't understand) was why we dated. You'd think you'd remember something like that but I guess not. Seeing her now, I can only say that it was a strange experience for the both of us.
Stacy hadn't changed much. She was the kind of girl who if she had been raised in South America would have gotten more attention. She wore a black sport coat, cut in a tomboy like fashion, and black leggings. I recognized the outfit. It was her go-to one. I was deciding whether I should say hi or not when she turned around and did it for me.
"John! What are you doing here?" she said. She smiled wide
and held hand towards her chest, showing both surprise and relief.
"Hey Stacy," I said, "It's been a while."
"I know. Like what? Six years?"
"Something like that."
I must have sounded bitter or cold because Stacy's smile narrowed a bit; she lowered her pitch down to somewhere not so happy, not so surprised, and not so high. I'm like this sometimes. My wife, a clinical psychologist at Kaiser, liked telling me that I had a flat-affect but she never asked me to change.
"What are you doing in Los Angeles?" Stacy said.
"I'm here for a Children's Lit. conference. What about you? I think I should be asking you about that"
"I'm just on a small vacation."
"I'm not surprised" I said and smiled. "You're always on small vacations."
"That's what life is all about," she said.
I smiled again. "It is. I heard from Henry that you're living in Toronto now.”
“Really? That was last year. I'm in Madison right now.”
“That's funny, I'd never imagine you and Wisconsin together.”
“I don't think too much about what belongs together or not I guess. I just go.”
The barista told us that he was ready to take our order. After she
recited hers, I added a tall coffee and paid for both of us.
"John, come on," she said.
"No worries, it's just coffee," I said.
I'm not sure why I did that. It was likely that I felt obligated to because of our history together. It was the same kind of obligation that compels me to say hello to someone who I know whether they are close to me or not, I stand and chit chat for a few seconds, ask them how they are, things like that, and then I move on.
"So what are you doing now John?" she asked
"I'm an assistant professor.”
"Oh where at?"
"At Modesto Community College."
She looked a little puzzled, tracing maps in her head.
“Up north on 99,” I said.
"I always remember you telling me that you wanted to be one. I'm glad you made it. You're teaching English right?"
"Yeah literature. What about you? What are you up to now?"
"God. I don't even know where to begin. It feels like I'm doing so many things all at once."
"You can begin by starting," I said.
"Well, I'm an author now. I'm a full-time traveler, as you know. And I'm a consultant. I'm liver of life."
"A liver of life. What do you write about?”
"I write about travel and how to live life more beautifully and pay attention to the possibilities for magic and bewilderment that are all around us."
"I know right? There's so much we can do, it seems such a waste to not realize them. We're all bundles of moments waiting to happen," she said.
"Is that what you write or consult on?"
"It is. People need to be shown how to live sometimes. I mean all of us have ideas but not all of us know how to make that happen. We're trapped in these normal lives and we're not happy because we're scared to leave them. We're working but we're not happy. We're making money and we're not happy. There's so much out there. I want to be an example for them. So what I'm doing is actually going out and just doing it."
"That's great. How's that going for you?” I asked. I was genuinely interested. “Is there a market out there for that?”
"I don't like to use the word market, but it's doing pretty well. You'd be surprised."
"Sorry, I don't mean to doubt you or anything like that. I was just curious because I have a friend whose been talking about going into consulting on things like this."
"Yeah. She works for Geico and can't stand it. She keeps telling me that she worries her life would end up being empty. But at the same time, she can't bring herself to quit without having some kind of plan in place. I told her if she's waiting for some kind of firm plan, she might never leave at all."
"If she feels like that she should. Honestly, things won't change unless we make them change."
"I know. Take you for instance. I always tell her about people like you," I said. We say things like this all the time as if it was that easy. There's nothing more true than truth right?
I was not so genuine this time. The coffee was somewhat bitter. "Be right back," I told Stacy.
I went to the cream counter and added another pack of sugar to my cup. People are full of wonderment. Life is about the little bewilderments and magical moments. Bundles upon bundles of magical moments and endless possibilities. Somehow, I wish I had time to think about things like that and at the same time, glad I didn't have time to think about them.
