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Chris and the Conversation

Crystal stood behind a plexiglass shield at her computer awaiting the rush of first customers at the busy retail furniture store where she would hold it down for 2 hours alone before more help would arrive. But it was very quiet now. This was the dreamy time of morning where nothing feels real until the crowds appear like a wave, with their urgent requests and the air fills with sounds of crying babies and bad pop music interrupted frequently with social distance or lost party announcements. This month, many of her coworkers have reached their 13 year anniversary at this retail giant. Their names are listed on a monitor in the hallway, Crystal is one of them. As she scanned the list that morning before clocking in, she stood considering each of her fellow inmates that stuck it out. Some she grew to love, some to tolerate and another type, those she rarely spoke to but still felt a connection with. Like Chris.

He was tall and thin, mid 30’s, she guessed, a black, New Yorker with a cool accent.  He wears glasses and sings.  He sung at his locker, which was near hers, sometimes rapped and that’s how she began speaking to him years ago.  You can always spot thinkers and curious souls, she thought. Beautiful voice! she said one day, You should make records.  Then he went on to tell her he does in fact sing and has aspirations to record. She asked him if we wrote his own lyrics. She’d often find him mumbling to himself, deep in creative thought, an introvert she figured, like herself. Little more progressed after that, just weekly or monthly, quick niceties, encouragement of his craft, on the chance days they’d meet. Crystal had always been a huge fan of artists. This happened for years, but it does add up, apparently, she would conclude later that day. 

In one of those brief morning moments of solitude, Chris passed her with some paint and brushes, apparently on his way to a nearby project.  There was always some type of renovation happening. She waved the peace sign, as was customary, to fellow tribe members that pass her area throughout the day, being sure to squint her eyes to show she’s smiling under her mask. But instead, Chris stopped. He stood there and chuckled a little, as if finding her standing there alone with all the empty desks behind her was comical. He said, You workin’ alone today? And she responded with a sigh turning to look back, Yeah, looks like it. She shook her head and had to laugh at little too at how ridiculous you can sometimes feel when caught with your guard up. She even had her hands stiffly on the keyboard as if posed to battle. She wasn’t ready for a real conversation. This was a surprising deviation. He prompted her to pop out of this emotional clench and suddenly they were old acquaintances meeting in the hemisphere, nowhere near sofas with price tags or lamps and hand towels.  No time seemed to pass before he was standing 6 feet from her, deep in discussion on forgiveness, how it’s so important.  A little confused, she knew this should feel strange but he’s making so much sense, riffing, almost like he’s on a stage. She decides to go with it. He is a true preacher standing under the glow of a spotlight meant to highlight a nearby armchair, which makes him even more compelling. He explains that this is the time to truly let go and that he never understood how much it was stunting his own joy until he recently forgave someone that he’d long been holding a grudge.  That these are very strange times we’re living in. He emphasizes certain words and they have a flow, like a rapper. He ends with, There is no greater release! He asks her if she knows about forgiveness, like it’s the best new restaurant in town. Yes! she quickly responds. It’s the gift we give ourselves, she says, trying to contribute. He likes this and takes it in, but this is his show, so he goes on to school her on absolution. Neither knows what the other has been through but she got the sense he was newer to the concept. Forgiveness changed her life, freed her of her shackles. Forgiveness is everything, she thought to herself.

As he talked, Crystal absorbed his message, but her mind could not be still,. She couldn’t help but appraise this boy for this mysterious, unannounced disruption. But how wonderful!, she thought, arguing with herself. This is a very real conversation and you hate small talk! Then, she began daydreaming, fading in and out of his words, putting them into the context of her own life. Later, his voice faded back into focus and continued, We, are having a human connection.  She repeats his sentiment back as if to make it more real and nods. He then says it again, agreeing. Yes! Human connection is very important right now!  He goes on to say, People are dying out there. People are committing suicide. He looks directly at her for the first time since he started talking and held his stare…they feel so isolated. It’s very hard for some people right now.  His words are slow and deliberate. She wonders if he was admitting to his own state of loneliness. Her arms automatically wrapped around herself to communicate compassion. She contemplated moving closer to reassure him but quickly retreated after assessing he was fine, in this distant place he spoke from.

She kept nodding in agreement.  Everything he put out there was absolutely true and she had recently came to these same conclusions. But why was this happening now? This guy who she barely knew would stop and lay all this out, not as a stranger but a familiar soul.  He even said at the beginning of his rant, I have no idea why I’m telling you all of this. He laughed as if he was under a spell. He went on to talk about a dreaded subject in their store, There was a girl, here, that committed suicide recently. It was true, a cashier, a tragic story, she was so young.  All these managers passed her everyday. I passed her, You passed her.  Did we stop to say, Good Morning!? Glad you made it here today!  I SEE you.  I see you, he repeated and then paused dramatically.  We need that, right now!  Some folks do not feel seen and might think, hell, I’ll just off myself. And she did that! She took her own life! Crystal felt herself welling up with tears. They both drifted into their own finalized thoughts and conclusions of this sad girl, in this weird time. Crystal recalled that she had always said hello as she passed but found the girl unresponsive and withdrawn. Chris had stopped talking.

We see each other, he begins again, and through the years have built us up a relationship! That makes him smile, as if he’s only recognizing it in real time. He talks as if all this is from a vision. I don’t know you, but we understand that it’s important to acknowledge each other.  How are you?  Good to see you.  I SEE YOU, he says again. Crystal realizes she is the entire congregation in this pop up church behind her plastic wall. Amen!  Yes!  I agree with all of this!  She nods emphatically. When he felt he had said his peace, they both coiled back into their shells. He picked up his gear slowly and continued on. Thank you Chris! she shouted, unsure if he heard her as he’d since disappeared behind the corner. She took a deep breathe, alone again. That was all a bit strange, she thought, yet, not shocking. Recently, she had come to accept wholeheartedly that we are so connected and by some other means, a completely different road, she imagined, this young excitable boy had come to the same verdict. 

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