Mammals and birds have something in common– the like the huddle together for warmth when necessary. They weather storms together. The ones that remain alone have a difficult time. Even the mammals of the ocean travel together.
So why was it so difficult for me to look for warmth in Mel? She was trying to be a friend. She was trying to be kind. She was trying to offer her friendship and caring. And I was terrified by it. It is terrifying, to be offered shelter at a moment when we are unprepared to accept it. When we would rather stand in the rain and become soaking wet and catch our death of cold, pneumonia, face near-death rather than enter a place that is too new and unfamiliar.
I breathed deeply of the slowly warming morning air. Waited for the light to turn alerting me that it was safe to use the crosswalk. And I walked. I walked across the street, between the looming buildings, under the blue and ancient sky, and went to the door of the diner.
Upon pushing it open, I saw that it had been a quiet morning. A slow morning. Everyone seemed relaxed. There was no noisy clatter of the silverware being tossed into plastic tubs filled with soapy water. There was no din of change being counted in the register. Everything seemed to be happening more slowly than usual.
There were new eyes and old ones. Ones that knew me, and ones that wondered about me. I looked blankly back at them. Gave that half-smile, half-wince expression that people often give when they are nervous and uncertain. I wanted to turn around and smoke ten cigarettes and forget about this place.
I walked through the restaurant through the double doors which made the path to the kitchen feel like entering a saloon in the Wild West. I knew that somehow, this would feel like that. This was unfamiliar territory. The landscape had changed since I was last there. New tumble weeds, unfamiliar cacti. I was not a cowboy. Mel was not a Sheriff.
Then she turned around and I felt like it would be a quick-draw. I shot first.
“Hey, I was sure what time I should be here.” Explosive. Hands in my pockets, I looked around at the other people in the kitchen. I knew they had been there for hours. Since before I was conscious. Their eyes scoffed at my comment.
“Oh, that’s fine, we haven’t had a chance to talk about it yet, really. How are you?”
“Alright. Just getting used to things again, I guess. You know.”
“Well, working will probably help out with that.” She smiled. We paused for a too-long moment. When did it become so difficult for us to speak to each other? When did things become so stilted, stunted?
I thought too much of it. I was caught up in thinking about discomfort. Caught up in this unfamiliar territory. Now, I wanted to fly. I wanted to go with the birds into the tops of the skyscrapers and sit. Look down on the humans and feel sorry for them, wonder why they did not fly, too.
I was delirious. “So, where should I start? What do you have open?”
“I know you probably don’t feel up for waiting tables yet, so you can just do water and bus for now? Or would you rather help out back here?”
“I’ll stay back here. I don’t know if I’m ready to be out there again so soon. I’ve been working in the kitchen for a while now. Well, at the sink anyway.”
“Okay. Let’s get you an apron.”
And just like that, I was back. Really back. Somehow wearing an apron became symbolic of putting this life here back on. Putting something new on. I felt like I was re-entering a place again.
So there I was. In the kitchen. In Mel’s kitchen. Mel introduced me to the others in the kitchen. They all seemed surprisingly young. I knew they probably were not as young as they looked. I knew that I was not as young as I looked.
I peeled potatoes, carrots, parsnips. Chopped onions and garlic by the pound. It was easy to get lost in the processes. The repetitive motions were meditative.
I tried not to take too many smoke breaks. I knew it would raise eyebrows. Something was still unnerved in me. I looked around at everyone, all of them seeming so comfortable in their places. More comfortable that I was. More comfortable than I could imagine being.
As the lunch rush began, the noise level increased. More voices wafted in, more dishes clattered. The sound of conversation and people rushing around took over the diner. The sizzling of pans. I chopped and chopped and chopped. My wrist was tired and aching by the end of the shift.
“How was your first day back?”
“It was alright, I guess. I don’t think I worked fast enough.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’m sure you were fine. I didn’t get any complaints.” She patted my shoulder to reassure me. “Hey, look. You’re done. The sun’s still out. Go. Get outside.”
“Are you sure? That wasn’t very long.”
“Yes. Go! It will be fine. Don’t worry, I’ll have you working full shifts soon enough. Enjoy this while you can, girl.”
With my plans for the day completed, I was at a loss. What to do with the rest of the day? What to do with myself.
I was afraid, I knew. I thought I was ready, but I was afraid to be outside. To be on the streets, walking around the city. I was afraid of remembering Eve. I was afraid of those memories rushing back. Afraid that the sky would open up again and I would find myself drowning in the storms again.
It is not easy to return. It is not easy to see familiar sights and not have familiar feelings. There was nothing I could do about those memories. They weren’t going to go away. I never wanted them to. I was confused. Caught between wanting to remember and wanting everything to be new.
As I walked through the doors of the diner onto the street, a flock of pigeons flapped their wings loudly through the air above my head. Someone must have been feeding them somewhere. Who knows why the birds fly as they do. They always have somewhere to go. The sky is so large, and they just go. They just fly. It is what they do. They just fly.