I had a nice idea that turned into a horrible idea unexpectedly. I’ve broken up with “that guy” again, this time for good (then again, I always say that). In a moment of perceived inner strength and out of a desire to learn how to fucking love myself, I decided to take Ava and myself out for pancakes. My thinking was that the act would somehow make me stronger, maybe make me feel more independent and capable. Eating semi-alone is what cool, city people do. What happened was one of the most comically painful experience ever*, which I will describe for you now. (*not the most painful experience ever.)
We drove out to Cracker Barrel because it’s the only real place to get pancakes in the evening. “That guy” and I used to go there all the time because I’m secretly an eighty year old woman trapped in the body of a semi-young woman. I also have a real insatiable love for Luby’s, just in case you were wondering. Anyway, I fondly remember the times we argued about my career, his constant staring at other women, our equal levels of jealousy. Oh, the arguments I remember most. So Ava and I pull up and I got a tiny feeling in my chest, which I can only describe as a general aching sadness. But since we were already all the way out in Bellmead, I accepted the feeling as being normal and understandable, (refused to frivolously waste gas) and entered anyway. Then, I encounter the hostess. The stupid, stupid hostess. “How many?” How many? I didn’t anticipate having to state out loud to a completely unknown human being how alone I was on this planet. How many? I figured I’d spare the guy my life story — “Just two” was my answer. We picked out the meal Ava and I always share and when the waitress left to put our request in with the Pancake Gods of this cheesy, cliche chain restaurant, the incomprehensible torture started. “Take these chains from my heart and set me free…” crooned Hank Williams from the speakers. Dolly Parton was next, singing another tear-in-my-beer melody, which for whatever asshole reason sounded louder and more melancholy than ever before in this pathetic place. Almost like it was planned. I kept up a conversation with Ava to block out the soul puncturing tunes, only then to begin noticing all the precious old couples around me. Was there some kind of special going on? Or was I just at the Cracker Barrel at 5 on a Tuesday? Probably both. “Oh God, I’m going to die alone. I’m 27, with no prospects on the radar. If I don’t find someone soon, we’re not going to have time to establish a relationship so intimate that he can change my Depends when we come to the Cracker Barrel and I have an accident.” I feel like you have to know someone for a long time before they can really take care of you when you’re invalid. I’ve assigned an arbitrary number to this theory: 50 years. I better get cracking on finding a mate, or plan on dying early. So we’re sitting there, holding simple conversation about what she did at school when the food finally comes. It had been several minutes since we had ordered, but the music and overflowing old people love had made it feel as long as a factory shift (a factory with misty-eyed employees). She set the plate down in front of us. I looked at the lightly buttered pancakes, the salty bacon, the little pile of eggs in the corner and thought, “This is purely carnal. No strings attached.” Down the hatch. Heartbreak knows no foe greater than a delicious plate of food. I took the butter AND the syrup because today, we feast on feelings.
And to spare you several more sentences of bland narrative, I felt totally disgusting at the end. I didn’t feel stronger in the way I had expected to. If anything, I felt some personal achievement for having sat there for close to half an hour, listening to the saddest music ever written and eating feelings long avoided, in a place haunted with a memory, surviving the entire encounter with a tiny story to tell. Surely there must have been some character building in that. The task of discarding garbage accumulated over the course of that relationship cannot be accomplished by way of syrup, no matter how delicious it is. And I know that. Because I’m smart and intuitive and I go to college. But if I’m thinking of this monumental life change as happening one day at a time, one piece at a time, then surely there is room for a little emotional splurging. We’d hardly be human if we didn’t do that type of thing.
As we left the Cracker Barrel I realized all these things. I had made it through the shitty gauntlet, emerging a victor in the battle of Woe versus Woman. In some stupid, silly way, a piece of Susan that had been voluntarily given away so long ago was won back. Believe me, it’s not about the fucking pancakes. I loaded Ava up and we rolled out of the parking lot, two fighting women, akin in our determination, strength and light, destined for a different sea.
Change is hard for people, and I realize that phrase has been whispered to death to tired, lagging spirits in all types of tumultuous circumstances. Please, someone begin the inspirational wall art now. But it’s true, and maybe that’s why people say it so much. That type of encouragement used to fall flat in my mind — “I hear what you’re saying, I just don’t feel what you’re saying.” I can say that in the last several weeks, that phrase (and those like it) has been felt from top to toe. Change feels like a foreign exchange student coming to visit. They look really exciting at first, but then you realize they stay longer than you expected, they don’t ever disappear and sometimes they want to rake their weird, European nails over your sensitive, warped heart. But whether you like it or not, whether you accept it or not, change is going to happen. Things in life are going to move around, fall through, flip upside down and explode without your permission, and you– I mean, I, had better figure out a way to handle the explosions. Sometimes that means taking Ava on impromptu mommy-daughter dates. Sometimes Change tastes like bacon and sometimes it tastes like bitterness. And somedays, the best you can do is try to carry patience, grace and forgiveness into your daily living. When that inevitably fails (because no one is one hundred percent awesome all the time), you can try serenity via syrup and conquer small, scary things in life one lonely minute at a time. Eventually the newness of hurt wears off and life settles back in. There’s something to be said about the valley. The flickers of light, the whips of mistake and memory, all in some divine, incomprehensible way make us more human. Sometimes when I’m in the valley, I just pretend I’m on a wagon train headed for the hills of California in search of gold — but that piece of imagination is a different topic entirely. It’s good to feel human. Almost as good as pancakes.