I am at a conference and I’ve come alone.
There is a brunch. Meet the authors, the write up says. An intimate gathering.
We do not share the same understanding of the word intimate.
I am sitting at a table for four except there’s only one of me. It’s a room of about one hundred people.
These other people sit in groups of four or six or a dozen. Conversations and card exchanges abound.
I attempt an expression of engagement. This goes on for some time while the wait staff gathers the chits for our meal choices. I sip sparingly out of my styrofoam coffee cup.
The waitress comes to take my ticket and places a glass of water in front of me. She places a second glass of water in front of the empty chair beside me.
“Just in case someone decides to sit next to you,” she says and I feel worse than before the glass was placed there.
There is a woman across the aisle, sitting at a table for two. She is glancing around the room through lowered eyes. I feel a pang of empathy or, perhaps, hope. I go up to her and say:
“Are you awkward and alone? Would you like to be awkward and alone with me?”
She blushes. She is grateful. We sit together at our table for two. It’s a real table for two now because there are two of us. We are together.
We start with our names, first and last.
We shake hands the way women do, offering up paws, tugging lightly on each other’s fingertips.
“Is this your first conference?” She asks.
“Yes,” I say. “It’s my first time.”
“Me too,” she says and we lean into one another and smile.
She says that it is such a relief to meet someone here, to not be alone.
I agree. It is a relief.
We share our stories and, soon, we are like old friends.
All of this is happening in my head.
In reality, another woman enters the room. She catches the eye of my lady and there is a look of recognition between them. My lady smiles. She has a broad smile, the kind they say can light up a room. And it must be true because I’m dazzled. All I can see is them.
They move toward each other. My hands sweat.
“Did you order the French Toast?” My lady asks the new one.
“Yes,” the new one responds. “You?”
“Yes,” my lady says, “me too!” And the new lady laughs like music and sits down at the table for two which is now a real table for two because there are two of them. I am still sitting at the table for four which is really a table for one (and a half, if you count the second glass of water).
I take a sip of my coffee. It is lukewarm.