How strange that I don’t know you at all.

This was a daily prompt writing exercise. Take the third line of the last song you listened to and write for 15 minutes.

“Would you two like some water to start?” the waitress asked, almost robotically to my girlfriend of four years and I.

“Sure. Bottled, please,” Charly ordered sweetly; as she simultaneously flipped open her menu.

I loved Charly.  I loved that she hated that her parents named her Charly.  I loved that when she turned 18 she had changed her name legally from “Charlie to Charly.” I loved that she bit her nails when she thought no one was watching.  I loved her family.  I loved that she didn’t love dogs.  I loved that she never drank tap water but on a few occasions I had caught her drinking directly out of the sink after a night of too much white wine. I loved a million little things about her.  I loved her enough to have had visited a jeweler earlier that afternoon on my lunch break to start scoping out engagement rings.  I was going to ask Charly to marry me that weekend.

So on that Wednesday night we went to our favorite restaurant in Buffalo.  We always sat in a booth by the window that overlooked the street.  The restaurant was located just minutes from the falls and the morning snow had settled nicely on the pavement, about 7 inches high.  That was nothing in Buffalo.

“What do you think you’re gonna get to eat? What are you feeling?” I asked her knowing she was either going to order the salmon or blackened chicken.

“Chicken,” she answered just as the waitress returned and placed our waters beside each of us.  Charly gave her the expected, closed-mouth smile instead of thanking her.

Charly and I had met our junior year at Canisius College right here in Buffalo.  As fate would also have it, we were both from Philadelphia.  Philly is a big city.  She went to private school her whole life and I was a public school kid.  When graduation arrived we had both lined up jobs right here in Buffalo and settled nicely into our apartment that had a lot of space, but horrible parking.  Charly fell in love with the place because every summer tourists come through all of our neighbor’s yards to participate in the famous “Garden Walk.”   We couldn’t imagine calling any other place “home.”

I loved Charly.

We placed our orders just as the restaurant was filling up.  Most of the patrons were regulars too, especially in the dead of winter. I gave the polite nod for the both of us when I recognized someone, seeing that Charly’s back was facing the people.  She liked watching the snow fall.

“So, what do you want to do this weekend?” Charly asked, as she reached her hands over the table to grab mine.

I smiled.  She was wonderful.  “Leave this weekend to me,” I said, hoping I didn’t give away too much.  I wanted her to be surprised when I asked for her hand, even though I had asked her father’s permission on Thanksgiving when we returned to Philadelphia for the holiday.  He had pulled me into a big bear hug, already welcoming into the family.

“But it’s already Wednesday!”  she urged, clearly wanting to know the plans.

“Don’t worry.”  I squeezed her hands.  She ordered a Cappuccino.

Charly and I were a very matter-of-fact couple.  I wouldn’t say we were romantic.  Neither of us would ever say that it was love-at-first-sight or anything.  We grew into a couple naturally.  There was no white light, no slow motion scenes, and no rose petals in our life.  But it was solid.  My other friends, all getting married slowly but surely, always spoke of how the “world stopped” when they locked eyes on their wives for the first time.  How they just “knew.”  Charly and I were different.  And I honestly did not believe in soul mates.  I believed you found someone that you could be comfortable with.  What did it matter if your heart didn’t stop every time she walked into the room?  That sounded way too unhealthy anyway.

As Charly prepared her cappuccino, adding more sugar than there was hot liquid, I saw the couple enter the restaurant and take a seat at the bar, about fifteen feet from our booth.

I couldn’t keep my eyes off her.  The woman at the bar with the man, not Charly.  Not because she was “sexy” or dressed promiscuously.  I wasn’t into that anyway.  I honestly don’t know why I couldn’t take my eyes off of her.  I found myself staring longer just to figure out why I was staring in the first place.

Charly didn’t notice.  The woman did though.  She peaked slightly over the man’s shoulder and directly into my eyes.  That was the moment I realized I had never locked eyes with someone so intensely before.  Did I know this woman from somewhere?

Then that was that. The check came, I paid, and Charly and I went home.  I just couldn’t shake that weird feeling that had taken over my body.  When I went to bed I didn’t dream.

Thursday morning I woke up and got ready for work like I always did.  I got up first and showered.  By the time I got out, Charly was just waking, about to start her morning rituals.  We kissed goodbye and I told her I would call her on my lunch, like I always did.  Something was still gnawing at the back of my mind.

I walked to Starbucks, like I did every morning.  I got on the long line that wound around the store.  A bell jingled every time a person came and went.

That’s when my heart stopped. I could’ve sworn it did anyway.  The woman from the restaurant had entered Starbucks and took a spot in line right behind me.  I couldn’t catch my breath.  Did I know her from somewhere?  Had she always come to this Starbucks and I had never noticed her?  She wasn’t the most beautiful girl I had ever seen – I want that to be made clear, I am no rolling stone.  Christ, my parents had been married for 32 years by then.

She tapped me on my shoulder and I could’ve passed out.  What was she doing to me?

“Hey. I saw you last night too. I have to ask….do I know you from somewhere?  It’s been bugging me since last night,” she said, almost in one breath.   She spoke fast, fluidly.

Maybe we did know each other from somewhere!  If she had that “we met before” feeling too, we must have.

I cleared my throat.  I was congested all of a sudden.  “Did you go to Canisius?  Or do you work in the Henry Complex Building?”

“No and no.  I live right here though, two blocks away.  Maybe we have seen each other in Starbucks or something.  I come almost every morning.”

I had definitely never seen her here before.  “Yeah, that’s probably it.”, I lied.

