If I assume that there is some subconscious root of my rising feelings toward Kay, and if I am to continue working backwards from a known starting point, then let me step back from that first recognition of those feelings.
We have countless hours of conversations over PostFast and email. We have fallen into the habit of at least saying hi to each other once a day. Sometimes, that is all the conversation that we have and the rest of our days will be eaten up by work and study, by reading and hobbies; and sometimes we will spend entire evenings talking, listening to music or watching comfort videos in the background while we engage on a more constant level.
Before we both wound up on PF, though, we had been emailing back and forth. We still do, on occasion, for when thoughts require something less immediate, something more structured than instant messaging. Sending each other essays and bulleted lists and long quotations that we have found interesting.
I had planned to dig back through those conversations for my Saturday afternoon task, hunting for hints of yearning among however many thousands of words we’ve shared. But, as happens, I got caught up in the business of the day. I wrote that entry earlier full on planning this, and then I remembered I had to vacuum the last remnants of winter coat from the floor. Having vacuumed, I figured I might as well use that momentum to clean the kitchen, and while there, I remembered that I needed to cook for the week.
Not all plans were made to be followed to the T, though.
Instead of sitting down at the computer and digging and rereading and reliving — or attempting to — I set myself to mindless tasks through which I could live in memory. I thought back rather than reading back, and I did my best to put words to my feelings at the time.
Kay and I’s first lunch together was an accidental affair. During that final year, I was spending my afternoons sitting in on sessions and, towards the end, holding supervised sessions of my own. I learned early on that a lack of calories in my system would lead to irritability and an increased difficulty in maskingfor the sake of my patients, so I began leaving my final seminar and heading straight for the student union for lunch before my first sessions began.
The food there was not great. You grow up on a farm in the northwest and you get used to a certain type of food. Sure, there are plenty of steaks and burgers at home, but you also have a healthy selection of homegrown produce and homemade canned goods. There is little enough profit in the industry for family farms, so my parents saved money where they could by growing what they were able to for the table.
The student union, though, had a limited selection of four restaurants: a burger joint, a bagel shop, a soup-and-salad place, and a Mexican restaurant, all of them chains. The soup-and-salad place was my go-to, most days: they were the most likely to have an interesting selection on a day-to-day basis, they were the most likely to have vegetables other than shredded lettuce, and they were the least likely to leave me with an upset stomach later on in the afternoon, even if they were also the most expensive.
I smile to think back on the sheer number of combo meals I ate there. Half salad — usually Caesar — cup of soup, and square of focaccia, all arranged neatly on a tray. Few of the soups were memorable, of course, but almost none of them were bad. I was willing to accept “consistently okay” food.
I was waiting in line, lost in thought, watching the fox on the other side of the counter scoop lettuce and croutons into a bowl where it would be tossed with dressing, when Kay sidled up behind me and said, “Hey, Dee.”
I will admit that the context shift of seeing her outside of the library initially caught me off guard. Always, I had been standing before a counter waiting on one of the employees to fetch my books off the shelf. Always, there had been a barrier between us, a requisite space that kept us apart.
Now, though, she was right behind me, standing closer than any counter would have permitted in the past. I hesitate to say that I didn’t recognize her out of this context, for her voice was still the same and I could easily put voice to name in my head, but it took a few seconds for it to sink in that, hey, this was Kay. We had talked. We knew each other.
I had known that she was shorter than I, but I hadn’t realized just how much. I could see over the top of her head between her ears. I also hadn’t noticed her scent before, at least not to this extent. The library was full of the scents of others, despite the open spaces and constant air circulation, so it was far more difficult to pick out an individual’s scent over any other’s. Now, it was far more distinct, closer, more present.
It was not unpleasant, of course. She smelled of coyote and femininity and slowly fading scent block. There was no scent of stress, either, something I hadn’t noticed had always been present in the library until its absence here.
I realized I’d been staring and snapped to attention. “Kay, hey, sorry. Long morning. Lunch break for you, too?”
She nodded. “Yep. Theory classes first thing in the morning, then work, then techniques in the afternoon. I steal lunch when I can.”
“I’ve not seen you come through here before,” I said, handing over my card to the cashier. “Don’t think I’ve ever seen you outside the library, come to think of it.”
She shrugged. “Forgot my lunch.”
I waited for her to pay and pick up her own tray of food. I remember, for some reason, that she had ordered a full salad with strips of chicken on top.
I also remember that there was no discussion of us sitting at the same table and eating together. This was unusual for me. I struggle to eat around others without feeling hypervigilant over how I must appear to them. Too many frowns for chewing too loud, too many admonitions to slow down. That I would just walk over to a table with someone and share a meal with them without thinking was a strangeness that struck me only after the fact.
We talked a little, though I’ve largely forgotten about what. I remember asking what techniques classes were, and I remember she asked me what I did for work, but the rest must have been small talk that slipped from my mind.
All I remember is the not-unpleasant sensation of seeing something out of place. Kay belonged in the library. That was the context in which she fit most easily. That she might exist outside, might have a life, might actually be a real person, with real hopes, real dreams, the very real need to eat added depth to her, and while, on thinking back, I’m sure while there was no early hint of a crush, there was no small amount of pride in the small success of having seemingly made a friend after setting my mind to the matter.
I have sometimes considered why this might be the case, and I have two main thoughts on the issue. The first is that email allows for threaded conversations. One can respond to a particular email, perhaps even after the conversation has continued from beyond that point. This also allows one to reply inline, even, interjecting thoughts between points one’s interlocutor has made. The second is that, as a self-advertised “mobile first” application, PF limits the width of the text per message to what might fit on a phone screen, even when using their desktop application, and something about reading a very narrow, very long block of text feels like a misuse of the medium.
I am well aware of the problematic aspects of masking and would never encourage my clients to do anything that would lead to them being so disingenuous, but it is still a tool that I use at work.
I freely acknowledge that not all have the attraction to libraries that I do, and that the stress-scent I had been experiencing there could just as easily have been something more universally ambient than related to Kay herself.