“I’ve never told anyone this before,” said Marcy.
She was absently mindedly folding and refolding the paper napkin, each crease a hesitation or a worry. It was a habit she had developed in her youth, a ritual of contemplation.
“Sure,” said Claire.
“And you won’t tell anyone?”
“Of course not.”
Even though they had been friends for years, Marcy was reluctant. Baring her soul never came easy to her. She often wished you were more like Claire. The woman had an endless supply of courage, she thought, unaffected by the judgments, both large and small, that came with the choices the woman made.
“I’m just not sure I can do this.”
“Do what, Marce?”
Claire noticed Marcy was beginning to tear small bits of paper from the napkin, littering the table with flakes of anxiety. Marcy had everything a woman could want. A great job. Beautiful children. A doting husband. But there had always been a sadness in her. You had to look to see it. But it was there.
Sometimes the sadness showed itself when Marcy was standing alone at a party, when her broad smile resolved into a distant look. Whenever someone asked if she was okay, she had learned to say “Oh, sorry. I was just thinking about work. I’m great.” Sometimes she would claim she was thinking about her kids or if she was really quick she would offer “I’m just so grateful for all of this. I guess I’m just lost in the moment.”
Marcy leaned back in the booth, letting go of the napkin, debating with herself, saying nothing. Claire let the silence do its work. Life is too noisy, she would say. You have to let solitude work for you, she had told often Marcy. It’s not the enemy. Marcy treated solitude like a good friend who was always there, waiting to invest some time in their relationship.
“You’re biting you lip, Marcy,” Claire cautioned. “You know you can tell me anything. Or not. I love you just the same.”
“Sometimes, I just don’t think I can do life. Not well, at least. I love Mark. I love the kids. I just wonder, sometimes, if everything we have really has us. Do you know what I mean?”
Claire only nodded. She waited for Marcy to finish the thought.
“I’m really grateful for everything I have. But sometimes it feels like it all has me. Like I’m that guy on the old television show, show, running from plate to plate to keep them spinning. It’s exhausting.”
“So what happens if the plates fall? Not the ones that matter. The other ones.”
Marcy looked at Claire, trying to understand what she meant.
“I mean think about it. What’s the worst thing that could happen, if you let some things go?”
Marcy had spent much of her life trying to do the right things. Be a good mother. A good wife. An exemplary employee. Always willing to step up. Take up the slack. Fix things. Maybe it was because she was a middle child. Bake sales. Get the kids to practice. Have it all together. These were the spinning plates of her act.
“How do I decide which ones don’t matter, Claire? And if one of them falls, there will be a mess and I’ll have to clean it up,” she laughed.
“Pick one thing. Just one. Noodle on it. Figure out what is the absolutely worst thing that happens if you let go of it. Maybe you disappoint someone who doesn’t really matter. Maybe you create a little space for yourself. You can always go back to it. The stuff that’s bullshit is always there. Someone will always let you handle it. Even if you let it go for a while.”
By now Marcy was working on the napkin again. She had unfolded it and was neatly pressing it flat on the table, working out the creases.
“May I take your plates, ladies?” asked the waiter. The two women looked at one another and started laughing as they slid them to the edge of the table. He looked at them with that “what did I say?” look and slipped away.
“Poor guy. That’s what he gets for interrupting girl talk,” said Claire.
Marcy looked at Claire. They were so different. Claire never looked at her phone or her watch when they were talking. She was smart and beautiful and more than a little irreverent. Marcy secretly wondered what kind of medicine the woman was taking.
“I have to go, Claire. I have to pick up Grace. She’s got a doctor’s appointment. Any more words of wisdom before I go?’
“Are you asking me for advice?”
“Well, duh? Of course.”
Claire knew that advice was as welcome as it was asked for. She never offered it unless she was certain it was something someone actually wanted. Otherwise it was just wasted breath.
“Just talk to Mark. Tell him. He’s probably had the same thoughts. Figure out what you’re doing that’s in the way of being.”
Claire knew what was coming. This was where Marcy told her that she secretly wondered if Claire was a “bells and smells” meditator and was in touch with the universe in some mystical way. Marcy loved the fact that Claire was a little weird in most people’s mind. They said it was her IQ that made her that way. But Marcy knew better. It was Claire’s heart.
But Marcy didn’t make her normal wise cracks. She just leaned over and hugged her friend saying, “I think it’s your time to buy. But I’m gonna get this one. Gotta go. Love you.”
As she walked out the door of the coffee shop, Marcy could feel her pulse quickening. She would need to hurry to get Grace checked out of school and to her appointment on time. She worried traffic might make her late. But as she turned ignition and thought, “Being a few minutes late isn’t the end of the world.” She flipped on the radio, took a deep breath and headed out. Slowing down, not racing to be on time, wasn’t a panacea. But it was a start–a plate to let drop.