A Significantly Empty Encounter
I decided to go to my favorite coffee shop the other night and showed up an hour before they closed. I hadn't been there in a while. I had just gotten through another god-awful day at the department store where I sell shoes to miserable people who are unaware of their own misery, as well as the misery that they cause me.
I could not go home immediately after work. The night felt far from young, but I was on edge, and simply could not go to my apartment, not yet. I was restless. Nostalgically focused on blank memories faintly resembling forgotten, memorable points of my life. Just whiteness. Maybe there were flashes of green and blue in there. Grass and sky. Childhood. Mostly just white though, grayish-white. Sterile, yet so confounded and opaque. A detail-less mess of blurry forms. My mind felt drunk with anxiousness, and too exhausted to decipher it's own creations. The bottom of my stomach felt sunken in, and churned with a similar feeling to that of feet after they're relieved from being sat on too long. All of the sudden I couldn't imagine my stomach not feeling that way, as if it always had, and always would, churn like that into eternity.
I had a collection of short pieces by Kafka in my car. While driving to the cafe I laughed at my firm decisiveness to go read that book. I didn't want to do anything else in the world. All of the coffee that I had already consumed that day felt stale and heavy and my my mind remained anxiously focused on nothing and so many things. Incomplete thoughts that probably had some sort of chaotic order to them but individually seemed futile, irrelevant due to there being no source of relevancy. I felt sick. I had to put an end to this inconsistently flowing rhythm. It was like a bad Sonic Youth song on repeat. I had to make it stop. I needed to zero in on the thoughts of someone else, to escape into his or her mind, away from my own. But I didn't want to listen to anyone else's shit. I didn't want to be around anyone at all. I wanted to feel anonymous, to be a bystander in the world of someone else, someone with no awareness of my existence. Kafka was going to have to be that person. He was the only thing available in my car and I simply couldn't go home.
The reader and the writer have a beautiful, mutually selfish relationship. The eyes of the reader listen to thoughts of someone else, but the reader in no way has to counsel the writer. Yet the immortality of a piece of literature was once a writer's very mortal desire for some sort of therapy. Maybe some version of the reader was on the author's mind when he wrote whatever it is the eyes hear, but that, in itself, was a selfish motivation for the writer, and therefore much more for himself than anyone else. Still, maybe the reader is fulfilling the book's destiny by reading it, as will the person that buys it from the used bookstore that the reader sells it to.
I was not obligated to read Kafka on that dreadful, decisively lonely evening. That was the beauty behind my obliging myself to do so. Usually when I get that sinking feeling I blame it on the coffee and decide I need to booze up my homeostasis. I'll go meet some ghosts of people at a nondescript bar in a laughing hell. However, on nights like the one being described, in which I think it's better to be alone, I can't imagine ever wanting to be anything other than alone and I get a strange desire to spit on all of those people I encounter regularly in my life, who are probably more real than me. More alive than me. And what an odd sort of envy; to wish I didn't feel deader than other people. And yet to simultaneously feel intoxicated by the deprecating satisfaction of loneliness.
I think I only understand about fifteen percent of what Kafka writes and there is no way I could determine the accuracy of that percentage, for the man is dead. He would not tell me what I know or don't know anyhow, because if I met the man I'd never ask such absurdities as "so what does this all mean anyway?" He'd probably just grumble and say "I haven't a clue." Plus I'd rather simply make out with him and maintain the language barrier in silence.
I traveled to the coffee shop expecting to enter a near empty room. It was ten p.m. on a Friday night, it would be dead, with the exception of an over-zealous student here and there and maybe a customer as lonely as I. I wouldn't want to talk to that person, yet I'd simultaneously desire to strike up conversation. It would be easier and more cheaply stimulating than attempts to decipher the elusively brilliant Kafka. But if there's one thing I believe in, it's the virtue of respecting another lonesome soul's solitude.
The cafe turned out to be far from empty. It was packed with people of an average age of probably nineteen. I felt old, but the blankly opaque white was still dominating my thoughts and twenty-eight years of life was just a mesh lost in the shadows of spiderwebs to which time doesn't cling. I suddenly became aware of my index finger tracing the frown line on the right right side of my face. God can I be vain. A narcissist who is easily crushed by the site of masses of people younger than myself. They were enjoying the bubble of academia that I was once engrossed in. On that night these youngsters were out supporting their barely pubescent friends, who were performing live jazz music. It was so goddamn loud.
