“I looked to the door hoping you’ll pass each other, so that I can share that story with you about how some people really just don’t care what others see, even if they’re not meant to see it. How they’re too focused on something else to care.”
An Unwilling Goodbye by Sam Morgan
Earlier that morning, the middle-aged lady with a blonde bob who sat next to me on the midtown direct train reached into her purse and pulled out a carton of vanilla yogurt. I will never understand how anyone could willingly eat yogurt, especially on a train where recycled air and the stench of last night’s bar crawl seem to hide in every seat crevice and vestibule. The milky stench of the yogurt lingered inside of me even after I’d walked several blocks from Midtown to Murray Hill. The smells of Manhattan had yet to overpower the weight of dairy and I felt sick. That’s because I was.
And I was also two hours early. Typical. I walked into a coffee shop, ordered a bold drip and sat. I sat in a chair, in a coffee shop, which wasn’t really a coffee shop the way you would want it to be. It was not particularly cozy or filled with the quiet click of fingers on laptops. It did not pulse with the creative juices that are palpable in the hidden gems downtown. But just this once, you would agree to meet me here—we’d been to places like this one hundreds of times before. So I sat and I waited for you.
The sun illuminated the mirrors and the white marble bar across from me. A man walked in using one hand to drag a shopping cart behind him. A navy blue baseball cap sat backwards atop his greasy long grey hair. He confirmed the establishment’s free Wi-Fi with an employee, stumbling over his words. He sat down at a table and pulled out a laptop from the bowels of his cart—yes, a laptop—and stared watching a movie. Schwarzenegger I think. A few minutes later, he looked out onto 5th Avenue. He must have seen something because he bolted from his chair, leaving the Terminator, fighting for justice. I’ll be back. He ran out the door and stuck his hand into the garbage can on the sidewalk. He rustled the trash around a bit, and then suddenly thrust nearly half his body into the can. Have you ever seen a dabbing duck? Finally, he lifted his hand, and the rest of his body, out of the can. In between the fingers of his right hand was a dollar bill. He held it up victoriously, raced back inside, and then sat down to watch the rest of the movie. I could hear him breathing heavily. He seemed pleased with himself. I pushed the home button on my iPhone and looked at the clock. There was still time, so I waited for you.
A few minutes later, tourists walked in wearing “I Love New York” T-shirts and leather sandals. They jabbered in Spanish and Portuguese, huddled in a mass by the door. They pointed at the menu and conferred with each other intensely, as if they were getting ready to give a final answer on Family Feud. Survey says? Finally, one of them bravely got on the line. In broken English, he ordered four Venti Mocha Frappicinos. Five minutes later, the tourists left with their frothy, whipped-cream, blended drinks in tow. Frapps at nine am? You really do see something new every day.
The door opened again. A man walked in and ordered a sausage, egg and cheese sandwich. He sat down at the bar across from me and there it was: A full moon. He was blissfully unaware or unbothered by his bare exposure. I imagined him saying “You don’t like it? Don’t look.” I could also almost viscerally feel the look you would give if you saw it: that ‘eye roll, pursed lips, pull up your damn pants man’ look. The man left, hiking his pants up as he walked. I looked to the door hoping you’ll pass each other, so that I can share that story with you about how some people really just don’t care what others see, even if they’re not meant to see it. How they’re too focused on something else to care.
The doors opened and closed with patrons, with drips, with chai lattes. The doors opened and closed. The registered beeped. The baristas joked about last night’s closing shift. I waited for you. I start to anxiously play with the ring I got from Israel that I wear on my right middle finger. In English, the words engraved upon it translate to Theodore Herzl’s “If you will it, it is no dream.” I sat trying to will it. This must be a dream.
You were supposed to walk into the coffee shop, give me a look, a long hug. It had been awhile. Our jobs had become our lives. The pieces that fell down onto our board of scheduling-Tetris had not aligned for the past few months. You were supposed to put your tan messenger bag down, order a drip or an Earl Grey, and sit across from me. We were supposed to have coffee that morning in Manhattan. I took a train and sat next to a woman who ate yogurt and watched a homeless man fish for a dollar while I waited for you.
Then he showed up instead.
He knew you were not going to walk into that door. He knew that perhaps you were waiting around the corner, or somewhere up in Westchester. Perhaps, he knew, that you were in neither of those places. Only you really know where you are. Where are you? He knew, however, that part of me thought the news was a lie. You were on the news. You were famous. He knew that for three months I had nurtured a glimmer of hope, a buoy passively floating in a sea of denial with a tempest on the horizon. After all, isn’t there always some ounce fiction to every checked fact?
Then he checked his watch, saw it was time, or that time was no more and urged me to get up from my seat. I didn’t want to move. I wasn’t sure if I could. I wanted to wait. He grabbed my arm and eased me up. “Come on,” he said, “You look, well, you look really good. We have to go now.”
We walked out of the coffee shop, passing the garbage can that was now a dollar short, and turned the corner. Soon we were part of the silent mob outside the gates of a church nestled between two skyscrapers. As the church bells loudly rang on that cloudy Saturday March morning, the reverberations momentarily paralyzing us, I turned and walked inside as he held my hand instead of you because you were nowhere to be found but I refused to say goodbye.
Sam Morgan is a photographer and writer living in the metro New York area with work previously published by Columbia University’s Journal of Narrative Medicine, “The Intima.” Sam also maintains a photography website @500px. Sam earned a dual AB with honors in English and Psychology from Muhlenberg College and has a post-bacc publishing certificate from NYU.