I have a goal, really more of a challenge for this month: have a conversation with a stranger.
I’m sure that sounds like cake to many but I have social anxiety, and leaving the house is often a cause of a case of the fits. I have been known to sit in my car outside a store, arguing with myself about what door to enter before deciding it’s too stressful and going back home. This might sound ridiculous, but trust me, everyone has some strange situational weakness that causes a weird repeat reaction.
It’s called a coping mechanism, and it’s only funny when it’s not you.
Today is a crap day for me, and I can’t back out of it; I have a cat scan due for my throat. I’ll be in a new place; strangers will touch my body. None of that makes me feel comfortable, but it’s a must-be-done.
Months ago David and I stopped by Denny’s at Kearny Villa Rd. (San Diego) for breakfast where we first met Lala. She was sweet that day, really conscientious, and put me at ease–it’s a bit of a feat. Knowing today was going to feel like hell to me, I immediately thought of being near something that would feel good. Lala was the first to come to mind. Just seeing her would be a bit of a comfort. My mom is on the other side of the states, to be truthful she is often more of a stressor on me than relief. So I sought out sweet, kind and comforting: Lala.
Arriving at Denny’s sweating bullets, nervous as hell was to be expected. San Diego between 45º – 65ºF means we don’t know how to dress. For once it’s cool outside and hot inside instead of the otherway. I had on a tank, hoodie, leggings, capris, beanie, fingerless gloves and closed toed shoes. It’s called being dressed for the Arctic. But I’m either cold-cold or hot-hot. I get one temp and it takes forever for me to warm up or cool off. But add nerves to my Arctic dress and I was sweating like I was sitting on the sun.
I waited for a woman hostess to come show me a seat although male greeted me. I am uncomfortable with males and if you pretend a man is not there a woman will show up. My booth was quiet with no one behind me or in front of me but a woman sat next to me at table inside the restaurant. From the moment I sat down I could see she was not having a good day. I cannot see auras but she had a shroud of no-no energy all around her and I could feel it. It was like wearing someone else’s dirty underwear. I couldn’t take it. When she asked why she wasn’t getting a senior citizen discount, I had to take action to save myself. I asked Lala to let me pay the woman’s bill. I hoped it would be enough sunshine to take some of that poison hanging around her away. I guess I was being selfish, because I wanted to be able to get my good energy in place and the senior citizen discount seeker would have gotten in the way of me finding my happy place; I needed my “I can deal” ducks in a row.
Suddenly the woman turned around and said, “Seriously? Why? Why would you do this?”
My world got very small. I smiled and shrugged, uncomfortable with the fact that I had become the center of attention from more than only her. Several eyes were on me and I think some thought that I had done something wrong. “It’s your senior citizen discount.”
“Seriously? You did this for me?”
I did that shifty eye thing I do when I’m hoping God will strike me dead and bounced my entire body in a nod.
“What do you want? What can I do for you?”
Hell’s bells, that is the last thing I wanted. I don’t want her indebted to me. As a matter of fact that would mean we would have to be in contact beyond that moment and the only person I want to take home from that Denny’s is Lala.
“I’ve been so sick. I have had pneumonia, and I have been in the hospital.” The woman pulled herself around in her seat to face me more fully. “For the last six weeks it’s been so hard for me to do anything and I came out today because it’s the first time I have had an appetite. I can’t tell you what this means to me.”
I was still doing that dumb bouncing thing. “I just want to make you have a better day.”
“You have. You can’t imagine how touched I am…”
I smiled at her and did that shrug thing I do when I have nothing to say for myself. I had achieved my plan. She was happy, I had positive vibes, Lala was smiling–she always is, that is why I was here–I had coffee and all was well; I could turn and look out the window and eat my broccoli and squash.
But then again, no… .
“You really made my day,” she had now come to my table, next to me. In my bubble. It’s time for me to deal with my fear and accept my month’s challenge. Have a conversation with a stranger.
“I’m glad it made you happy.”
“What is it I can do for you? Can I get something for you? It was so nice of you. God bless you.”
