You’d be surprised at the sort of questions a complete stranger can ask you.
One day, I was sitting at my regular haunt, sipping on a smoothie, instant messaging friends online and watching videos on my laptop when someone came in and sat down next to me.
There was something really “off” about this person, though that was pretty regular for me. I’m not a social person, because almost anyone I come across seems “off” to me, just as I’m sure I seem “off” to them, so I don’t pay that a great deal of mind to that.
But this person… You could just feel the rage, despair, and regret just radiate from this person in unseen waves that would make your skin crawl, and in my case, it really did. I don’t know why, but I didn’t want to stay sitting next to this person for long, and little miss me just sort of scooted my stool over, and my laptop, and my smoothie and readjusted my ear buds before I hit the Volume Up icon on my keyboard.
I saw out of the corner of my eye that this someone ordered a coffee. Most people will order their drink and just sort of GO AWAY. Which is what I like about my haunt. The regulars talk to me, the not so regulars leave me alone, and this someone was not a regular.
Unfortunately, this someone did not follow the normal behavior pattern of the non-regulars.
I did my best to ignore this person. I didn’t know them, they didn’t know me. And really, I’m not up for meeting new people. Yeah, sure, the idea of meeting new people and making new friends seems like fun to most people, but not me. The very idea of talking to someone I don’t know, even for job interviews, makes me want to vomit. Luckily, over the years, I’ve gotten good at suppressing this urge until I can do so without having to worry about vomit breath at an awkward moment.
Ignoring said someone was a good idea to me.
Too bad they didn’t feel that way…
My screen went dark since the music video went off. “Through Glass” by Stone Sour…I don’t care what any Slipknot fans say, I like that song. No one said they had to like it too, so they can leave me alone.
This stranger took up that exact moment and started talking to me. Granted, whatever it was they said was very muffled given my ear buds have fun little rubber attachments that will trap in the sound so they seem even louder than they really are, and I’d had mine up fairly loud for me since I was trying to ignore the world around me…
“Hey, I’ve got a question for you.” This person was staring at me with strangely blue eyes. They were a little red, as if the person had been crying, or drinking a little too much. I didn’t smell alcohol, and I’ve got a good nose for it, and stomach- the smell makes me nauseous, so I figured it was the former.
Since I’d flinched slightly at the statement, I couldn’t exactly ignore them, they knew I‘d heard them. That would be rude. I don’t mind being rude to someone who deserves it, but I’m all for the “treat others as you would like to be treated” idea, so I was civil and gently tugged my ear buds out of my ears, closed my laptop and turned slightly on my stool to face them.
“Alright. What’s your question?” I was extremely proud of myself since my initial reaction didn’t involve immediately bathing this unknown individual in regurgitated strawberry smoothie.
“What’s the secret to a happy life? I mean really…And I don’t want to hear no talk about God, or Jehovah, or anything like that. I don’t think God is the secret to a happy life. I think God helps those who help themselves, and I don’t expect him to make me happy. That’s my job. So, what’s the secret?”
That was an odd question to ask someone...
Especially me, who has never made a friend her entire life. Seriously, people make themselves my friends. They sort of say “Hi” and then hang around, never go away, and I look up one day during some crisis and realize that I have a wonderful friend and companion that I know will be with me for years to come.
I’ve been lucky in my life that people have thought I would make a great friend and decided that no matter how odd, or abrasive I’ve seemed, I would be interesting to keep around for a while. And I am very thankful for that.
I mean, what if these people that are my best friends had decided to not be my friend? What if I’d not known there was something odd about me that just made me want to puke on new people and did my best to suppress that natural reaction I have?
I would have had a very sad life, I think.
I wanted to answer “Friends.” But I knew that was only a part of the whole answer my mind was wrapping around.
The next thought I had was “Love,” but again, that just didn’t seem quite right to me either. “All You Need Is Love” is not the way my mind works.
I mean, I have people I love, and who love me. But we need a roof over our heads, and clothes, and food, and…Well, you know what I mean…
What if I didn’t have these people in my life? What if I didn’t have my children to live for?
That would be a life I do not think I would enjoy.
I don’t think Honor brings happiness. I think it may bring vindication, but not happiness.
After all, if you have Honor, you feel better about yourself, but you may not necessarily be happy about the circumstances in your life because of Honor.
What if “Honor” demanded you make a decision that would make you unhappy for weeks or years, or require you to not make a decision and make someone else unhappy for weeks or years?
No… “Honor” was not my answer.
Then I thought “Money,” but, again, no. Money makes the world go round and all, but I’ve seen money bring about more unhappiness than good. Some money is good, too much…I think you see where I am going with this…
What if I had enough money to buy everything I wanted, or get my kids everything they wanted?
We’d be a bunch of bored, spoiled people who cared more about our things and our money than those in our lives…
No, Money was not the answer.
Finally, after all of this internal questioning of myself, I realized something…
“I think the secret to a life of happiness is being able to look back and say ‘What if’ and have as few regrets as possible given the choices you have made.” I gave a self conscious grin and reached to lift the screen on my laptop and go back to my music videos, but the person’s hand came out and covered mine, which immediately made me yank my hands away and say something that could be considered very rude by those who do not know me.
This person did not know me, but only chuckled and removed their hands. I don’t think they wanted to take a chance to see if I would go through with my threat of cutting their fingers off and shoving them up their nose.
“Why do you say that?”
“Why do I say I’ll cut your fingers off and shove them up your nose? It got you to get your hands away from me, didn’t it?”
They grinned and some of the redness had receded from their eyes and a little twinkle shone in the blue. “No. Not that. Why do you say that about your answer?”
