With two little kids at home, I find myself on a perpetual quest for moments of peace and quiet. Whether I grab time during their naps, or sneak upstairs to my room when my husband gets home from work, or escape the house altogether for an hour of writing at the local café, I am fiercely protective of whatever time I get to myself.
If anything poses a threat to that time, I quickly put an end to it, i.e. turn off cell phone, walk away from the pile of dirty dishes in the sink, ignore the unfolded laundry and the food on the floor under the highchair. If the threat is something I cannot control, I feel panic start to rise inside me. Unexpected house guests are usually the most welcome thing in the world – except between the hours of 1 and 3 pm, when the house is finally silent. If I’ve made it as far as the café (a great achievement), the last thing I want is being forced to visit.
I am currently sitting in the café, mulling over the past few minutes. Upon entering, a middle-aged gentleman purchasing a coffee and two muffins strikes up a conversation with me: “Check out these new snow shoes I got! They’re completely waterproof. Best purchase I’ve made this winter! Marlene talked me into them.” (Am I supposed to know who Marlene is? I don’t, though there is only one shoe store in town and I’ve been there multiple times.) I compliment him on their apparent lack of salt stains.
“What are you getting?” Next thing I knew, he’s buying me my tea. I ask his name and he looks surprised. “We’ve met before! Come on! I work at the store.” (Maybe he thinks I’m Heather; see post here!) I do recognize his face, at least, so I’m not completely clueless.
We then have a brief exchange about the need for an increase in spontaneous gestures of generosity, and though I am truly grateful for the tea, I can feel the familiar panic rising in my chest. Since he’s bought me a tea, do I owe him a conversation? That simply can’t happen; I only have an hour, and I’m acutely aware of every minute ticking by.
The man moves on and I pick up my tea. The server, also an acquaintance, leans over to whisper, “He’s an odd one. Make sure you get your computer out so he knows you don’t want to talk!”
I maneuver my way into the last available booth and, wouldn’t you know, he picks a comfy armchair just inches away. I smile awkwardly, and grasp wildly in my bag for headphones. I never use headphones anymore; they are strictly for emergencies such as this one. Luck is with me and I plug in to iTunes, enacting the epitome of detestable anti-social acts. Usually it drives me nuts when people disconnect themselves from the world in public settings… but today I feel justified.
I can’t move my eyes from the screen because he’ll pick up on what I’m looking at and comment. Like, for instance, I make eye contact with his muffins. He covers them up and jokes, “Don’t look at my muffins!” Poor guy. I know he’s starved for interaction, but today I’m selfish and frantic to preserve my time alone. Soon he starts talking to another guy with no heed given to the volume of their voices. I want to scream. Even my headphones can’t drown them out.
Then the most coveted seat in the café becomes available – the beautifully expansive table beside the front window. Is it rude to get up and walk away from the man who bought my tea? Do I owe it to him to stay? I hesitate for a split second. No way! I can’t give up the opportunity for outdoor visual inspiration because someone else chose to buy my drink! I start piling up my stuff and respond to his inquisitive look: “Sorry, gentlemen, but I have to leave you. My favourite seat just opened up.” Then I beeline for the front and sink into the bench with a sigh of contentment. Alone, at last!