Can we talk?

I don’t know about you, but I’m a person who likes to talk, if only sometimes to eliminate those uncomfortable silences experienced from time to time.  In the Doctor’s waiting room (any medical/optical waiting rooms for that matter) … in a pub, sat alone while you’re friend is at the bar … walking past an elderly lady in the street who you just know wants to talk to you because you can see it in her eyes.

I didn’t used to talk so freely … I was too scared to.  My heart would pound and my skin would prickle at the very thought of opening my mouth to engage with a stranger.  Instead, I would sit there and squirm, throwing them a strained smile now and then as if to apologise … hey, sorry we’re both here … sorry it’s so quiet and we’re both uncomfortable, but I don’t have the courage to draw attention to myself by being friendly … sorry I don’t have time to share a few words with you and make your day a little brighter before you go home to an empty, lonely house.

But the older I’ve become, the more easily I let the conversation flow … hell, even if they don’t answer, it certainly made me feel better.  At least I made an effort!

I think that deep down, within everyone, there is the yearning to connect … I’m not talking on a deep level necessarily (don’t get me started on soulmates!), but on just a human level … the need for interaction.  So these days I seem to go out of my way to oblige.  I’ll smile back at the lonely-looking soul sat on the bench, a smile that can spark a brief conversation if he wants it to or which can just be left as an offering, no pressure to give me anything in return.  I’ll persuade the very nervous-looking girl who’s sat on her own in the Dentist’s waiting room to talk a little, my sole reason being so that I can tell her everything will be okay (I always get SO nervous when I come here, but today I have to have a tooth out.  I’m scared!).  I’ll chit chat to the lady in the local shop, although for some reason I find this a bit harder, the words don’t come as easily – because at times I’m very shy?  Because I don’t want to give too much of myself away?

And I’ll smile politely and talk for a while to the lady in the supermarket who commented on the pens I was looking at and then spent a good five minutes (felt a lot longer) telling me all about the college course she is studying, clearly desperate to share her excitement with someone, anyone.  And the lady whom I met for the first time a few weeks ago who treated me like an old friend, repeatedly apologising for wanting to talk so much (which only made me want to talk to her a bit more so she wouldn’t feel bad).  She shouldn’t need to say sorry for simply talking, for wanting to pass the time with someone on a sunny morning!  And I still thought this after I bent down to pick something up and inadvertently spotted the brandy bottle nestling in her unzipped handbag, the sickly-sweet smell of alcohol on her breath only faintly noticable as I stood upright again.  I felt even more for her then … heartily waving at me, thanking me for the conversation before walking home to her tomb of a life.  Who am I to judge? I thought … I didn’t know anything about her, save for facts: the names of her children and grandchildren and where they had been the previous weekend.  That brandy might have been for baking; it might have been for her husband who begged her to buy it because he knows he has a problem and he’s ashamed to be seen buying another bottle; it might have been for her to have a sip of at bedtime because she could feel a cold coming on.  I didn’t want to believe that it was for her, or that the spritely smile was just a mask … that the minute she got home and closed the door behind her, shutting the cruel world out, she would wither and retreat into a world darkened by the contents of that bottle.

Sometimes, even if I am on top of the world (which, believe it or not, does happen!) I withdraw into my shell and don’t really want to come out.  Those are the moments when you can end up being the most surprised … like today when I walked into a boutique and didn’t really feel like talking.  The immaculately made-up and perfectly dressed assistant/manager (the only person in there anyway) asked how I was and we exchanged pleasantries for a couple of minutes, although I could have done without it.  I was fine until I said something (can’t recall what) which prompted her to say that the shop had been located a couple of streets away for the past two  years before relocating – in her eyes just providing me with information, but in mine accusing me of being ignorant as to what had existed around the corner all that time – and I ever so slightly bristled.  My life’s been in turmoil, I wanted to shout.  I haven’t had the luxury of looking at anything nice for myself for the past two years! I wanted to snap, feeling defensive for reasons I could not fathom.

Instead, I took a moment to breathe and replied, “Oh, I’ve had too much going on for the past two years,”  … which was all it took for this pretty woman, this stranger, to embark upon her story … ridiculously similar to my own.  In seconds, the dynamics of the situation had completely changed – it went from a service provider/customer situation to two women who have been battered by similar life events (in the same time frame, no less) engaged in enthusiastic conversation, throwing pieces of ourselves back and forth, the other devouring each morsel hungrily before offering up even more … private details which, had we not experienced the same hurt, neither of us would have divulged to someone whom we had only just met … and yet, by a chance thread of conversation (we could have stopped at the pleasantries), we had suddenly discovered we were equals. 

Men can’t possibly be capable of loving as deeply as we do*, we concluded.  Marriage is supposed to be worked at if you truly love each other, we agreed.  Our children are beautiful, we comforted.

* Merely an opinion based on personal experience … not a condemnation.

Through our hurt, we connected.  In one chance meeting, two strangers raised each other’s self esteem.  ‘It makes you feel better talking to someone who knows what it feels like,’ I said.  ‘Like you’re not the only one,’ she said.  And although our conversation was cut short when other customers entered the boutique, I am certain that when I left – each of us having told the other to take care, a worthy escalation from politeness to warmth – she was standing a little bit more straight, her chin ever so slightly raised in defiance, reminding herself (I hope) that she is worth fighting for, that she deserves to be truly loved, and that she will be just fine.  These are the things I tell myself each day.

Funny that, don’t you think?  Connecting in such a huge way with a stranger, when I hadn’t really wanted to talk in the first place …  🙂

© 2011

2 responses to “Can we talk?

  1. It’s interesting that it is usually our trials that bond us, rather than our wellness. But it feels very gratifying to have someone empathise because they know exactly what we have been through. And it can remind us of the strength we now have when we share those experiences. Because alone, self doubt can creep in.
    Lots of nice observations in this.

    • I hadn’t thought of it like that … the connection being easier when we are suffering in some way, rather than the other way round. Just amazing how a brief encounter with a stranger can provide a boost on many levels. Thanks for the postive comment 🙂

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