An elderly woman sat in the farthest booth from the door and ate her meal alone.
“Oh! She’s eating alone! That makes me so sad,” I said in a whiny voice.
My friend glanced at the woman and then returned my stare from across our four-person table.
“Em, did you ever think she wants to be alone right now?” he asked.
I hadn’t thought of that.
It’s natural for us as humans to crave human interaction. To talk to someone, laugh with someone, be touched by someone, be held by someone.
Or maybe that’s not everybody. Maybe that’s just me and the age I’ve reached.
“Remind me to show you a poem my English teacher showed me in high school,” he continued. “I think you’d like it.”
After my papa died, my grandmother would sometimes drive downtown for lunch before her doctor told her to stop driving.
In a pre-menstrual emotional moment, I replied, crying, “Was she eating alone?!?” when my ex boyfriend told me he’d seen my grandma down at Tim Hortons. She hadn’t been eating alone, but the thought of her sitting by herself deflated me and reduced me to tears.
That’s why it bothers me so much when I see older people eating by themselves. They always remind me of how my grandma had to do a lot of things by herself after Papa’s death.
Two elderly women ate at Friendly’s two days ago. They sat in separate booths, faced the same way and did their own things. The one, in her cute pink capris and matching sweater, ate an ice cream sundae in silence. I noticed the pearls resting in her wrinkled earlobes and the intense wrinkles on her hands. The other, in a blue-and-white striped pantsuit, ate a sandwich while doing a crossword puzzle from a book.
I watched them in amazement, realizing their situations, what I would call “loneliness,” didn’t faze them. I pictured husbands sitting across from them in the booths, making them laugh. I tried to picture what they must have looked like at my age. Full of life, full of stories, futures ahead of them.
And I remembered the poem my friend mentioned that he did end up showing me by none other than Billy Collins:
The sad feelings that wash over me when I see people eating by themselves is pointless. I’m sure when I’ve reached that age, I’ll crave a moment’s silence to read a book, read the paper, do a crossword puzzle, eat my meal and just notice things.
For now I’m too busy trying to belong.