(In this piece I’ve incorporated Table for Two in Taos into something new, something more personal.)
The Irish singer/songwriter has stopped playing. It’s break time at the Taos Inn. I’m sipping my glass of Sauvignon Blanc as I write in my journal and wait for my dinner to arrive. My solitude feels right. Feels good. My attention is drawn to the couple across from me. Their check is on the table, paid. Their glasses are empty.
She fills the south-west style wooden arm chair. Her dyed blond short hair and red jacket are all of her that I can see. I have a clear view of him sitting across from her. I catch myself wishing that they were the other way around. Then tell myself “That’s not nice! Don’t be so judgmental.” I can’t help it. There is something about him. Is it his thin angular face or his mopish brown hair worn Beatle’s style?But unlike the Fab Four, it is greasy and plastered flat against his head. His voice is loud in stark contrast to his companion’s that can not be heard at all. The soft voiced woman has asked something of him that he clearly doesn’t like. His volume mounts. “You’re telling me how to do it.” He gets squirmy in his chair which makes me squirm in mine. She becomes even more still and quiet in hers. I look down at the now blurred words in my journal and feel my pulse race. He says “You always have something to say about how I am!” His voice fills the restaurant growing even louder in his realization. I look around to see if anyone one else is registering what is taking place.
I am returned to a Sunday afternoon scene in a hip Parisian restaurant less than 2 months before. At the counter, wedged between me and a marvelously chic couple, was a slender pale man. He had requested a whiskey and double order of seafood risotto without so much as a glance at the menu. We were seated upon metal designer counter stools. All form and very little function, heavy to move yet somehow tippy and precarious creations. The couple, a dark haired man in a white linen shirt and a woman in draping silk dress, next to the pale man, like the couple in front of me now in Taos, had finished their meal. Long empty cafe cups in front of them, they started to battle. It quickly grew in intensity. Voices raising up and falling down. They were locked in a game of blame ~ “c’est pas moi…c’est toi qui…” Everyone in the restaurant was acting as though nothing was out of the ordinary, except for me and the increasingly pale man by my side. The damned stools became even more awkward, more uncomfortable as the tension mounted. He was my narrow barrier between me and the battlefield. We squirmed. We fidgeted. He strummed his fingers. No relief. No possible ease. No escape. He picked up his whiskey and slammed it back. His double order of seafood risotto arrived in two separate pots. A division of food, of a single dish relegated into disparate caldrons. He picked up his fork and dug in. The tiny, miniature octopus quivered as it made its way into his mouth. I wanted to tell him to move his seat. To not subject himself to what was clearly upsetting him. To take more control of his life…
To Take More Control of His Life. There it is. Take more control of his life? What about my own? There I was not so many months before that Parisian countertop lunch with my soon to be former husband. We were also seated at a counter in a sweet, cozy little breakfast and lunch joint, one of our local Sonoma County, California favorites. Tears were streaming down my face. The waitress glanced at me in surprise and then sympathy. Then there was the table in a wine bar, where, in tears, I turned my head as the waitress approached. Another countertop meal, a dinner, the first fun dinner in ever so long, it too turned to tears. Repeat performances that took place more times than I’d like to remember. We played out this warped scenario again and again. No shouts, no raised voices, no stomping out yet a public display of pain. For those that looked it was easy enough to detect. My then husband seemed hell bent within those final months of our decayed marriage to pull forth my sense of failure and grief around our relationship’s impending death. His bottomless anger always finding extra vehemence in these restaurant settings. I was his dish du jour and his appetite was endless. He knew I wouldn’t argue back like the feisty Parisian woman in sky blue silk. I was too self-conscious and drama adverse more like the dyed blonde mouse in Taos.
My mother, on the other hand, was more like that passionate fashion forward Parisian. Also a French woman, she was not afraid to fight, especially with my father. The Deer Creek Inn was the location of their most infamous restaurant war. Tall wood paneling surrounded their booth on three sides. Dark leather bench seats provided what, for most, would be a romantic setting. Three of them at the table. The third being the husband of the woman that my father was secretly screwing. By my mother’s telling, to my then 8 year old self soon after it took place, this fight was particularly horrid. My parent’s anger and passion always fueled by alcohol in those days. My father saying snide, spiteful, baiting things to which my mother responded by lunging across the table to stab him in the neck with the steak knife she had just used to cut through the flesh on her plate. By missing his jugular vain by 1/2 inch, I avoided being raised in a foster home. I didn’t avoid the deep seated fear of passionate fights. In my own restaurant wars, I held myself quiet and as a hostage in my chair. Yet by not simply walking away, I too was inflicting my pain, passionate or otherwise, more deeply upon myself as well as on those around me.
Finding my wood carved chair increasingly harder to sit upon as I watch the mopish, plaster-haired man’s face redden. He doesn’t give a damn about making a scene much less any affect it may have upon his companion and the rest of us diners. “You don’t accept me for who I am! I’m with a woman who doesn’t accept me for who I am. What am I doing here?” He pushes back his chair. Grabs his coat from the back of it. Heat rises up in my body as I scribble abstract designs in my journal. My heart pounds like a deer being pursued by a cougar. He stands up to say “I’m out of here!” and flees to the exit. The woman sits stock still as though she has a bull’s eye in the middle of her red jacket. As if by not moving she won’t really be in her present situation. Her confusion, her humiliation, her grief float in the air around her. We both remain frozen for what must be ions. Finally, she pushes back her chair to stand. Struggles a little to come to her feet. I look away quickly from her round late 60’s face. I don’t want her to know that I’ve intruded upon her pain. I don’t want her to know that I too have had my heart ripped out and flogged in more than one restaurant. I don’t want her to know that I too have felt equally as broken. She moves to the door with an obvious limp. Following out what she imagines but I pray is not, to be her last chance at love.