Do you know where youíre going?

by Carmen Johnson

The waitress placed two cups of black coffee and the bill on the table. They both reached for their coffee.

"I donít know when I realized it really. How do you realize that your life is going nowhere?" Mary smelled her steaming coffee. "If I had to say, I guess it was when Joan asked me, "What are you doing?" Mary gave Grace a confused look.

"What are you doing?"

"Yeah, I was sitting on my bed, just finished making it. Then Joan called, and the first thing she said was, "Hi, what are you doing?" I was in a very strange mood. I took the question on a whole new level. Almost poetic. I asked myself, What are you doing? And I couldnít give myself an answer. I think that was my clue."

She didnít think Grace would understand, not only because she couldnít relate but she didnít quite understand it herself. She didnít really know what to think. At least she could tell Grace. It didnít matter if she didnít grasp it, she just needed to let it out.

Grace was her oldest friend, but not her closest. She grew up with Grace, down in Florida. Then after she graduated high school, Mary moved to Chicago with her new husband. She and Grace kept in touch by writing and by phone calls about once a month. Grace had business trips once in a while in Chicago. That was the only time when they saw each other. Mary felt comfortable talking to her because she knew that she wouldnít see her for a while after they talked. Itís easier to tell someone something very personal when you know you wonít run into them at the grocery store the next day.

"There must have been something else. How could one simple question change everything?" Grace was wearing a navy skirt and jacket. She had just come from a business meeting.

"I did notice that I was writing in my journal often. Three or four times a day, hours at a time."

"Youíve told Paul, right?" Grace knew this was a pointless question, for she knew the answer. She could tell by the way her old friend was shaking.

"No. How can I tell Paul? How can I tell him that Iíve just now realized that these past 10 years have brought me nowhere? That Iíve done everything except what Iíve wanted to do in life? That all of a sudden, I know that I canít do this everyday? How can I? How can I tell him that? Heíd probably file for divorce, thinking that I donít love him anymore."

Mary forced her fingers through her wavy hair. A great sigh came over her, the kind of sigh you let out when youíre crying for help, silently.

"So, you do love him? From what youíve just said, right now, it sounded like you didnít."

"Grace, I canít believe you said that. I do love him! He is my husband. How can you sayó" Mary stood up quickly, and reached for her purse. "Just because youíre off travelingó"

"Sit down, Mary. Please. Iím sorry." Grace stood up. "Mary just sit down, where else are you going to go? What are you going to do? Go home and dust your plastic flowers? Go home and call Joan, write in your journal? Just sit down, please, just let it out. Better than being all alone in that stuffy apartment."

Grace slowly sat back down, Mary slumped back down in her seat and set her purse down.

"Grace," she said calmly, "My apartment is not stuffy."

Mary ordered a banana split and Grace apologized again.

"So now what?"

"Now, I just sit here, and Ió everyday I look forward to my soaps, more everyday. I donít care how corny or unrealistic or how untalented those actors are, I look forward to it. Too much. Like itís my wedding day, or something so important. All it is is a soap, all it is is a storyline. And a bad one at that. And I look forward to reading all these books. Itís like, those corny soaps and those books, theyíre more real than I am. My life is so slow that I look for excitement in the novels, on TV. Itís so sad, itís like Iíve become bored with myself and my life. Itís like I think about those plots, you know, from TV and from books, more than I think about my own life. I think about, whether Jodie Ann is going to find her real mother, or if George is leaving. I donít know.

"I just didnít know before. Actually I thought it was good then. I canít expect you to understand because I donít understand, not really." Mary realized how much she said and what she said and was glad that she wouldnít run into Grace at the grocery store the next day.

"I understand, Mary. The only thing I donít understand is how you did it for 10 years. Thatís a long time. Either youíve been bored for 10 years and you were in denial ítil a couple of weeks ago or you just arenít happy anymore, and you were before." Grace looked at her, like she was a science problem.

"Well, moving was exciting, but sad. Remember I lived in Florida my whole life ítil senior year, well, end of senior year. I missed everything and had to get used to doing everything in a new way. I just got married, everything was very new to me. So that gave me something to do, but after 10 years I guess you stop being excited because itís not new anymore. I donít know."

Grace finished off her coffee. She thought about Mary when she lived in Florida. She remembered her as a dreamer, always talking about how she was going to change the world. Maybe every 12-year-old says that, but she believed her. Grace never said anything, but every time she came up to Chicago and saw her, she noticed a change, every time.. It was like her spirit, every year, was being drained, drip by drip. It made her feel older, like it was forever since Maryís spirit filled the room. Like it was forever since it she dreamed so high.

"What would make you happy? What do you want?" There was a long pause, but neither Grace nor Mary felt uncomfortable.

"Something else."

"I was thinking, back in Florida, you always wanted to change the world. You can still do that," Grace nodded.

"I donít wanna change the world anymore." All Grace could hear was drip, drip.

"Mary."

"I wanna change my life. What have I always wanted to do? Not travel the world, no, thatís after Iíve made my millions. I wanna leave my stuffy apartment." Mary smiled. it seemed like for the first time in 10 years.

"And Paul? Remember there is Paul. Youíve hardly mentioned him. He is your husband, who loves you more than you know. What role does he play in this?"

Mary stared at the remains of the banana split.

"None." She said it, like her name, something she was very sure of.

"What?"

"Nothing. He doesnít play a role." Mary looked around the rusty old diner. "Do you know what that means Grace?"

"Mary, youíre justó"

"I donít love, I donító" she took a long, deep breath. "I donít love him anymore." Maryís eyes started to tear, slowly. She didnít wipe them, though.

"Iím so sorry."

"Donít be sorry. These tears arenít sad, theyíre happy. Donít you see? What if I never realized, what if you never were here to help me through this? What if my whole life, I just stayed here, where I am, and did nothing? Wouldnít that be sad? And you come here every year and watch me fade? Isnít this the happy way, the happy start? I am crying ícause Iím happy, I am.

"Grace, thank you so much. I would have never had enough courage to do anything. Now Iím going to startó something good for me." Now Grace found herself holding back the tears. Mary stood up.

"Do you know where youíre going?" Grace asked. Mary shook her head.

"Thatís whatís so exciting." She grabbed her purse and walked out of the rusty old diner.


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