“You can pray for me. Pray for my health.” I smiled at that. It’s something she can do that I could use and we didn’t have to see one another again. All problems solved.
“I’m a prayer practitioner!” She exclaimed. “I believe in the power of prayer. What would you like me to pray to God to heal for you?”
I’m ungrateful. I’m an ungrateful git because I don’t care so long as she moved back. Just a few feet. I slowly moved my butt back a few inches, faced her head on with my back to the window that my eyes ached to continue blindly staring out and smiled at her. “Please just pray that I get healthy. I have a chronic illness.”
She leaned forward put her hand to her ear. “Sorry, I can’t hear you. What was that?”
“Just pray for my health. And for the health of everyone.” I was doing the whole body bouncing nod to reaffirm this statement. I was praying to God myself at the moment that the woman I bought lunch for would leave well enough alone, and that my Lord and Savior heard that wish. Alas I was being challenged to spread my wings to day and embrace all my social fears, the hand of the woman reached into my booth onto my shoulder squeezing. “Thank you and bless you.” Before she went back to her seat.
With a single gulp I drank my entire cup of coffee and waved Lala over for a refill and vanilla yogurt. I would have asked for a private table if it were possible. In hindsight I should have asked if I could finish my meal in the Employee’s Lounge. That probably wouldn’t have worked either though unless it was just me and my good vibe mama.
As Lala set me up I heard the senior citizen discount seeker’s waiter telling her she had to pay for a coffee refill. At this point I don’t know if he was screwing with her or what but she looked like his comment was undoing my bubble of happiness. I needed those positive feelies I had created. Like an elementary child my arm sprang up waving for Lala’s attention; my lifeline to good feelings, my personal touchstone to the positives. I mentally begged her to see me and assure me that the woman gets whatever drinks she wants. My soul was pleading that no negative stress mosquitos would be allowed in my bubble. This cat scan was happening no matter what: people touching me, poking me, prodding me. I’m allergic to the crap they would be injecting me with and I need positive thoughts in and positive thoughts out.
Positive in and positive out.
With a coffee in hand my personal project came back to my table with a big smile and eyes alight with happiness. There is a warmth in me. I did that. I made someone I don’t know feel good. I did a happy thing. She reached out to me, introducing herself, “I’m Linda, what’s your name, sweetie?”
Trying not to be rude I held my hand up to stop her, “I’m sorry you said you were recently sick and I catch everything.” For once my reality backs up my anxiety. I don’t have to be an awkward moron doing contortions to do a non-handshake handshake in this case. I can fall back on my faulty immunology. Never been happier to be unhealthy than in that moment where I don’t have to shake her hand. “I’m Ali.”
“I can’t seem to hear you. Did you say your name was Allen?
“Ali. Ah-leeee” I stressed. The trip out today is for a throat CT so her not being able to hear me is a symptom of the throat issue as well as a symptom of the fact that I talk quieter around strangers.
With a huge smile she sat down across from me and asked me if I know about Unity Prayer Ministry. I shook my head and she handed me a piece of paper with a number on it. They do prayer work and she said she would add my name to their prayer circle. I’m all for more prayers. I take her offering and smiled. Prayers. Positive thoughts. Lala pre-treatment Denny’s visits. This is all good stuff.
“Not very many people who do things like this anymore, buying someone lunch. I called my boyfriend. He was impressed. I still don’t know why you would do it.” She shook her head like I was a mystery. I am constantly giving food and water to people. I bought her lunch, it wasn’t like I bought her a home. I was wondering why she was wondering why most people were stingy and selfish.
“I just hope the rest of your day goes well.”
When she left I got to zone out the window for a few minutes and pretend only Lala and I were in the Denny’s. After that I got some work done and lost track of time. I was in a great frame of mind for my CT and had no feelings that I was wearing anyone else’s dirty underwear.
You always think of the perfect reply after the fact though and on my ride home I realized I could have saved myself that awkward conversation if I had said, “You can repay me by thinking good thoughts and bring a smile to someone else’s face.”