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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Smart

Coffee Together, Sort Of.

Updated: Feb 24, 2022

I’m sitting in a Starbucks in the city, hunched over a spreadsheet. The radio is playing 1940s swing. An elderly gentleman comes in and sits down at the table in front of me. His back is to me. Gradually, I become aware of him. His thin white hair is combed carefully back behind his ears. His skin is as pale and translucent as paper. I can see his shoulders hunched and sunken through his plaid shirt. He is looking down at the table, at a book or paper or something I can’t see from here. I keep looking at him, because he is familiar. Not this man, I don’t know him. But he is conjuring up another white haired gentleman, one I suddenly miss with a ferocity that comes out of nowhere and grips my lungs like a vise.

He reminds me of Dad. Not in his youth; not the braggadocious redhead with something to prove to the world; but at the end, when the cancer had robbed him of so much of his size that I felt like a hulk next to him. When he was so thin it hurt him to sit and it took an hour to choke down a peanut butter cracker. My little daddy.

Louis Armstrong is crooning about Mack the Knife and the latte machine is sputtering and I have an enormous urge to go hug this little old man’s bony shoulders and tell him, tell this complete stranger, I love you, Dad. I wish I could have taken away your pain. I wish I could ask you how to navigate the unknown, how to handle change. How to watch your kids grow up and know they’re going to leave you soon and that they’re going to be okay and you’re going to be okay. How to whistle through my teeth.

I won’t go up and hug this little old man, because I don’t know him and he doesn’t know me and he’s not my dad and that would just be awkward. But his presence is comforting, like the smell of the coffee and the thumping piano on the radio. I hope he is loved like my dad was, and is. Either way, it was nice to have coffee near him today.

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