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June 24, 2024

Conversation with Ian

By Jacob Greb

“Café on the corner of Bristol and Ontario,” the message blared like the morning wake alarm, the one you tend to snooze over and over again because the day doesn’t seem appealing. Living doesn’t seem appealing.

To sleep is to take a break. Shut everything off and not exist for a while. But the ‘while’ becomes a day. Becomes a week. Becomes a year. I’ve been hitting the snooze button for a year, resetting every morning to the same old feeling of blah, of dullness.

The pine-needle green door to the little shop gets lost underneath a heavy stack of a high-rise, but I manage to find it and enter the urban dwelling for the hip and the young. I don’t feel young or hip. I feel heavy and weighted down, like the burden on the shoulder to finally emerge back to civilization and the realm of dating.

A man in his young thirties waves at me as if I was supposed to recognize him and gestures to join him. I oblige.

“Hi, I’m Ian,” he gets to his feet and extends his hand. No jitters or a nervous smile. No shaking hands or intense jumpiness. Ian is quite calm and collected. For a moment that takes me aback and I become worrisome. Will I be the nervous one? Will I be the awkward one? I mean for a year I haven’t felt much of anything other than dullness and all of a sudden I feel fear, and doubt. I immediately try to shake the fruitless thoughts off and shake Ian’s hand.

“Marvin,” I answer without being asked a question. But, it was given.

“How is Jessica?” Ian asks.

Jessica, our mutual friend, apparently. Curse her. “Impromptu as always.” That’s the short answer. The longer answer, she called me this morning, erratic, wild, and thundering through my phone’s speaker. I’m not sure if I was able to squeeze in two words between her unstoppable chatter. Can you stop a moving train? That’s the question we raise when talking to Jessica. But her excessive jabber was all about the date. If that wasn’t enough, she showed up at my doorstep, well, my parents’ house doorstep, and provided suggestions about my outfit. Or rather grimaced her criticisms at my wrong choices. She pretty much shoved me out the door when I was reconsidering the whole arrangement.

Ian simply smiles and says, “Well, I’m glad for her undue meddling. Her unwarranted intentions come from the heart.”

“If they come from a heart then they are not unwarranted,” I somewhat muse to myself but Ian smiles at my whisper of an argument; and I catch myself, “But, that’s the whole joke. Clever.”

“Not that clever,” Ian rebuts. His confidence is undeniable. Not a blush in sight. That rosy cheek that would flutter to someone who might have been flirting.

Fine, it’s a fair game. I might not be interested and pretend to invest. Or I might already over-analyzing every uttered word and every unintentional movement. I lean back in my seat and try to calm my mind. Stop overanalyzing! Distract yourself! First two of Jessica’s sentences of advice pop into my head. Of course, my mother’s two sentences also appear, ‘You can’t be hiding in the basement for the rest of your life. I won’t have it.’ That last one was however a mother’s threat. Not a warning but a threat.

Distract myself. Distract myself and I search for something, someone other than Ian to look at. I settle at looking out the window or more like looking at the glass of the window. Faded red and green letters spelling out Merry Christmas backward. The white and muted silver snowflakes cover the rest of the glass.

“I thought that would make you chuckle,” and Ian is at it again, interrupting the silence.

“I’m sorry,” and I turn from the window in a quiet haze. I’m trying to be neither here and there, fading from Ian and the reality and yet trying to remain not entirely obsolete.

“Jessica said you have trouble with focus,” Ian says as if it was a diagnosis.

“What else did she say?” I blur out the question somewhat peeved. Curse Jessica. She always does these things. Things like oversharing. But, at least anger brings me back to reality.

“That’s all she said, that you tend to space out. So, not to take it personally. So, not to regard it as rudeness,” and with that Ian winks and grins as if to say that it’s okay, that he gets it.

I’m not sure how I feel about his nonchalant nature; whether it irritates me or calms me. My cautious nature however never ceases. Thus, I don’t believe Ian that Jessica simply stopped at that sentiment, but I let it go.

After a moment of silence, Ian taps his fingers on the table like a man on a mission and says, “What’s your drink?”

“OJ.”

“Cool,” and without reservation, Ian gets to his feet leaving an echo of one more tap on the table, and walks up to the queue.

I feel like screaming but I try to distract myself again and paint over the noise with white stain. The milky liquid drips from the ceiling to the floor, drips onto the diners and their food, onto the tables and chairs, and the servers and cashiers. No noise. No mess. Emptiness. It’s easier to deal with when there is less clutter.

Ian returns with a smirk, not sure if it’s a new one or the same one he left our table with. “OJ as requested,” and he places the bottle of orange liquid gently in front of my hands. He settles back on his chair and proceeds to talk more, “I love snow, blankets, and sentimental movies. That’s probably the worst tagline in a dating app.” Again he laughs at his joke and I stare at him unsure how to react. “You’re a tough crowd.”

“I’ve been called worse.”

“Oh, yeah. Like?”

“Icy.”

Ian laughs, “I can’t see that.” He pauses, “I’m sorry that was rude. I wasn’t being sarcastic. I mean it. I don’t think you’re icy. Maybe unsure, but not icy. I get that. Trying to decrypt me while you preserve yourself. I truly mean no harm. Laughter and smiles tend to ease people. Ease me.”

“So, it’s a manipulative exploit?” I ask but with a level of lesser caution and wickedness.

“I guess you can read it like that. But, I’m also straightforward. So, I’m sorry if this may upset you but what’s the cause for the wall?”

“Depression.” This is as honest as I have ever been but I don’t care for any loss in this instance. Might as well go for the shock value. “Meds. They make me loopy rather than alert. So, the reason for the lack of concentration… That and the…” But I cannot say the word out loud: nerves. It’s like being in therapy. Will I be left in tears at the end of the session? I mean meeting, date. The silence idles as Ian waits for me to complete the sentence as I choose to tell half-a-truth, “jumbled thoughts.”

“That can’t be easy. When were you diagnosed?” His humorous and carefree voice transforms into a caring and gentle one.

“About two years ago. I lost my job and took a deep dive. But, I was lethargic for about five years before that. Unmotivated to exist. Dull. I thought that most people felt like that when they enter the real world of work. You know you do it for the pay, not the happiness. But, I didn’t even care about the money… or living for that matter.” I make a full stop after that admission and Ian stretches his fingers out and presses the tip of his fingers to mine. Then silence as we both look at our touching fingers. “I like salty popcorn, pillows, and inspirational movies,” I quietly utter.

We both grin.








Article © Jacob Greb. All rights reserved.
Published on 2023-06-05
Image(s) are public domain.
1 Reader Comments
R. Standish
06/07/2023
09:31:56 AM
Did not expect the sad tone of this story but a sweet ending.
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