This kind of rhetoric, I use to be a firm believer in it. I still am I suppose. But I didn't buy the house that Jess and I now live in with magic. Six years of small moments did not grant me a Ph. D and my position at the junior college. But maybe I was a fool to be so conventional.
Truthfully, I was envious of Stacy. She had her freedom and she knew how to capitalize on it, how to sell the image of her life to others in order to keep perpetuating it. To me, it resembled a ponzi scheme. Everyone wants to discover their creativity, be an artist, a writer, a poet. It's the only way to live life to the fullest. Carpe diem. This natural desire is also one of the most exploitable.
That she thought this was neither good or bad. I just preferred to know it as it is and move it beyond glamorization and charades. This was a business. Simple as that.
I stirred my coffee until the sugar crystals dissolved completely. At the college I only had to sell the idea of multiculturalism in Sherman Alexie and John Steinbeck. Once a week, I sold the idea of realism as it pertained to Mark Twain. I sold the criterias for a good, well thought out paper, instead of the criterias on what a good life meant or not. Who am I to tell my students these things. I haven't lived their experiences and they haven't lived mine. I don't presume to know a strange well enough to lay out a path for their life.
Not even Jess could tell me that.
A sojourn to Reykjavik paled in comparison to the life that was developing within Jess' stomach. Nothing hurt as much as her affair. Nothing compared to waking up in her warmth. Nothing was more difficult than the work and time we put into obtaining these things. I can't live off excitement alone.
Beautiful moments among the trees and leaves and seasons, walks along bridges under street lights and cocktails, I can not build a life, a complete and whole life, on top of these things. Going from place to place, rootless, untethered, and ultimately alone, stuck in transit.
I sat back down across from Stacy.
"To be honest, I'm feeling that my life is stagnant too. And I
want something new. I don't think I'm getting the most out of it and I
wonder honestly, if I'm really living," I said. “Sorry, I didn't
mean to get all existential on you.”
"We all get to that point eventually," she said. She said that with utmost sincerity, lead on it said.
"I know. I need some more magic it feels like. And honestly, I'm not sure how to go about it, or even where to begin. I've been thinking of quitting my job to write and travel."
"You can begin by starting," she said. "I know you. I'm sure you've already got the thought in your mind."
"I've had it for a long time. So say if I want a session with you, how much would that cost? I want to make it happen. Whatever it is."
I sipped my coffee while keeping my eyes on her.
"Well John, you're my friend, I wouldn't want to charge you for
"No, no no," I waved her off. "Just treat me as one of your clients please. I insist."
I took another sip.
"I'm actually running a promotion right now. It's for a brief
time only, but I'm discounting my sessions by half off."
"What's the normal rate?"
"$150 for an hour," she said.
"So with the promotion, it'll be $75. That's not bad at all," I said. "Actually, that's quite good. Do I pay you now or later. I can write a check or Paypal it.”
“We can talk about that later. Honestly though John, you're a friend, you don't have to do this.”
“No. Come on. It's your time we're talking about. Do you have a business card or anything?"
Stacy reached into her clutch and handed her card to me across the table. It read "Stacy Adams" and underneath that, the titles, "Author, Magic Maker, and Full-Time Lover of Life" on a matte white finish. The presentation was classy and modern. Business like.
I looked at my Seiko. It was a quarter until eleven and I had to go
back to the conference. The lunchtime traffic in Los Angeles was
"Sorry to cut this short but I have to go back to work," I said.
"No problem at all. I'm going to be in Los Angeles for a few days at least. Let's catch up sometime when you're free," Stacy said.
"Sure. I got your number on your card."
I got up and hugged her. It was obligatory.
"I'm really glad I ran into you today. It feels like serendipity,
you're just what I needed.,” I said.
"There's so much more to life. Remember that and you'll be fine."
"I know," I said.
I figured that out on my own a long time ago without having to bath
myself in it and without needing Stacy to remind me.
I laughed while driving through the Los Angeles highway sprawl; in a city of full of dreamers, the dreamers are the last people to trust when it comes to actual living. A colleague texted me and told me that the panel discussion for that afternoon was about The Wizard of Oz. Serendipity indeed.