“When it becomes important enough to you, you’ll figure out how to change it, but only then,” he said to me suddenly.
He sat across from me at another table, drinking from a small porcelain espresso cup and simultaneously smoking a hand-rolled cigarette. It was like he’d actually punched me in the chest the impact of his words hit me so hard and he could see it, too.
“Obviously, this thing? What you are unhappy about?,” he said with a dramatic gesture like ‘it’ was sitting next to me at my table, “It isn’t enough yet, or you’d figure out a way to change it.”
I had spent the entire walk to the shop from my apartment arguing with my ex and then arguing my mother on the phone. The ex wanted money, he wasn’t getting it. Mother? Well, she wanted “unconditional love,” and she wasn’t getting what she wanted either. So many people needing around me. Neither of them asked how I was. Nobody gave a fuck, actually.
I was angry. Angry at everything around me. I had let anger infiltrate, then navigate every situation around me – every friendship, every job, and every personal relationship to the very worst destinations. I became one of those angry queers stomping around the Castro wondering why it always happened to me. I was ignoring others – who were on their own journeys of anger, need, and selfishness.
I’d come up the block and threw myself down in a pile and barked a coffee and pastry order at the waiter.
“I know you, because I used to be you…..,” he said, looking over his glasses like a grandfather might, “But darling, what do I know? I’m just an old queen in a gay neighborhood full of stroller straights and people I don’t know anymore. Take me with a big grain of salt.”
He took a final triumphant puff on his cigarette, working to capture every last delicious vapor in a final inhale before crushing it underfoot on the sidewalk at my feet. Then just as suddenly as he’d appeared, he was gone. The Castro could be like that, sometimes, sidewalk cafes filled with ghosts.
Of course, I didn’t see the truth of what he said for a year or so. Then one day, it happened. I almost circled it on the calendar like a special, important holiday. I would make changes, I would get help and no longer going to lead through life by anger.
I remember recanting the story in a group therapy session a few months later. The man with the perfectly ironed shirt, grandfather glasses and the Marlboro colored mustache.
“What kind of asshole was that guy?!,” one of my fellow group members blurted out, interrupting me. He looked around expecting everyone else to pile on with insults and snark on this someone they’d never met.
I smiled softly and replied, “a wise one.”