Every morning I go to Starbucks, which is only down the street. Every morning for as long as I’ve been going there, which is a couple years, a woman in a blue car sits in her car in the parking lot.
I asked the guy who’s serving me coffee if she’s living out of her car. I’ve looked into her car as I walked by and it’s packed with the things a person who might be living in their car would have. The back seat is jammed packed with bags. The front seats have just enough room for her to sit and drive. I don’t know what the items are because I’m nosy, but not nosy or rude enough to stop and stare into her car to take inventory.
The coffee server tells me that her husband has cancer throughout his body. He’s been in and out of hospitals, a couple rounds of chemo, and supposedly, he’s considering stopping treatment to accept his fate. This intrigues me that he’s considering stopping treatment. She’s not living out of her car, but she does have major insomnia, so she’s up really early. I nod my head and find my seat to read and finish my coffee.
I see this woman every morning for years!! She gets her coffee and drives to a remote area of the parking lot. I get it in my head that I need to ask about her husband. I need to ask why he’s stopping treatment, because these are my thoughts for myself.
The other day in a caffeine induced manic euphoria I walk across the parking lot towards her car. This is completely out of character for me. I usually sit at Starbucks, bury my head in a book and let the world disappear. I don’t really want to know anyone anymore. Humans are scary things, I’ve discovered.
But this morning I approach her car and she’s got the window down. “Hi, sorry to bother you, but I’ve heard your husband is struggling with cancer.”
And that was all she needed. She unloaded her complete story. I stood near her car and she seemed to be talking into the steering-wheel not really looking at me. For 10 or 15 minutes she told me how her husband has been battling this cancer for years. How it’s spread into his brain and lymph nodes. He’s in the hospital doing another round of treatments to stay alive and control the pain. I can’t even remember most of what she told me because it was shocking and personal and maybe I shouldn’t be standing there hearing this. It felt like I had opened the door on someone who was undressing and they were embarrassed and I was embarrassed.
I asked, “How are you holding up?”
She strummed her fingers over her lips, “I’m a basket case.” She motions to the game she’s playing on her iPhone and the coffee sitting in the cup holder and says, “coffee and these little games are keeping me going, are my little retreat from it all.”
I nod and tell her I’m so sorry to hear this and what else can you say? We give our goodbyes and I back away from her car and slither into my own car. I drive to the other remote end of the parking lot, open my book and pretend to read while disappearing from the world. Ironically, I’m reading Confession, by Tolstoy, which is a great 93 page treatise on his battle with suicide idealization.
The thing is that the next couple of days she’s not at Starbucks. I don’t see the little blue car anywhere. Two thoughts pop in. The first is that I’ve intruded and made someone who wants to be invisible, visible. She’s found a new place where she can be alone, blend with the background and not feel she has to share this horror story. Some place where she can just sit in her car, play her games, sip coffee and maybe, in her mind, be on a beach in Hawaii, life is good, the breeze is warm, friendly and margaritas are chilled to perfection.
The other thought is that her husband died and she’s taking care of the things that need to be taken care of.
I hope I haven’t intruded on her and broken her much needed isolation so that she has to figure out a new routine to avoid probing nosy assholes like me. She was very comfortable in her old routine and it gave her what she wanted, if only for an hour or two.
I did find out what I needed. He is continuing to fight the battle and he’s not given up. He’s found something to hold on to, some reason to keep going. He’s a better man than I am. I continue with Tolstoy to see how he solves the puzzle.