I called this meeting, between Sensible and me. It has been a while and, as they say, a lot of water under the bridge. Knowing that Sensible is always punctual. . . to the second, I arrived early to prepare. I had something to say. Questions to ask. I had some bones to pick.
I preferred outside seating at the cafe, for the ambiance. . . for the privacy (COVID doesn’t exist in this fictional world. Why should it?). I first sat in the glorious morning sun instead of the cold shade. The sun was bright, white, and hot. It was like on the surface of the moon where in the shadows the temperature is near absolute zero and in the sun, it can melt metal. Didn’t they find water ice on mercury and a lake of molten lead? But this morning the sun felt good to my bones. But, as I tried to make myself comfortable in the torturous chair of metal mesh, it dawned on me that Sensible always wears a jacket, a formal one. Therefore, he will be too hot here so I moved to the shade. It felt freezing to me, but I’m always cold, like I’m in suspended animation between life and death.
Sensible arrived, exactly at 8 AM, to the second. He was donning his black tie and navy blazer. He smiled, as he always does.
Sensible: Good morning.
Me: Good morning, she will come to take our orders.
Sensible: Plain black coffee.
Me: Cappuccino, can you do a ristretto pull for it?
Waitress: Of course. Anything to eat?
Sensible: (speaking up quickly) Nothing for me, but for my friend, I suspect he wants a slice of “regret.”
Me: No, wait a minute, I do not! Maybe a piece of “what-if” on a plate.
Sensible: So, what can I do for you this morning?
Me: I was just thinking, now that my life is dwindling right before my eyes, what-if?
When I was just eight, my parents took me to a circus. It was on Broad Street, in Kingsport. I think the performers were all Mexicans. A young boy, about my age, was helping his mother on the high wire act. My mother pointed out that the little boy looked just like me (my skin was quite dark then). This released my fantasy. I watched him, even after the performance was over and they gathered their things and went to their small trailer. I thought I wanted to go and ask them to take me in. I wanted to go with them. Hit the open road and learn to perform. I could become an magician!
The waitress brings the coffees and a “what-if” on a saucer for me.
Sensible: (sipping his plain black coffee), “Well, they would not have taken you in. And if they had, the police would have come looking for you. And if they didn’t find you that night, they would continue looking for you. But even if they moved on to the next town or the next, taking you with them, the life would be hard. Children in circuses are often beaten, starved, deprived, and unloved.
Me: But what if they were different? What if the took me in and loved me. I could have become a magician, a famous one and saw the little boy’s mother in half. . . after she did her high wire act.
Sensible: (taking another sip) Did you know that children in circuses are often hooked on drugs or sexually abused at an early age. Besides, your mother would have been devastated. Her life would have ended when you went missing.
Me: (Giving up on that topic, I moved to the next) I remember reading Huck Finn when I was nine. I built a raft. I wanted to take it down the Fall Branch creek, to Horse Creek, to the Holston River, to the Tennessee River, then to the Ohio River, and then to the Mississippi. Once in the Mississippi, I wanted to sail my raft to Sri Lanka. I wanted to ride an elephant there.
Sensible: (with a chuckle) Now really? The Fall Branch creek is too shallow.
Me: I could have gone after a big rain, then my raft would have floated.
Sensible: They call it “Fall Branch Creek” for a reason, it does have a fifty-foot falls. You would have died.
Me: I could have dragged it around the falls.
Sensible: Horse Creek is long and shallow too.
Me: Dragged it.
Sensible: Do you know how many damns are on the Holston and Tennessee Rivers?
Sensible: Fifty. Each one too big for a child to drag a raft around. Do you know how far it is to Sir Lanka?
Me: I would have made a sail.
Sensible: Did you know that an unsupervised child would have been stepped on by an elephant.
Me: (moving along). I thought about dropping out of college and running away to Europe, or Africa. What if I had? I would be European now. I would know the language of Africa. I would live in a stone house.
Sensible: You would have become a homeless bum. Do you know how hard it is to make a living as an immigrant in either Europe or Africa?
Me: Okay, what about my monk years, for seven years I devoted my life to my studies and God. No parties. No girls. Not a lot of fun. They were girls knocking on my door. What if I had answered?
Sensible: And missed Denise? Don’t you love her?
Me: Of course I do! I’m just talking about what ifs. Some of those girls were desperate and I might have saved them. I love Denise but she never needed saving.
Sensible: But maybe you did?
Me: (moving along) What if I had sold my house and taken Denise and my kids onto a sailboat and sailed around the world. What if?
Sensible: Do you know how far away Sri Lanka is? Maybe one of your kids would have drowned? Maybe all of you.
Me: (moving along) What if I had finished medical school and became a doctor rather than a PA. I would not have had to put up with so much PA-shit.
Sensible: No. You would have to put up with doctor shit. You would have started a career in debt. You would have to had worked harder to pay off that debt and seen your family less.
Me: Sensible, I have one last what if. What if I had become a mountain climber? You used fear to keep me away from the big walls, the death zones. What if?
Sensible: But didn’t you climb mountains, some of them rather big? And if I had let you, you may have fallen. You may have died and missed your children’s future. Or, you may have fallen and crippled yourself or paying for it now in pain.
Me: But I’m in pain anyway and for what? I am vanishing. I can see through my hand. Its transparent. What if? What if?
Sensible: What if you were to live? What if you were to have life a bit longer? Can you find yourself?
I pondered. Sensible finished his coffee. Stood and shook the wrinkles from his clothes and bid me farewell.
I hate that man. . . and love him.