Her coffee was too hot, she said. She usually tells them not to make it so hot. When they do, she can’t drink it right away and she hates that. I wondered, when she said hate, if she really hates it or if it’s just something she doesn’t like very much. I’m always wondering about things like that.
She stirred the whip cream, melted it into her coffee with a wooden stick from the coffee bar. Talked about how, today, differently than some of her yesterdays, she would shake nutmeg and cinnamon into her travel mug and see how her taste buds appreciated the gesture.
I hope it keeps me awake on my way to Flint, she said.
She invited me into her conversation, and I took a step I hadn’t planned on taking. The one on my map led me back to my table, to my isolation, brewing in mediocre circumstances, trying to grade papers. My map used terse words and fake smiles. But the step I took was off the map, it went beyond the hatred I feel for a commitment I must fulfill honorably, with excellence. It left papers ungraded. It spoke with patience for a relationship that must wait behind phone calls and weekend flights to spend forever. It worried not about me; it listened and found waiting unobtrusive.
Her husband, I learned, works across the state and she’s driving across to see him. They’ve been doing this for two years. And will do it still for one more.
I thought fleetingly, while she was sharing, of the eight-hundred miles that separate me and Brad, and how we struggle to appreciate this far-away time before being together, proximally, permanently. About how she was trying something fresh and new, something as simple as spices in her coffee, after two years of regular separation from her permanent lover. Her spices gave me perspective.
Good luck, honey, she said as she left. For what remained of our relationship between Michigan and New York, she meant. Even though she was the one driving to bridge the chasm in a marriage. Three-hundred miles, maybe. Between two that are supposed to be one.
Good luck to you two, she says, and climbs in the van on her way to Flint.