Photo credit: Steve Levi
I saw him as I sat in the window at Starbucks. A little boy, no older than three; wispy brown hair, dressed in a dapper outfit of khakis and a buttoned coat, holding his mother's hand as they walked past on the sidewalk. I had been sitting there an hour. Ever since I was 19 and Starbucks was a place where I spent many hours brewing espresso and steaming milk for customers, my toes tapping a rhythm to the jazz music, I have sought solace in the overstuffed chairs and steaming lattes when life has gotten hard.
Last week life was hard. It wasn't so much the rising at 4 am to catch a ferry to go into Vancouver, although I was tired; no, it was leaving my husband behind to allow a surgeon to rectify something that was wrong. A routine surgery, they called it, as if the cutting of our bodies with sharp instruments is really ever routine. John wandered off, tethered to an IV bag attached to a rolling stand, looking small and vulnerable as he was swallowed by up by the swinging doors and descended into the bowels of the hospital.
I tried not to freak out. Really, I did. Wandering down the street to Lonsdale avenue, I turned the corner and promptly sought refuge from the cold in a book store.
"HELLO!" a strange woman bellowed. I blinked, startled. "HOW ARE YOU?" She picked through the books on the table, looking at me expectantly.
I wanted to say, "How do you expect me to feel? My husband is up at that hospital, and the very last thing I want is to be here. I won't believe he's really okay until I see him for myself. Did I ever tell you how my Mom said that when she was young, her Dad, my Grandfather, went in for a 'routine' thing at the hospital and never came out?"
Instead I smiled wanly and escaped to the back of the store to hide among the cookbooks, running my hands over their smooth, glossy covers and thumbing through the pages of Jamie Olivers, Nigellas, and Gordon Ramsays. Some time later the lady was gone and I emerged out into the cold air on the street again. Lost. Lonely.
I wasn't familiar with the area, but there was no mistaking the green sign in the distance that shone like a beacon and held the promise of free wireless, hot lattes, and solace. Soon I was inside and with tea and muffin in hand, I settled into a chair tucked into the corner with a view of the street; away from the rest of the customers, where I could curl up and try to tame my spinning, out of control mind.
Instead, I wanted to cry. It was irrational, really. I knew in my head that John would be fine, but the last year has been such a blur. I never stopped long enough to let myself think about any of the health issues that have been unsolved, small things that have cropped up every now and then like a stray weed in a beautiful garden, until that moment. Suddenly, it was if I had paused to take a really good look, and with growing horror could see that my beautiful garden had been overtaken.
Vague tweets made their way out to the Internets as I tried to respect his plea not to talk about it, write about it, mention it, but the tide was rising and I felt like I needed something to grab hold of. On the other hand, I didn't want to talk about it lest I begin to drown and succumb to the ugly cry right there among the businessmen and small children sipping their frothy hot chocolates.
I will not cry. I. will. NOT.
As I picked at my muffin, the boy caught my eye. His little fingers clutched his mother's hand as they made their way along the side walk, until he suddenly let go and turned to face a woman. She was dressed in a business suit; obviously on her way to somewhere important, but her eyes twinkled when she saw him.
Her face lit up into a grin, and suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, the little boy danced a jig. His tiny feet, clad in sneakers, tapped and twirled to imaginary music, and with arms outstretched, he unabashedly danced for this stranger lady on the street. It was as if a beaming ray of sunshine, of hope in the form of the simple joy of an innocent child, had spilled over and became a tangible moment right there in front of me. My fingers reached out to touch the cool glass of the window as I watched, mesmerized.
Slowly, a smile played across my lips as the little boy ran on his fat little legs to catch up with his mother, he clasped her hand, and they crossed the street together. I sipped my tea, watching their heads bob off into the distance.
Maybe this day wouldn't be quite so bad after all.