A conversation I overheard this past Saturday keeps popping up in my head. I thought about it while I was driving back to Chicago Monday afternoon. I thought about it while I was putting on my makeup the other day. I thought about it while I was waiting on a table last night. It just keeps popping in my head, uninvited, at random moments. I don’t really know why. Maybe it’s because it has nothing and everything to do with me.
I was out to lunch in Indy with my brother and his girlfriend. The restaurant was crowded, and the table behind us was a group of loud, giggly young women. My guess is they were freshman or sophomores at Butler—they all had that excited, freshly realized air of independence about them. From my seat, I was facing their table. While we were waiting on our food for what seemed like forever, I was getting increasingly cranky—a combination of being so hungry I was about to start chewing on the tablecloth, and the table of loud women. If one of them giggled one more time, I was going to throw a bottle of hot sauce at them. Basically, I was hungry. (If I’m this cantankerous at 25, can you imagine what I’ll be like at 65? Yeesh.)
Anyway, once our food arrived, I pretty much forgot about them, until I overheard one girl talking to the now silent group. She was talking about someone going through chemotherapy and how it had been really tough so far. “But the good thing is, she hasn’t gotten any mouth sores yet,” she said. By this point, I had realized this girl was talking about her mother. My sandwich, which had been absolutely delicious until I heard that statement, became tasteless. In that one statement, I heard how scared she was, and how much she needed her mom to be okay. I looked up, and the girl who’d been talking was directly across from me.
Her friends were leaning toward her with sympathetic expressions. You could tell that they really cared about her, you could tell that they felt genuine sorrow for what she was going through—but I could also tell that they had no idea what to say or do. When I looked from them to the girl speaking, my heart lurched into my throat. Her eyes were glossy with the tears she was working really hard not to let fall. She looked so young and innocent—this cute, wide-eyed young woman pushing her bangs off her face, trying not to cry. “I’m sorry, you guys,” she said, blinking rapidly. “I know this is a total downer.” A chorus of “no’s” replied, and she smiled at her friends.
I had to look away then. I stared down at my sandwich and fought back my own tears. Because all I could think was, I was that girl. I remember when I was that girl. Part of me wanted to jump up from the table, give her a hug, and tell her I knew how she felt. I remember hanging out at the dorm freshman year at IU when Mom was sick, and constantly fighting the conflicting emotions of either trying to pretend everything was fine, or actually talking to my new friends about my mom’s illness. For me, that quickly changed to pretending everything was fine, or actually talking about how heartbroken and lost I was over my mom’s death.
Of course, had I actually jumped up and given this stranger a hug, she probably would have thought I was insane. I know how I would have responded: “You don’t know me. You don’t know my mother. Leave me alone.” But who knows, maybe this girl is nicer than me. She might have just smiled and said thanks. Or maybe she would have called the police.
Either way, it’s true: I don’t know her, and I don’t know her mother. But for whatever reason, for the last few days, I keep thinking and hoping and praying and pleading that this girl’s mother will make it. I hope that next year, at the start of the school year, her mom will come visit her at her new apartment, or sorority house, or wherever, and they’ll smile at each other, knowing even more how special their bond is. She’ll hug her mom tight when she leaves, because she knows not to take her presence for granted anymore. I hope, I hope, I hope.
Because I remember when I was that girl, talking to my friends about mom’s future lung and heart transplant, my eyes glossy but my voice still hopeful. I remember. I don’t want her to be me. I want her to have her mother.
I know I’ll never see this young woman again. I have no way of knowing what will happen to her or her mother. I’m sure that soon, that conversation will stop intruding my everyday thoughts, and I’ll stop worrying about what’s going to happen to this girl with the sick mom. So I tell myself that her mom is going to be fine. She’s going to make it.
But for now, I’m thinking about her, because it has nothing and everything to do with me.