Kassandra brings two warm raspberry scones over to Louise and her daughter, rehearsing the daughter’s name: Jessie. She was ready with some warm banter, as well, but their expressions tell her to place the plates, murmur “here you go, enjoy,” and skedaddle back to the counter. She works hard for the next hour to ignore every clue from their table, every raised or lowered voice, every pause. Kassandra knows how often deeply personal conversations happen within a few feet of her or the other baristas. They share an equally deep commitment to temporary, situational, obliviousness. Like sleeping cats, they keep ears open for what is relevant: calls for refills, or tables needing to be cleared. Otherwise, they prevent words and phrases from entering their memories.
It’s the code of baristas, waitstaff, servers everywhere, and the best ones honor it scrupulously.
What would she have heard, had Kassandra been less scrupulous in her adherence to the code of baristas?
Since we have no such scruples, we will listen carefully to the conversation between Louise and Jessie.
“What about us?” Jessie offers, wary of what might come next, after her mother claims they are to be the main topic of discussion. Their history includes many such exchanges that devolved into shouts, tears, or stony silences.
Louise takes a deep breath. “First, sweetheart, I want you to know how amazing I think you are. You took the crappy start in life that I gave you, and turned yourself into a strong, generous, woman. An incredible wife and mother. All on your own, really, with no significant help from me. I admire you, Jessie. I see how hard you’ve worked and what you’ve sacrificed. I love you so much. You blow me away.”
This is not at all what Jessie expected. Her mother has made similar comments before, but not all at once, and never face to face. She doesn’t know how to respond.
Louise goes on. “I know. I’ve not said those things enough. That’s on me, and I’m sorry. At some point, if you are able to forgive me, would you let me know? I don’t demand or expect it, but I would like to know if it happens.”
It already has, Jessie wants to say, but the words stick. She wants to explain: how do you think I built this life? On spite? That’s a lousy foundation. It’s all built on forgiveness: of you, of the foster parents, of alcohol, of the universe. How could I love Stephen and the kids so much if my heart was still full of rage?