I do a double-take. He looks so familiar, but I can’t place him. Fifty-something. Wild curly hair. Animated and grinning.
“Miserable morning,” I mutter to myself, adjusting the heating pad beneath the backs of my legs. Turning over the ignition, checking the clock, and fighting the wave of agita over my son’s lateness, again, the 45 minutes wasted at the store, another long night ahead.
I wonder what mood the teenager will be in when he gets home. We fought on the way to school.
Stop moaning, says the Adult Voice. So you’re three hours late. So you had a disagreement. It’s not the end of the world.
And I set aside my annoyance. At least, I try.
Truthfully, I want to scream. And keep screaming until there’s no voice left. But I am an adult. I am that voice. I do not scream. Yet I know I’m stretched too thin and any little thing feels like the straw that broke the camel’s back. My technology traumas over the weekend. My son’s chronic lateness. My fatigue. The pain in my legs.
The fact that I’m too worn out to cook at night, too achy to stand at the stove – that’s what sent me to the Hot Food Bar in the first place. An irritation in the pouring rain. A splurge. A means for a real dinner. The reason I waited, paced, sipped coffee. And the damned ovens were on the fritz. I couldn’t wait any longer.
The coffee was excellent, says the Adult Self. And only $1.69. It costs twice that at Starbucks.
“I know, I know,” I counter. “But I didn’t get what I was after. And now I’m later than ever. Again.”
You were smart enough to grab that value meal at the check-out, she reminds me.
I try to listen, to absorb the logic of the Adult Voice. But now I’m stuck in traffic, I miss my turn, I’m even later getting home. I forgo the umbrella, drag my things in from the car, taking off my damp clothes, putting away the food, laying out the heat and then my laptop in the best chair for a day like this, a day when I want to cry uncle, a day when the pain is hard to ignore, a day when even the laptop won’t cooperate, disappearing into a maintenance mode that requires me to wait.
Your car is running well, she says. They repaired it correctly this time. And I nod.
It wasn’t what you planned, but you’re set for dinner. I nod again.
You can’t sweat the small stuff. Especially if it’s out of your hands. Like ovens. Like rain. It isn’t personal.
I take a breath. The updates and scans on my computer are finishing.
And then I know. The man in the store.
He was the image of my uncle. My sweet, funny, sly, disheveled, scrabble-playing, music-making uncle. He passed away only months after my mother. A man who was full of mischief and merriment, much like my grandfather. My dear, dead uncle. Still alive, in my memory.
The dark cloud is lifting. The Adult Self continues to negotiate with the child, and oddly, instead of crying uncle, I see my uncle, and experience a flood of sensation that is warm and loving.
And I settle in, to begin my day. Three and a half hours late.
It’s not the end of the world, she says. And I nod.