“Well, I look back at my life, and I have a regret that I wasn’t braver to make more friends, but that’s a regret I can live with. I’m working on resolving the issue for future experiences. But…Well, ‘What if’ I didn’t try out for the Writing Team my eighth grade year? I may not have realized I loved writing as much as I do. ‘What if’ I’d never joined choir even though I love to sing? I never would have gotten to sing the solo for ‘I Will Survive’ during one of the concerts. It’s become one of my favorite songs. I think I would have regretted never having those experiences.”
“What about the regrets you do have that you don’t like having? The ones you find it hard to live with?”
“Well…” Now this was a little harder to explain, because it meant having to look at my life through the eyes of discontent. I try to avoid that, because I do not want to risk making a choice I would regret in the future.
This person gave me a moment and sipped their coffee.
“I try to find the good things that came from the choices I’ve made and regret. Then they aren’t so much regrets as learning experiences for my life. I mean, my husband drives me crazy, there are times I wonder why I ever gave him a second chance after he stood me up for our first date, or after I found out he lied about quite a few things… And there are times I am seriously tempted to stab him with something sharp, but…Without him, I wouldn’t have my beautiful daughters who I can’t wait to see what they do with their lives. They are smart, and funny, and sharp as tacks. They’re using arguments and excuses I didn’t use until I was twice their age. I’m already going grey, but I can definitely foresee a full head of silver hair before another ten years has gone by. And I feel sorry for any boys they bring home when they get old enough to date.”
The person, in an attempt to not inhale hot coffee, ended up squirting it out their nose as they fought not to laugh.
I was grinning as I handed this person a napkin to wipe up their snot coffee. I was surprised the urge to vomit had receded a great deal…Really! I only wanted to puke when I had to answer instead of just having to think about answering.
“What do you do for a living? You can’t be just a housewife.”
“And what if I was?” I gave them a long look until they started to squirm, then grinned. Grinning suppresses the upchuck reflex…(I learned that watching CSI). “I write. It keeps me sane.”
“That’s good. I’d hate to see in the paper that you went insane and stabbed your husband with something sharp.”
“Eh, I wouldn’t go to jail for that.”
“Nope. Because then he’d have to explain what he did to make me stab him, and I’m a lot more sympathetic than he is in front of a jury.”
They started laughing until they fell off their stool. Luckily they had set their coffee aside. I could see why they were laughing. I’d threatened them, a perfect stranger, for not keeping their hands to themselves, and I was the sympathetic one in the equation of me (A) and my husband (B), a sharp object (C ), and whatever the event was that led to A putting C in B.
Yeah, I hate math, appreciate the effort…
One of the regular workers at my haunt was looking at me curiously. They’d seen me broody, or annoyed, or down right hysterical when my birthday was ruined by my husband (the good point of which was I ended downloading “It‘s Entertainment” by Celtic Thunder as a treat to myself, I would like to point out) , but they’d never seen me make someone laugh like that.
I just kind of grinned and the other person pulled themselves back onto their stool. “What about choices that you need to make? How do you ensure your happiness for your life for the future?”
“Hmm…” I shrugged. “Would I regret doing it or not doing it more? If I would regret it, would I be able to live with it? Would I be able to find something good out of the choice I made if I was damned if I did and damned if I didn’t? I’d need to answer those questions. And if I can’t get a clear answer for myself, I ask myself ‘Would I have wanted this or that for my daughters if they were faced with this?’”
The person nodded and took another, more careful, sip from their coffee. “I like your answer.”
“Thanks.” I lifted the screen on my laptop and typed in my password and went to check my e-mail. Nothing.
“So, you must be pretty well known around here since the lady behind the counter is looking wide-eyed. Didn’t bat an eye when you threatened me, but the fact you seem to be talking to me seems to have her surprised. After talking to you, I think I can see why.” They laughed.
I shrugged. “She knows me. Been coming in here for a while.”
They nodded. “Don’t normally talk a lot, huh?”
“Not to strangers.”
“Took the lesson to heart, huh?”
“Are you going to ask me why I asked you such an odd question?”
“You were frustrated and unhappy, and thought I looked that way too?”
They were quiet for a moment. “Sort of.”
I shrugged. I was used to people saying I looked evil, mean, like I was going to faint, cry, or kill someone…I’d heard some really odd things over the years. “Eh, they say Misery loves Company.”
“Yeah, but that’s only if they plan on making the other person miserable…I thought you were already there, so I wouldn’t feel bad about making you miserable too.”
I shrugged again.
“That wasn’t the only reason though.”
“Oh.” I didn’t make it a question, but they seemed to take it that way.
“I’ve done what everyone wanted of me my whole life, and I was sick of it. I mean, I’ve done everything to make everyone else happy, but none of them are happy with me. I’ve never done anything for myself so far as my choices go. I got nothing to show for all of it…”
“And so you decided to ask me because?”
They looked at me for a moment and then smiled. “You look like a smart person. I thought I might get a smart answer.”
I smirked a little at that. “Thanks. Hope I helped.” I looked at the clock and picked up my smoothie, downing the last quarter of it. “I gotta go pick up my kid.”
“No ‘It was nice meeting you?’”
“I don’t even know your name, so I didn’t really meet you, did I?” I grinned and shoved my laptop into the bag. “But seriously…Find the good things that came from what you’ve done. Try to make choices you can live with and won’t regret later. I don‘t think it‘s that big a secret, but a lot of overlooked common sense.”
“Are you going to do that?”
“I’m working on it.” I slung my bag on my shoulder and picked up my hoodie from the back of the barstool.
“Well…I don’t really know what to say…Like you said, we didn’t really meet.”
“It was an interesting and memorable encounter.” I turned and went for the door. The bell on the door didn’t exactly drown out the person asking the person behind the counter my name.
“You wanna know, you go ask her.”
I grinned at the answer…
“I think I can live with not knowing. For now.”