Sunday, November 18, 2012

Birthday Surprises

As I sat at Panera this afternoon, pretending to study, I witnessed some version of the following exchange.
Birthday Surprises, or
The story of her life, as overheard in Panera

1.       They sit awkwardly at the table, trying to find the normal that at one time must have fit.
He cuts the muffin, unceremoniously, pushes half towards her,
then checks his phone, glances around, scoots his chair in, then out, then in again,
takes the lid off her coffee cup and asks,
"You want sugar?" 
She nods.

2.       "Take off your coat," he says.  "It's warm in here."
He tears open a Splenda and dumps it in her cup.
"What did you do that for?" she asks, voice rising.
"You wanted sugar, Mom.  You want sugar in your coffee."
"I know," she says, glaring at him.
She pauses, then pats his hand.
"That's okay," she says, smiling.
 "That's just okay."

3.       She tugs on her coat and says, "it's warm in here."
"I know," he says, and takes off her coat without another word.
She picks up her coffee and sloshes it down her pink sweater.
"Oh!" she exclaims, frantically brushing the opposite side from the spill.  "I've ruined it."
He scoots his chair out.  Uncrosses and recrosses his legs.  Hands her a napkin.
"That's okay," he says, glancing around. 
"That's just okay."

4.       He checks his phone.  Scoots his chair in.  Out.  In.  Runs his fingers through his hair.
"This is a birthday muffin," he says, pointing to the muffin neither have touched.
She looks at it, and then at him.  "I won't eat it."
"It's for you.  For your birthday.  A nice birthday muffin."
She laughs and he holds out a piece.
"I won't eat it from you," she says, folding her arms.
He excuses himself from the table.
"Read the paper, Mom," he says, pushing the news towards her. 
"Catch up on the world."

5.       When he returns, all is forgotten.
"We'll stay half an hour more," he says.  He pulls out an iPad,
"It's amazing what they make now, Mom.  Look at this." 
She looks, briefly, then points at her sweater.
"Is this color nice?" she asks.
"Sure, Mom." 
She blushes and her voice rises a notch.
"Oh you," she says.
"Don't try to make me beautiful." 

6.       He turns the iPad to her.
"This is your grandson.  In a couple months, he'll be a lawyer."
"A lawyer!" she gasps.  "He looks nice.  He has eyes."
"And a nose and a mouth.  He's your grandson," he says.
He softens and adds, "he's a good guy."
"I should say so," she says, bristling.
He takes a bite of the muffin. 
So does she. 

7.       "Remember when we had big birthday parties at your house?" he asks.
She smiles. 
He sits still for the first time since they arrived and pulls up another picture.
"Remember this?"
She looks at the picture, then looks closer.
"That's a photograph," she says, voice full of wonder.
She touches the iPad, gently, then looks at him, saying,
"It's amazing what they make now." 

8.       He takes another bite of muffin.
So does she.
"That's Dad.  That's you," he says, pointing.
"That's me?" she asks, laughing.
He smiles.  Leans back in his chair,
reveling in the momentary normal they've found.
"I was beautiful," she says, quietly,
"I think we all were." 

9.       They're quiet for a time.
"I just don't know anymore," she admits, about nothing in particular.
"It's okay," he says.  "I love that I get to surprise you
with the story of your life."