In a room crowded by know-it-alls with no idea if they know anything at all, I find myself smiling.
I sit parallel to juvenile minds at this coffee house I have been invited to by students I previously met just days before in a workshop I was facilitating. The workshop was intended to empower these new friends of mine to be more assertive when asking for something. They tested their new abilities when they asked me to be a special guest at this Friday night coffee house that their school was hosting. Although my presence was promised, as soon as I enter the room a student approaches me with a surprising smile on her face as she whispers, “I looked around for you earlier and when I didn’t see you, I figured you weren’t coming.”
The night pours an endless bottle of talent onto the dimly lit stage. The ingredients for harmony seem to be acoustic medleys of girls singing “Crazy” by Gnarles Barkley better than those with dyslexia can pronounce his name, poems shared by girls questioning their sexuality, and young men who can play the piano just as I always imagine Mozart playing in my mind. I stand at the back of the room observing it all as the gifted individuals intrigue me.
Then a thought rushes through my mind, this is where I began. Almost two years ago, I shared my very first spoken-word poem in public and you were in the audience. I spoke in detail the ways to which I wished to be loved and three nights later, you loved me in ways that left me with details I wish not to exploit. If it had not been for that poem, that I wrote and shared on that night, in that room, with those people, who knows where I would be?
Next up, is the boy who has been taking care of the tech all night. He steps onto the stage with his acoustic guitar and a picture of you flashes to the front of my eyes. He sings a song about being able to sing a lullaby to a girl at 12:59 and I fantasize about you at his age singing on your high school’s stage and wonder, would I be more in love with you if I knew you at that time? Then I remember how you actually didn’t learn how to play the guitar until you were in your premier year of post-secondary school, when I was too young to even know you. Suddenly I recall the last coffee house of my final year; you had work the next morning so you couldn’t make it down for the night. I was stuck in a room with this woman on stage talking about the elements of the periodic table when I became distracted by a reflection in the window of a couple holding hands. That’s when I thought I had missed your hands the most, until now.
The techie boy strums away at his guitar and I sink into my chair wishing you were here with me in this moment to notice how much I’ve grown since you first saw me on that stage with that silly poem. Now girls shyly approach me to ask for my autograph and with polite laughter, they convince me that my poetry is ‘capturing’. And as embracing as it all seems to be, I’d give it all just to have you look at me.
I return to my hotel room, happy that I was able to experience the talent that you don’t usually get to see before it’s packaged up in sex and bad-ass gift-wrap to be sold from a shelf in some closet we call Hollywood. I check my phone to see if you called yet, but it’s pretty early so I remain patient. The phone rings.
You leave me with a smile as we hang up and I try to get some sleep. But it’s the two double beds and the pull-out couch near the bay window that makes the room look empty and amplifies my solitude. I close my eyes and it hits me square in the middle of my torso: the size of the audience doesn’t matter if you’re not part of the crowd.