by Susan Taylor Brand
I went to coffee at Aunt Helen’s Coffee Shop in downtown Greeley, which advertises itself as “the Snarky side of coffee,” during a break at the teacher’s conference that morning. There were five of us: my interventionist partner Salley Winestaff, Jennifer, the Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Specialist, Connie, who has a 3rd grade, and Marilyn, a young woman just married, who’s our school’s behavior interventionist. We are all getting fancy coffee drinks with names like “Spice it up Buttercup,” “Rome is Overrated,” and “Foam Moustache.”
So what’s going on says Salley.
“My mother’s been going on Match.com,” says Marilyn. That’s because, she says, Marilyn’s dad left her. No warning.
“Well was there someone else?”
“He said no, but …now he has someone, she showed up after only a couple of months. So I think yes.” Marilyn’s my daughter’s age, so her parents must be me and Leo’s age. It’s kind of like hearing that the bubonic plague has been discovered in the town next door.
The table is long and low and we have our sandwiches on it – Hot Shot Avocado Toast and a Wrap it Up Already egg and ham in a waffle cone shell, a Bacon Chick a Boom Boom sandwich – and our coffees. I don’t have a sandwich. I’m too vain about my weight and too cheap, both. I eye the sandwiches hungrily. But then, I suspect, they’re not as good as they look. And who knows what they put in them to keep them fresh all day. It’s okay to get your appetite walking around town, but I like to eat at home.
The counter gleams with stainless steel and glass. A picture at the front shows Aunt Helen, the shop’s namesake. Aunt Helen is a crotchety old lady 102 years old at last count. According to the shop’s owner she made a mean cup of the coffee and wouldn’t watch her mouth. She’d say anything. Thus the title, the Snarky Coffee Bar.
“Yeah my little sister, she got divorced this year,” said Salley. “But she divorced him, not the other way around. He was an alcoholic, the last two years he just lay on the couch. Now they broke up, he lost 100 pounds, he dried up, he’s got a new girlfriend, and my sister’s going on Match.com.”
“My mom’s looking online too,” says Marilyn.
“Yeah but how can you find someone in Greeley?” says Jennifer. She looks around. “I don’t see any prospects in here.”
Around the tables are a group of three young women, at the bar along the side are two middle-aged women, at the counter is a guy wearing a department of transportation safety vest, just coming in is an old guy with a walker, and at the next table are two young male teachers from the conference, somewhere in the vicinity of Marilyn’s age.
Salley is undaunted. “Maybe if you waited all day someone would come in. And it’s not just Greeley, there’s Windsor, Severance. It’s not like you have to find them in the coffee shop. You go on the app and then you can arrange to meet them.”
“I don’t want to arrange to meet someone I’ve never seen before,” says Jennifer.
I am amused. It’s a thing to do, I suppose. “You could stay here all day, checking guys out, and if the staff comes up to say ‘what are you doing,’ you say resting, reading the newspaper.”
Marilyn continues her chronicle. “My mother was dating this guy, he’s like a millionaire, he’s got a boat, a BMW … “
“No way, she should not date a guy who drives a BMW.” I say.
“She said he was too short, though, only five-nine.” Marilyn concedes.
“That’s not the reason she shouldn’t,” I rejoin. My husband is 5’9 after all, and so is Julie’s, he’s a good guy too.
“This guy with the BMW is arrogant and he’s pushy,” Marilyn says
“Now there’s a reason,” I reply.
“My Dad was six-four,” Marilyn continues. She says he was, as if he’s no longer in the family.
So was mine, I think. My dad, he left too. To me, going out with a tall man seems incestuous. My thinking of who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’ of the family is based on a secret matriarchy. In my calculus, you can only be in the family through connection to a female member. If you’re not with a woman of the family or a blood relative of the women, you’re an outlaw.
If the patriarchy is the public picture of the family, my vision of matriarchy is a color negative. In my mind, it’s what really is.
I remember Leo talking about “Gray Divorce.” People our age. I wonder if Leo would leave me. Unlikely. Though there are days when we both wish to escape from each other. We just don’t. Why not? Is it because I look out there and contemplate a guy with a boat and a BMW and am like, ‘ick’? Is it because I take care of myself and try to take care of him too?
I see my friend Arlyne’s new boyfriend, who she got after her husband left, with the slouch cap covering his bald spot. I’m appalled. There are also millions of men out there who don’t read books, who can’t cook, and who aren’t the dad of my children.
Nancy sums it up: “Well, ladies, I don’t know about you but if Brian dies, I’m done.”
“What she said,” I add on.
Jennifer stands, gets her sandwich, says, “We gotta get back to the conference.” With a scraping of chairs and a crinkling of packages, we are gone.
No one stays all day to check out the guys who come through. And no one checks a dating app. Tinder and Match.com, this particular table is not available today.
And even though it’s the Snarky Coffee Bar, I don’t say what I’m thinking at the end. Which is, if you can’t keep your man, it must really suck. Because when you’re over 50, there aren’t many good men left. I sure hope no one comes near mine. If they do, I think I might try to hurt them.