I fumbled for the zipper of my down jacket and pulled the hood of my sweatshirt close to my face, its fleece lining softening the sharp edges of my cheekbones. I didn't remember it being so chilly when I walked to class just a few hours ago. When the golden embers of the sun were still cascading through the tangled branches of the oak trees that lined the familiar sidewalk to class. The dark curtains of the evening sky were drawn now, the icy stars replacing the little bit of warmth offered by the sun earlier in the day. With very few people out and about on campus, I suddenly felt very alone. I quickened my pace and hurried to my car where the allure of warmth and security awaited me. I slid into the drivers seat and caught my breath, watching each exhale dissipate into thin air until my breath was finally concealed by the heat blasting ravenously through the air vents. As I drove away, I found that the feeling of loneliness wasn't as fleeting as I'd hoped it would be.
Truth be told, I didn't really know where I was driving to. All I knew was that I was done with school for a few days and I didn't have to be anywhere in the world. And what a remarkable feeling that is. To be free. Independent. Alone.
So I did what any single, unemployed 27 year old with no obligations would do.
I went to the nearest supermarket.
(Oye Ve. That's the best place you can come up with, Court? The supermarket?!)
I will whole heartedly admit that I loooove me some serious grocery shopping. When a store is hustling and bustling with elderly people slowly pushing their carts; couples in love, walking lazily hand in hand; women being followed by mischieveious husbands sneaking junk food into their carts; young moms and dads with toddlers pitter pattering down the aisles to the beat of their own drum; I am oddly at ease. I will spend a solid hour (or two...yup, I am that girl) walking up and down each familiar aisle, surveying new products, sampling fresh produce, and relishing in the simple joy of exchanging a smile, hello...even the excitetment shared by two strangers over a new flavor of hummus. It gets me.every.time.
An unfamiliar supermarket is different. You walk in and haven't the faintest clue where anything is. There's no familiarity for your mind to resonate with. And with no glasses to peer up at the signs that seemingly float above each aisle, that feeling of loneliness embraced me again. I didn't even know what I was doing here. And so I wandered absent-mindedly up and down each aisle. I had drifted over to the frozen food section, an empty cart in tow, and passed an elderly man slowly making his way down the aisle. He was 70, maybe 75, if I had to guess. And, he too, was alone. Other than this small observation, I didn't pay him any attention. I suddenly became aware of my craving for something sweet and opted for ice cream as my dessert for the evening. Being that I was smack dab in the middle of Lent and I had faithfully agreed to give up chocolate, I knew I'd have to settle for a less than satisfactory flavor (read: anything without chocolate is subpar in my book). Chiding myself for giving up all forms of chocolate, I peered through the frosted glass panes, hoping that I'd find a pint, no, actually a half gallon, of ice cream that was uber delish. I was on my way to inspecting my fifth or sixth carton (none of the flavors were speaking to me!) when my eyes made contact with the eyes of the gentlemen I passed earlier in the milk and orange juice section. Chuckling, he asked if I too was looking for mint chocolate chip ice cream. "Oh, no," I replied, "Sadly, I gave chocolate up for Lent. But if you're looking for mint chocolate chip ice cream, you must go with Turkey Hill. It's the best!" To which he replied, "that's actually the kind I'm looking for!" Suddenly I became a woman on a mission determined to help my new found partner in crime find our favorite kind of ice cream. If I couldn't indulge in the delectable goodness that is Turkey Hill mint chocolate chip ice cream, than surely at the very least, this elderly man could. "I promised my wife I'd bring her some home," he cheerfully stated as I dug through the cartons, making a complete disaster of the perfect arrangement of ice cream concoctions. "She just had heart surgery, you know," he continued. "And all she wanted was mint chocolate chip ice cream when we finally got home. I figured it was the least I could do for her." I looked up at my new friend, offered him an understanding smile, and he continued to tell me about his wife. Her heart surgery. The stents the surgeon had placed in the heart of his one and only. His other half. His better half. As he spoke, I listened and realized that his words were not meant to evoke my sympathy, or even my compassion. He spoke these words for himself and I happened to be a bystander...a recipient of his innermost thoughts and feelings. Right there in the middle of a grocery store with a backdrop of dozens upon dozens of ice cream varieties, I was the lucky ticketholder to a happily ever after monologue.
The love this elderly gentlemen had for his wife of 50 plus years was intoxicating. Refreshing. Inspiring. Suddenly I didn't feel so alone anymore. You see, where there is love, one can never truly be alone. The genuine, palpable love shared between two people - even if they were strangers to me - erased my feelings of loneliness. Their love radiated to the depths of my own soul so that it was impossible for me to feel alone.
My friend and I eventually parted ways, him with two cartons of ice cream for his wife (just in case she didn't like the first one we picked out) and me with my nonchocolate subpar peanut butter swirl.
This story happened months ago. And now, as I lay here - alone - in a plush, sensual bed, clad in nothing but pure white linens, in a gorgeous hotel in romantic Monterey, California, I think back to this story.
Tomorrow my west coast best friend will be marrying the love of her life. Her soul mate. Her other half. Although the love that is shared between her and her today-fiance, tomorrow-husband is still so new and fresh, I am reminded of my once upon a time friend in the ice cream aisle at a local grocery store. Although I am laying here alone - quite literally - I don't feel so lonesome, for I am surrounded by the love and romance of a very fabulous friend and her fiance, family, and friends. And when I close my eyes and think of my friends, Tram and Raj, exchanging their vows tomorrow afternoon, I think of a love that is raw. Real. Timeless. But most of all, I think of mint chocolate chip ice cream and the happily ever after that will follow today and forever into their future, just as it did for my pal in aisle 12 at the grocery store.
Congratulations, Tram and Raj. The bond you two share will provide you with a lifetime of happiness, laughter, and love. I am so incredibly happy for your future together. I love you.