I’m not one for small talk, but sometimes the situation requires it. I guess I do as well as anyone, trying to avoid conversation about the weather, asking how the kids are doing, and what the holiday plans are.
During the seven and a half months that I was pregnant I met a nice woman at the pool. At first, in the locker room, we engaged in small talk, but over the months, our short conversations rounded out, like my belly, as we shared bits and pieces of our lives. Then, somewhat unexpectedly, Calvin came early and I never returned to the pool.
My new friend had sent Calvin a beautiful gift, which was waiting for us when we brought him home from the hospital seven weeks after his birth, but I never saw her.
Months later, while in the depth of my grief and despair, and on a dreaded trip to the grocery store, I saw her. Her familiar face was beaming, as usual, with that sunshine smile of hers, and tears welled up in my eyes. My desire—almost need—to hug her surprised me, but then she had always been so warm and kind. Immediately, though, I felt her release. She hastily explained that she couldn’t talk—she was in a rush—and so I said goodbye, ashamedly wiping the tears from my face.
Occasionally, I continue to see her at the grocer. At times she looks right through me and goes about her business, as if feigning not to notice. Other times when I’ve seen her she has abruptly turned and gone the other way. And coming around the corner of an aisle, unavoidably bumping into me, she flashes a cheery smile with an animated “hiiiii, Christy”, but then quickens her gait and cruises on by.
I’m curious if she thinks, because of Calvin's various afflictions, that I have some sort of contagion, like leprosy. Or maybe she sees me as a kind of vortex that, perhaps, will suck her into a black hole of misery if she gets too close, although this is hard to believe since I no longer meet her teary-eyed, but rather quite happily.
Her masquerade seems clear, appearing thrilled to see me while seemingly hiding her desire to want nothing to do with me. I find this so very odd because—although we never developed a deep friendship while only visiting at the pool—she had told a close, mutual friend how much concern and care she had for me and my circumstances with Calvin, though I've yet to see any evidence. I’ve never felt anything from her but superficiality since I first saw her at the grocer, and it makes me feel so sorry. It also makes me wonder if I might be guilty of doing the very same thing to others, of expressing disingenuous enthusiasm or concern when all I really feel is indifference. I hope not, but I think it is probable that I focus on my own worries and fall into narcissism, at least some of the time. I will say that I aspire to be honest and forthright in my relationships because that is what I desire of others, though at times I know I fail.
So, I try not to hold it against her. All of us have busy lives and our own struggles to deal with. None of us can know what another person has just experienced or what they face day in and day out, and like I said, I know I've committed the same injustices. So, when we meet in the grocer’s aisles, I hold my composure, smile politely, say "hi, how are you?" and, taking her cue, I simply move on.