The cursor blinks on my screen. Blank page.
What words today? I am sitting in Panera Bread—not quite a local coffee shop, but I’m here regardless—and it’s lunchtime. The entire seating area is full, but I have come here on purpose. I want to see people. More importantly, I want people to see me.
Across from me, a couple with five young, blonde children is enjoying a conversation, as if the room was empty and their children weren’t bouncing around wildly. They hardly notice when one boy, the youngest, pokes his sister in the ear with a straw.
I tip my head back to drink my coffee. I haven’t said a word to anyone, except for the woman who took my order and offered me a Panera card, but it helps to be around people nonetheless.
A trio of high school girls is talking about orchestra class and the Super Bowl and the brown spot on an apple. Also, how a guitar doesn’t seem that different from a violin—yes, it is—no, it isn’t if you think about it.
I have come here for the coffee and the bathrooms, because the toilets at my house are both clogged and I can’t fix either of them with a plunger. To make matters worse, my internet isn’t working, so I am here for that, too.
A boy whose foot is wrapped in an ace bandage twice the size of his leg hops in—literally—without crutches. He and his dad sit next to me and share an iced tea and talk about Legos. And then asparagus.
Conversation is strange when you’re not in it. When you’re overhearing and not participating, even the most natural conversations seem to hop about nonsensically. Kind of like your thoughts. My second cup of coffee is not as good as the first. But in their defense, it has gotten busier still, and they probably haven’t had time to re-brew it.
“Stop staring at people, Dad,” the hopping boy says after they’ve both fallen silent over bowls of soup. “You’re staring at people.” “I’m not staring,” he says, “I’m people watching.”
I am people watching, too, but I hope they’re watching me. I don’t mean that in a selfish way. It’s just that it would be silly to leave home, where I can brew my own coffee, just to be invisible here, too. So, I also am here for the people, the strangers who don’t know that we are companions this Saturday.
The line keeps getting longer. This is the lunch rush that never ends. More people. More sandwiches.
I am starting my third cup of coffee. I don’t feel well; I haven’t been sleeping enough lately, and I don’t have much energy. I lay in bed this morning for hours because it was too much work to get out when I didn’t have any plans. It’s not laziness.
The woman at the table next to me is wearing yoga capris and a Lululemon jacket; she is gingering eating a spinach salad. Her boyfriend, who also is wearing workout gear, is eating a creamy chowder from a bread bowl—with a side of baguette. She grabs a hunk of bread without asking and starts talking about the burgers at Steak and Shake.
I walked the dog this morning, but the sidewalks are mostly ice now. It was a frustrating, exhausting trek—for both of us, apparently. We came home and napped at 11 a.m.
An elderly, Asian couple walks in and stands away from the rest of the line. Without looking at each other, they have an entire conversation while staring at the menu. They turn around and walk out.
I remember that my third cup of coffee was decaf; that was a good choice, at least; I can go home and nap again if I want. My page is no longer blank, people have seen me, and I’ve used the internet here to look up “ways to unclog a toilet without a plunger.”
At the register, a father lifts his three-year-old daughter and says, “What do you see that you like, honey?” She points: “Min-min!!”
I have escaped the worst of my loneliness now. It is time to go home.
Placing the girl’s feet on the counter while she leans back on him, the father buys a cinnamon roll. And a cookie.
And a carrot cake muffin with frosting that is actually a cupcake.