I had made the decision to go to that cafe, and I had certain premonitions and predilections about the environment that I would walk into on that evening. I couldn't even find a table, except for one that was right in front of the musicians. I could not bare that positioning. I felt too bashfully misanthropic that night to tolerate the burning of people eyes starring through me towards the players. Plus it was unbearably loud. I stood on the outskirts of the various table arrangements and felt disoriented and a bit panicked. I couldn't go anywhere else. I was already set on time passing by me in that space on that evening, at least for the subsequent hour.
Suddenly an older man, the only older person in the cafe, got up from the most hidden table, in the darkest corner of the room. I eyed him down like a bird of prey to a rodent. I tried to read his body language to predict whether or not his getting out of his seat signaled a complete exit from the shop, or simply a bathroom break or a refill. He caught me looking at him with an earnest curiosity and approached me, empty mug in hand. He offered me the table. I could have kissed that man.
I put my stuff down at the table, I claimed it. It was mine for the next hour until closing time. Then I went up to the counter to order a cup of coffee. Half decaf, I judged myself a little on that call, I've always found decaffeinated coffee to be absurd and disgusting. The girl in front of me paid the barista and carried her mug over to the cluster of tables. She looked as distressed as I did. She came back towards the counter, not knowing what to do, for her drink was in a ceramic mug to stay. She interrupted my order by informing the barista that there were no tables available. Her eyes were open wide like a lost child. I told her that she could share my table with me. She looked at me gratefully, agreeing to do so. She followed me to the table after I paid for my coffee. I felt apprehensive about having to make conversation. Fortunately she was there to read in solitude as well. We exchanged a few terse sentences as we sat down. It was a social requirement. Even two strangers may talk about the weather or various other humdrum topics before falling asleep during a one night stand. After all, they're sharing a bed. And we were two strangers sharing a table. We introduced ourselves and gave incredibly undetailed descriptions of "who were are." She picked up on my desire to keep conversation to a minimum, as I did with her. What a perfect agreement for table-sharing with an unfamiliar person. We both wanted the same thing: to read and be left alone. Why couldn't I share a table with her until the end of time? To be alone with someone else within arm's reach yet untouchable, what a beautiful nightmare. A pleasurably cruel fate. That's all I wanted in that moment, and so that's all I wanted forever.
Occasionally I glanced up, away from good 'ol Franz and looked at the girl as discreetly as possible. She was the most beautiful woman that I had ever seen, that I ever would see. I hadn't, nor would I ever come across someone more gorgeous. Her prettiness wasn't even all that unique or striking. But she was glowing against the stale, white opaque walls of my past and the future. The walls were encircling her. All blank, and unliving. She sat above them on a wooden coffee shop chair, a throne of the present moment unconsciously reigning over the dreary flatness of my world. She was simply passively consumed by the words of someone else. I couldn't even be angry with her for causing me so much distraction, from doing exactly what she was successfully doing.
But suddenly her concentration broke. She checked her phone a handful of times and looked around the room in between. I pretended to read as I watched her lose her once impregnable serenity.
I felt embittered, disappointed. I wanted to watch her do what I came there to do. I wanted to absorb her peace of mind.
A young attractive guy walked by our table and checked her out. She was the type of girl every guy wanted. A pretty girl with brains. She was unaware of his eyes. Pretty, artsy girls who are unaware of their own beauty...how dreadfully lovely they are.
Her name was Sam. A gorgeous stranger. She told me that she frequents that cafe. As do I. I assumed we'd sat in that same room simultaneously before, but that our worlds never collided in the essentially collisionless manner in which they did on that particular evening. As I was leaving the shop, I felt socially obligated to make the evasively friendly statement; "I'm sure I'll run into you again sometime." But I don't want to jovially acknowledge someone that I don't really know every time I bump into her again. That may lead to us getting to know one another. She already fell from the heavenly bodies when she became so quickly disenchanted with the literature she was consuming.
I wanted her eyes to be better at hearing than mine. For everything in my world felt so muddled and confused and intolerable. And Kafka certainly was not abating that sentiment.
She was just as lost as I.
In this shit modern world.
And we were arms length apart.
And I never want to see her again.
A perfectly real stranger made up in my head.
She'll die if we get to know each other.