“You’re a terrible liar,” she said looking over my shoulder and to the coffee menu that hung on the wall. She squinted hard at the sign.

“And you need glasses,” I pressed.

“Ahh.  Ya got me.  I left them at home.  How’d you know?”

“You do a horrible squint,” I said through a smile.  What the hell was I doing?

We stared at each other for what seemed an hour.  In reality, it was probably 20 seconds.  Then we were interrupted.

“I can help who is next,” a barista called.

“I can also help someone,” another barista urged, almost like she was auctioning off some fine art, instead of selling ground up coffee beans.

It was both of our turns to place our order.  We both ordered a “dopio” – a double espresso.  We both smiled.  I know this because I was looking right at her.

I can’t explain my feelings in that Starbucks or my actions.  Something inside of me, a part of me I had never used before, let me know that if I didn’t talk to this woman – today – I would regret it the rest of my life.

“Would you like to sit and have coffee with me?”, I blurted out before my mind could tell me to shut the hell up.

She hesitated.  “Sure.”

We didn’t talk about anything specific.  Just about work and the snow.  At the same time, something was different.  Something was in that conversation that had been lacking in every single conversation I had ever had with Charly.  No, it wasn’t infatuation, it was sincere intrigue.  I didn’t want the conversation about nothing in particular to end.

Again, I can’t explain how I knew the things I knew – but I knew I knew she felt whatever it was I was feeling too.  The unexplainable.  The feeling of knowing someone your entire life.  Those feelings I had always thought of as bullshit were now supremely real to me.

I was 3 hours late for work that Thursday morning.  And I was changed.  I sat at my computer in my office for the rest of the day Googling her job that we had discussed in the coffee shop.   I found her contact page and stared at her professional picture for a few minutes too.  I was enchanted.  I was entranced.  I had to get over whatever this was.

Regardless of how I thought I felt in just knowing someone for mere minutes, I had a life outside of that Starbucks.  I had plans.  I was proposing on Saturday.  All of a sudden though, pure panic took over my body and I felt all the color drain from my face.  Though, Jessica, the woman whose picture I had been staring at, and I never crossed any lines in our conversation, I found myself factoring her into my decision to marry Charly.

How ridiculous is that?  I loved Charly.  I had been with her four years.  My eyes or hands or lips had never strayed even once.  And now, I meet someone who I discuss the weather with over a cup of coffee, and I question the last four years and my entire life moving forward?

I shook my head a couple times, maybe hoping Jessica would be erased from my mind.  And I was sure she would eventually disappear from my memory, and I would marry Charly and be fine.  I loved Charly.

Growing up, my sister and I would always ask my mother how she fell in love with my father.  We would ask, “Will you love dad forever?”  She would reply, “Yes, of course.”  We would ask, “Will you be with dad forever?” She would reply, “Nothing can be certain.”  We would ask, “Aren’t you the love of his life?” She would reply, “We’d like to think so.  But you never know.  Your father could walk into CVS tomorrow to pick up his prescription and meet the love of his life in line to pay.  You never know when you meet the love of your life, until the moment you meet the love of your life.”

People are planners by habit.  As a species, we love order.  We need it.  We need to feel like we have control over the short time we are on this planet.  We keep our calendars and our friends.  We like to think we live life without any blind spots, no out-of-left-field happenings.  You grow up, go to college, get a job, date a girl, and after a certain amount of time, you decide to marry her.  Why?  Because “x” amount of time has passed?

Why did I want to marry Charly? I loved her.  I can’t honestly say that I was in love with her though.  Even before Starbucks, we often argued about my disconnect from her.  More times than not we were buddies – not lovers.  We were comfortable and secure – not romantic and spontaneous.

It was lunch time.  I had a phone call to make.

It rang a couple times until an all-too-familiar voice answered.

“This is Jessica.”

I felt myself smiling a ridiculous smile again.  “This is Jake.”

“Jake! Interested in some office supplies?”

“I am interested in getting coffee one month from today. At Starbucks. You don’t have to answer now.”

And I hung up.

At a very young age many just distinguish all hope of falling madly in love, and they settle.  Many would rather feel taken care of and safe, than feel what real, raw love can do to you.

You think you know what love is until one day someone comes along who takes the yardstick you were using to measure love and breaks it in half over their knee.  Everyone has the potential to meet the person who could rewrite their life story, for the better.  Something you need to realize though is that in order to find that kind of love, you need to leave your comfort zone and accept that life is as unpredictable as the weather.  You have to be willing to temporarily hurt people and you have to be willing to permanently destroy relationships you had become accustomed to.

Many don’t do this.  I could’ve shut that feeling from my mind.  Ignored my heart, so to speak.  I could’ve asked Charly to marry me that Saturday like I had planned.  I would have been content, living life as I had originally planned.  But I would have missed the point that most people still choose to ignore as well.

We shut down. We settle when there is most definitely the type of love out there that comes along once in a lifetime.  It never holds back.  It risks everything.  And we’re about to let it fly because we are afraid?  If this person is not the “one”, if you could go to bed and not wonder what they are doing or who they are doing it with…if what you need just isn’t there, let it go.  Keep living your life like you were, certain you will not have any regrets.  BUT if you really think you can love this person.  I’m talking scary, messy, no-emotions-barred need, if you’re ready for that, then think about what you’re about to lose just because you want to stick to the plan and not hurt anyone else.

This is YOUR life, and you only get one go around.  You can have an ordinary life and be content, but you could also have an extraordinary life and be in love.

Growing up, kids think their parents are soul mates.  My kids will be right.

Jessica is expecting our first child this winter.

No, we are not naming her “Fate.”  How cliché.


9 responses to “How strange that I don’t know you at all.

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