The couple at the table by the pinball machine look by far the most interesting in the place, to a peoplewatcher like me.

The girl looks tired, as tired as I have ever seen anyone look. Her hair escapes from the band she has tied it in and random locks straggle across her face. Her skin is dull, and her eyes downcast as if they are too heavy to lift. She sits, slumped forward, resting her forearms on the table, idly tipping her glass from side to side, watching the liquid move within it.

In contrast, the man opposite her seems full of energy, gesturing as he speaks, shifting in his seat, his eyes fixed on the girl, as if to pin her there, and force her to return his gaze.

I take a seat at the table next to them, and pretend to be absorbed in a book, not letting them see that I am listening, and occasionally glancing in their direction. I know it's none of my business, but I find the lives of strangers fascinating, and it gets me out of my own dull little world for a while, so don't judge me too harshly.

His voice reflects the tension and nervousness of his body. "There has to be something I can do," he says urgently, pleadingly.

Still looking down, she gives a little shake of her head, and says nothing.

"Damn you, Lisa, why won't you let me help you?"

She sits silent, and gives a slight shrug of one shoulder.

I wonder what he has done to make her want to punish him like this. It clearly is punishment. He is becoming more distressed with every moment, his voice rising in both pitch and volume

"You didn't even tell me you were pregnant," he goes on. "I had to hear it from May. I drove all night to get back here when she told me. Why didn't you tell me?"

She speaks, finally, her voice without inflection. "It wasn't your concern"

"What the hell do you mean? You surely aren't trying to tell me it isn't mine? I don't believe you!"

I've put my book down now. They aren't going to notice my interest, and if they do, well I'm not the only one looking at them by this time.

"It isn't yours."

He looks dumbfounded, outraged. he starts to speak again, "I....."

She interrupts. "It isn't yours, it's mine. My body, my pregnancy, my baby, my problem. None of it is yours."

"But..."

"My problems stopped being yours when you said it was over. You were very clear about it being over, weren't you Paul? If it was over then, the fact I'm pregnant doesn't change that."

Her voice has become full of bitterness, and she is looking at him at last, glaring, her eyes hard and unyielding, but now his head has dropped, and he can't meet her look. He seems ashamed. I wonder what he said when he ended it, whether he was really as cruel as she evidently thinks he was. I look at the flush on his face and decide that he probably was. Even so, I can't help feeling sorry for him. It's so obvious he regrets it, so obvious he wants to mend the hurt....

"You say you want to help me -- do you really mean that Paul?" She asks.

"You know I do. You know how much I care about you, that I'll do anything I can, anything."

"Then go away. Don't come to see me, don't call, don't mail. Don't ask your friends about me, and don't send me messages through them. Go back to college, back to the girl you left me for, and forget I ever existed. That's all you can do if you really want to help.

"But the baby...."

"Damn the baby!" She is screaming at him now. People are trying to look away, embarassed, but at the same time, dying, like me, to see the how this story ends. "You didn't want me, and you don't want me, what difference does a fucking baby make? I'm not keeping it anyway, why would I want to keep anything that reminded me of you? I wish you'd never come back -- now GO!"

He pushes his chair back, and rushes out, a poor, immature boy, who has no idea how to cope with any of this. He leaves her there, shaking, with angry tears running down her face.She takes several deep breaths to get herself under control. Then she turns to me, looks full at me. "I love him, you know," she says, her voice strangely calm, "If he'd hugged me when he first came in, the ending would have been different."

Then she wipes her eyes with the back of her hand, stands, slowly and with dignity, walks out of the bar, never glancing back at the silent crowd behind her, and disappears.

Ain't love grand?

How do I begin? I don’t know what to say. You don’t know what to say. You can sense the tremendous amount of pain that has descended upon me. It makes us both feel uncomfortable and helpless. You want to reassure me but you don’t know where to start.

It matters not what brought on this life altering stress. The familiar has been dropped out from under my feet. I am grieving for a loss. A family member may have died, or a friend for that matter. I may have been laid off or fired from my job. I may be going through separation distress that came hard on the heels of the breakdown of my marriage. My mother might be dying of cancer, debilitated and laying in a hospital bed. I may have been raped. I am dealing with an emotional trauma.

I don’t know what to do with myself. I am restless, I am tired. I pace the hallway trying to decide whether I need to pee or not. I am fearful for the future; I am stuck in the past. I am aching for the might have beens. I have been hit by a Mack truck and find myself looking both ways ten times before crossing the road. I can’t find my keys even though they are right where I left them. I am hot, I am cold. Do I wear long sleeve or short? Why can’t I find the matching sock? I crumble in frustration. I make myself some coffee, take a sip, and then pour the rest down the sink. My nervous system has run amuck without my permission. I struggle to find my balance. You are watching me teeter along the edge powerless to make it all go away. I am in shock.

I am unlikely to verbalize my needs to you. It isn’t so easy asking for and accepting help. I am too wrapped up tight in my distress. My words are muffled below the blanket of despair. So here, on this page, I will tell you what you CAN do and what I need. I won’t tell you later, but they are necessary just the same.

  1. Offer comfort without telling me how I should or shouldn’t feel. Let me feel this so it can be washed away when the spring rains come.
  2. Don’t hide your feelings from me. It will make me reluctant to share mine. Acknowledge your feelings and trust me to be able to hear them as well. I do not want to perceive that you believe I am too fragile. I need to believe I am strong.
  3. Talk to me, visit me, and just show up even when you are feeling awkward. I don’t expect you to be perfect and smiling and upbeat. Just being there is enough.
  4. Hear with your heart first, then hear with your ears. Listen to me, even if it sounds like I’m beating a dead horse. Repetition will dull the anguish. Stories have the most power on the first telling.
  5. Don’t rush me. Be here for the long haul. This is going to take time. I need you to hold my hand and walk with me.
  6. Offer suggestions but don’t tell me what to do. Don’t expect you’ll have all the answers because you won’t. I will still appreciate the thoughts behind them whether I take them or not.
  7. Be compassionate.
  8. Offer me warm milk & honey and fingers tracing circles on my back until sleep.
  9. Remind me to be gentle with myself, for I will forget.
  10. But perhaps the best thing you can do for me is to acknowledge that you cannot make the pain go away no matter how much you want to and that neither can I.

Allow me my grief. Allow me to integrate this loss into my psyche. Lend me your ear when I show signs of opening up and then let me be a puddle upon your shoulder. And if I forget my manners along with the other myriad details, I thank you now for being a part of my life.

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