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The Meeting

He had never stalked anyone before. Well, not like this anyway. Sure, everyone obsesses over someone at some point in life, notices their patterns and habits, their favorite morning coffee spot.

But this was different. Deliberate. Intentional. This required planning and waiting, plotting and timing. This required obsession.

He had planned the whole thing in his mind. Everything he would say to her. He would be cordial, polite, introduce himself, and extend his hand for a friendly but non-obtrusive shake. He knew this would be overwhelming for her, and he didn’t want to scare her away.

He remembered her scent most of all. He couldn’t remember her face, be he remembered breathing her scent nestled in her arms. It was one of those memories tucked so deep in the recesses of the psyche, not even as much of a memory but a feeling, a fleeting sensation that feels familiar and foreign all at the same time.

This same sensation rattles through him as he steps into the nail salon. The dominating smell of formaldehyde infiltrates the room. A small bell jingles, announcing his arrival. One of the nail attendants glances up at him briefly. “Um, I’m waiting for someone” he stammers. His eyes dart to an empty chair in the waiting room, inviting him to take a seat.

He looks at no one, but he know exactly where she sits. He can sense her presence, just like he could so many years ago. She is across the room, a bit perpendicular to him. He legs are folded and she’s casually looking at a magazine, her cell phone in her lap.

He almost misses the voices; they would tell him what to do. He can feel them, bubbling under the surface of his thoughts, muted by the medication. His hand absent-mindedly finds a stray piece of string from the stitching of the faux leather on the chair. He fiddles with it, nervously. He glances around the room. There is a plastic plant in the corner. The décor of the room screams “I’m fancy” as if it needed you to think that rather than just simply being the way that it is. Just like her.

He allows himself to glance up at her and lets his eyes linger, just long enough, but not too long. She is dressed in all black, a white pea coat folded neatly on the chair next to her. She wears large metal jewelry; a necklace, earrings and several bracelets to offset her black wardrobe. She looks tired, but not older than she should.

The other woman in the waiting room is called and gets up to take a seat at the newly vacated nail station. It’s just him and her. Now what? He’s got to get closer. As casually as possible, he gets up and goes to the coffee table that she sits directly across from. There is the typical smattering of waiting room magazines. He shuffles through them as intently as possible, pretending to be interested, and finally settles on the most generic one he can find about porch remodeling. He sits down, repositioning himself two chairs between himself and her. Suddenly a thought strikes him; this is the closest they’ve ever been in proximity since the day she gave him up all those years ago.

He has to say something, he has to make a move. He hastily looks up and blurts out “Excuse me, do you have the time?” The woman looks at him slightly startled but basically indifferent. She glances up at the clock on the wall briefly but nevertheless rolls her shirt sleeve and bracelets out of the way to look at her wrist watch. “Half past 10” she says politely enough. “Thanks” he replies.

That was it? This was all so anticlimactic to him. He had envisioned…he didn’t know what he had envisioned, but not this. He glances down at his magazine and back up at her. “Um, do you have a deck?” he says. She looks up at him, bewildered. “A what?” she asks. “A deck” he says, and holds up his magazine to show her the deck remodeling picture he is turned to. She stares at him curiously and they lock eyes for a moment in time. Their moment.

“Ma’am, your table is ready,” the nail attendant has suddenly appeared in the waiting room. “Ah, excellent” she says to herself, scooping up her white pea coat and purse. “Excuse me” she smiles politely at him and shuffles around the other side of the coffee table and out of the room. The man sighs. Enough for today, he thinks.

He gets up and wanders out of the salon into the unfocused light of the overcast afternoon.

He couldn’t help himself. He needed to know. His entire life depended on it. She was literally the key to his past. Why he was the way he was; a window through which to look to understand the person he had become.

It had all started out innocently enough, like it always does. He always knew that he was adopted, just as his adopted parents had always just been his parents. No one ever had to tell him, it was just a fact of life. It was a little part of him that was tucked away that no one really took notice of, like a folded corner of a rug that no one bothers to flip over.

Until the day when someone finally trips on it. He remembered that day with such clarity. The day that the voices started. The thing about hearing voices is that they don’t introduce themselves, they just kind of appear, subtly, interwoven with your normal thoughts. They infiltrate and dominate until you can’t tell one from the other. And then suddenly you’re at the mercy of the voices, a slave to their whim.

He didn’t want to be crazy. Yeah he heard voices, but he wasn’t one of those psychos who kidnapped children kind of crazy. He was an upstanding citizen, he paid his taxes and showed up to work on time. It wasn’t his fault that they told him to break into the pet store and set the animals free. They were slaves, the animals were, ripped from their natural habitats and forced to live in glass and metal wire cages for the rest of their lives. He had heard their pleas and set them free, he explained to the police. See how the snakes slithered away and the birds flew off into the night? It was the will of the universe.

Ninety days in a psyche ward with a full psyche evaluation, a $500 fine, and 200 community service hours; that’s what carrying out the will of the universe got him. And unanswered questions. How long had he been hearing voices and what were they telling him to do? Did he have a history of mental illness in the family? They prescribed medication for him but told him to find out his biological mother’s mental illness history so that he could have a nuanced understanding of his genetic condition.

It was actually much simpler to track down his biological mother than he ever would have thought. A simple phone call to the adoption agency and a bit of paperwork to officially unseal his adoption records, which he had the authority to do after his 18th birthday. Her name was Clarissa Forthwright, and she lived in the neighborhood. She did have a history of mental illness but her medical records on file were sealed and could not be released without her consent. In addition to the address on file, the apartment agency had given him a phone number, but this wasn’t one of those introductions you make over the phone.

And here we are. Here he stands, on the street, after following her from her beautiful red brick layered apartment building on the upper west side, just a 15 minute drive from his own dilapidated apartment on the lower east side.

The waiting had started out innocently enough. He drove to her house one day after work, thinking he would just knock on the door, but he couldn’t get out of the car. He spent two hours sitting there and finally just drove away. That weekend he went back, and ended up spending the whole day parked outside her townhouse. And the same thing happened the next weekend. That’s when he started noticing her habits. The light in the second floor window would turn on around 8:30am. Then, sometime between 10–10:30am she would emerge, dressed pristinely in that white pea coat holding a clutch purse. Today she was wearing stiletto boots and her hair was pulled back into a neat ponytail.

He had followed her on foot. Four blocks, turned left once, then two more blocks and left again before darting across the street and into the nail salon.

And now here he stands, in the flat mid-morning light in the empty street. What now? Does he wait outside her apartment again tomorrow to introduce himself? How crazy would that be? Hi, remember me, the guy from the salon with the magazine about decks? Not exactly the kind of first impression that he had hoped for. But he needs answers.

“I’m NOT crazy for doing this” he said to himself walking down the empty street under the cloudy afternoon sky.

Photo credit: Kate Williams, https://www.facebook.com/rjkatew

Find me on Medium: https://medium.com/@LostonPurpose

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