She was bawling.
Right there in Starbucks.
In front of God and everybody.
Just down the road from Nashville, in the Bible Belt, where people are loving and generous and not prone to let others cry in public without offering to pray for them or something.
I had studied her throughout the afternoon as I visited with an old friend. She had thick dark hair, big-eyes, and gorgeous skin. She looked a bit like Adriana Trigiani, the bestselling novelist from over the mountains.
The last time I’d looked her way, she was reading a book. The next time I looked she had begun to do the ugly cry. You know the one where the tears come like a flood and nothing you do curbs them?
I cry like that sometimes but I usually am hiding somewhere when it happens — like in the privacy of my car or a shower. Sometimes in an empty church.
I studied her for a moment, wondering if there was something in the book she’d been reading that had made her lose her composure. But the more she cried the more convinced I was that her crying had nothing to do with the book. Few books make a person do the bawl baby routine.
Other people were watching her by now, wondering like me, what they should do, if anything. She was sitting in one of those over-sized leather chairs in that section of Starbucks where people are encouraged to kick back, chill, chat, and/or read.
A man sat reading a book in the chair right next to her. He was trying hard to hide but the book was one of those smaller paperbacks. I knew he had to see her but he wasn’t having nothing to do with whatever was upsetting her.
Another man, older, paced back and forth in front of the counter where patrons go to doctor up their coffee. He kept watching her, trying to figure out, I suppose, how he could possibly approach her and offer help.
“That girl is crying, the ugly cry,” I said to my companion. She turned around. “Wonder should someone go over there and help her?”
By now the girl’s dark hair fell down around her cheeks as she cupped her face. She continued to cry. Her shoulders shook.
“You should go speak to her,” my companion suggested.
“You go,” I replied. “You live here.”
But I knew as I said it she wouldn’t go. My companion had done her own fair share of crying that afternoon, albeit much more discreetly. It was the anniversary of her husband’s death. These are hard matters, and certainly worthy of tears, whenever they come.
I did not want to go talk to some girl I didn’t know, but I couldn’t just sit there seeing that girl come apart like a Cracker Jack toy and not even try to help her.
If we had been making a video-trailer this would have been that moment when the entire room took a collective breath. I swear I heard an audible sigh of relief as I sat on the footstool before the girl, put my hand on one knee and asked, softly, “Honey is there something I can do to be of help?”
She shook her head and continued to cry.
I sat there. Not saying anything. Just letting her. My way of saying, go ahead, it’s okay. I’m not going anywhere.
She began to explain.
Nothing she said made any sense other than when she said, “I’m a regular here.”
I understood that much.
The other part was about some unrequited love.
I think. Though she could have been crying over whether to have cheddar cheese or provolone for supper and I would have been none the wiser.
“Is there somebody I can call for you?” I asked. “A friend? Your parents? A pastor?”
No. No. No. She shook her head.
Are you suicidal, honey? Are you thinking about hurting yourself?
No. No. No. She insisted. Then she told me about the self-help book she’s been reading, and how much it was helping her, but there’s this guy, you see, and you know, relationships don’t always go the way we plan, and well, there’s the parent thingy, and trying to figure out life.
I didn’t bother offering her advice.
I’m still trying to figure out this life thingy myself.
I sat there, nodding and listening, as she continued to ramble through salty waters and snot. At one point she pulled her sleeve down and wiped her entire face.
A cute couple sitting at a nearby table looked up from their iPads and smiled weakly. You know that look, the one that says: Oh, so glad you are the one doing that and not me.
The more the girl cried and rambled, the more convinced I was that she wasn’t thinking rightly. I so wanted to call her momma or her daddy and once more made that offer, about three more times, I think.
No, she said. She’d be alright.
Then, lickety-quick, she stopped crying. Just as quickly as the tears came, they stopped.
If you are sure you are going to be okay.
I walked back to my corner and my companion.
Some self-help books can be of great benefit, but usually we don’t need others to fix us. We just need somebody willing to sit with us while we work out what’s troubling us.
Somebody willing to come alongside us.