Chicago Portrait no. 32

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You shuffled over my feet to a seat at the couch. Something fell from the sill as you searched for the plug for your laptop. You were tall in patterned, oddly glamorous sweatpants, with braids running down to your hips. You laughed and moved the couch with a man still sitting on it, to reach for the plug in the wall. You apologized and thanked him.

Your wrap came and I moved my filthy bag from the table.

“Thank you, you were fine,” you said.

“My junk was taking up a lot of space,” I said, shoving the bag into the gap between the table and my chair.

“It’s okay,” you reassured me. “I do it all the time.”

I reopened my book. It was new, a Christmas present. The back pages were already scrawled over with a pissy, immature story I’d angrily written about an ex.

My heart was thrumming too hard in my chest. I’d been there two hours but only drunk maybe six ounces of coffee. Lately I’d been furious and irritable at every possible moment. Nothing would let me focus; everyone was loud and inconsiderate and too much, too fast. It worried me for the sake of my future. I worried about the kind of person I would be, if my temper kept growing apace with my responsibilities.

You snaked the cord around and plugged it into the surge protector and then into your laptop. You found a bottle of lotion in your bag and massaged the pale pink fluid into your hands, wrists and elbows angled like a porcelain doll’s. You put the lotion away. I liked the little snapping of the cap and the jingle of your keys.

And then you bent towards the coffee table, elbows on knees, hands clasped, and you prayed. It was silent and very subtle. You paused, pulled out your phone, swiped across the screen, put it back, and reclasped your hands. Looked down. A moment passed, you took a bite. Prayed again. A green cold $6 wrap at a cafe and you prayed three separate times for it.

I’m always mad at myself for not writing enough. I’m always mad at the world, for getting in the way of all my big plans and distracting me with its insistent imperfection. I hate lines and ice on pavement and loud conversations. I am too impatient to find perfect change in my purse or apply chapstick or take my boots off at the door. I spend half my evening missing my boyfriend, and half my morning irritated at any noise he makes.

And then you come into a cafe and fumble with your cords and laugh and put lotion on your hands and pray over a $6 wrap and I am reminded how different other people’s consciousnesses are. And I keep getting these reminders to look outside of my twitching squirreling selfhood, and I keep failing. I cannot get past my awe at people who go slowly, as if life is already complete. I cannot look down at my $2 bag of cheese crisps and find it worthy of prayer, until I see you do it. But even then it does not linger long.

And my stomach is still tight, and I’m still rushing to finish writing this. Always rushing rushing rushing. Never thankful only outraged. Some minds are not built for mindfulness. I think you’d tell me that’s okay that I get frustrated. You’d say you do it all the time. It’s nice of you to offer but I can’t imagine you’re as bad as I am.

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