Angel in My Life: Encountering

By: Loolwa Khazzoom, Founder, Dancing with Pain

April 4th, 2009 • Living with Chronic PainPrint Print

This post is a continuation of “Angel in My Life: Grounding.”

I walk slowly and look into the café as I pass it. A different barista is at the counter. So I head to a table in the restaurant and place my order. Breakfast arrives, and I go to the bathroom to wash my hands – passing the café en route. No customers are there. An indistinguishable figure is bending down behind the counter, tending to something on the pastry shelf. Maybe Allen, maybe someone else. I feel too vulnerable and exposed to walk in and call his name. What if it is not him?

Again on my way back from the bathroom, the figure is bent down, tending to something. I return to my breakfast table. I am so nervous that I can barely eat, and I am having a hard time concentrating. It is 10:30 am, and I have to get to the nursing home within half an hour. I have flown in for a conference with the supervisor, social worker, and physical therapists – to discuss my mother’s so-called medical “care,” which has been anywhere between unsatisfactory and deadly.

I feel pressured by time. If that is Allen in the café, he will only be there until 1:00 pm. Once I am at the nursing home, I will not come back to the hotel until the evening. I will take my mother out for the afternoon. I decide that I will call Allen and let him know I am in town. I ask the waiter to wrap up my breakfast, which I have hardly touched.

On my way out the door, I decide to peek into the café one more time. Allen is taking a customer’s order. I stride in, proclaiming, “How’s my favorite barista doing?” He looks up, surprised. His face lights up but also seems a bit tense, confused. “Hey,” he says, smiling. His face promptly returns to normal, as he gives the customer 100% of his attention.

I wait, the clock ticking. He does not even look my way. I get agitated. He hasn’t called for 10 days, and now he’s not excited to see me. This is bullshit. “I gotta cruise,” I say, opening the door with my back, as I put my hand to my ear in the shape of a phone. “Call me.”

“I can’t,” he says. “My phone has been broken for almost two weeks.”

Oh. I stop.

Allen nervously gives his attention back to the ordering customer, who waves her hands around and encourages us to finish talking, saying she’ll come back later. She changes her mind, returns to the counter, then leaves again.

Amidst the back-and-forth confusion, Allen and I exchange stilted conversation: “When are you getting off work?” I ask. “Three o’clock, but I’ll be in the restaurant,” he answers. Once the customer is gone for good, I approach the counter. Allen seems distant, awkward.

“Come here and give me a hug,” I offer, opening my arms. “A hug, yeah,” he says, as if grasping for how to behave. He walks stiffly from behind the counter, approaches me at a perpendicular angle, and essentially bumps his left shoulder against my right, his arm patting my back.

A stranger.

“So should I call you here later, since your phone is broken?” I ask, as I begin to leave. “I’ve got stuff to do today, but you should stop by work and say hi,” he answers nonchalantly. “OK,” I reply. “Fuck you,” I think. I walk out the door.

The story continues with “Angel in My Life: Resolving.

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