OPINION

SGLY: Something between sad, thankful

By Tiffany Chartier
Special to the Prosper Press
Tiffany Chartier

As the elevator takes me to the fifth floor, an odd thought creeps through my mind. This is the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic upsurge that I have been on an elevator - one of the many things that has fallen into the background of what was once a normal doing in a typical week.

Stepping out of the elevator, I do my best not to touch my facemask, despite my nose itching from the smell of bleach. The doctor’s office looks different – half the waiting room chairs have been removed as well as the Keurig and tabletop magazines. I find myself feeling simultaneously leery of the others waiting and thankful to see other people. 

“Tiffany?” a man’s voice calls from the corner of the room. 

I see an older man sitting alone but do not recognize him. How could I? He wears a mask. 

“Bob. Bob from the coffee shop that closed down,” he says.

Ahh… Bob. Another background story. Bob and his friend, Melton, frequented a coffee shop as much as I did years ago until it unexpectently closed. Bob was the stocky, gruff one – Melton, the gentle giant. Both in their mid-to-late 80s. I occupied the same table each time to write; they kept to the table closest to the window to visit. I recall seeing Bob and Melton’s outline in the window light as they got into heated debates over religion and politics. Fingers wagging — handshakes on bets. At times, they would stop to ask my opinion. Hence, a relationship from across the room developed. 

Seeing Bob now from across the room brings joy to my soul even though he looks frailer – thinner. “Bob! It is so good to see you!” In hearing his hearty laugh, a part of me is refreshed to dip my toes into a past normal. “I have missed our talks. Do you still keep in touch with Melton?”

Bob looks around and slips his mask down. “Hon, Melton passed on. He had a sudden heart attack two months ago.” His lips press tight before resolving themselves into a smile. “My guess is he probably argued with God Himself the second he showed up in Heaven.”

I laugh, but at the same time, I am surprised. When the coffee shop closed, so did our relationship. Bob and Melton were teamed in my memories - good memories – and the thought of anything different jostled me. I found an empty chair and took a seat to collect myself.

“Hon,” Bob said with a tone softer than I remember him having, “I shouldn’t have told you. I’m sorry.”

“Oh, Bob, I am the one who is sorry. I didn’t know.” Pre COVID, I would have scooted a chair next to Bob’s and squeezed his hand. My desired response is now altered and confined to a space six feet away. 

I listen to Bob as he shares stories of his time with Melton - adventures and misadventures. We laugh until we cry, and I grab us both a tissue when our tears turn into something between sad and thankful. 

The nurse comes out, and Bob stands. “I would hug you…” his voice falls away.

I notice Bob’s gate is unsteady, and his head is bowed. He is no longer the spirited man in the window light. 

“I want you to know something,” Bob says with a stern point of his finger and a clearing of his throat.

There. There he is… a glimpse of the man I remember. “Yes, sir?”

“When we would come in that coffee shop and find you sitting in the back like you always did, Melton would nudge me and say the same thing. He would say, ‘Now this is the reason why I come here. They don’t make kindness like that no more.’” He gives me another point of his finger. “And I always agreed with him. One of the few things we agreed on.” 

“Bob. Wait,” I say as the nurse continues to hold the door open. I pull down my mask. I want him to see the smile he gave me. I also want him to see the truth of my words. “What you don’t know is I kept coming to that particular coffee shop because I knew you guys would show up.” Bob gives me another one of his robust laughs before following the nurse into the other room. With a final wave, he is gone. 

Coffee shops close. Illnesses happen. Death comes. We learn that sometimes happenstance will never happen again. Moments shared with people should be recognized for what they are – occasions to love and leave people better than when we found them. 

As I get onto the elevator and select ground level, I understand that ground-level looks quite different these days. We long for doing life closer than six feet away from each other. We live cautiously apart with the hope of freely being together again. May we use our moments wisely during this unprecedented time, even creatively, if necessary, remembering that personal interactions are still needed. Small moments can become lasting memories. 

Side note: I regret not scooting my chair next to Bob’s and squeezing his hand. When I grabbed a tissue for us, I should have also taken hand sanitizer and sat beside him. If I had to do it over again, I would have. I would have hugged him. Tight. My miss. Perhaps happenstance will happen again. I am still learning how to adapt to this new normal. I have a lot to learn, but I am thankful for the occasion of today and tomorrow's hope. 

SGLY, dear reader.

(Smile, God Loves You.)