It was just a stop for coffee. Just a quick run-in for some caffeine before getting to work on a new project with my friend John. Just a short, easy-breezy, shoot in-and-out java run.
And as soon as I walked in the door, I heard those strings. Those magnificent strings resonating and humming, closing out the ending of U2's "All I Want Is You." It was near the end of the song, and all I got was half a second of it, but I knew exactly how far into the song it was, almost to the second.
"I have to go," I said to John as I spun on my heel and walked right back out the door.
I took out my phone and pretended to read an email or a text or a funny post on Facebook or something... Anything so that I'd have some form of plausible deniability when John inevitably asked me just what the hell that was about. The entire front of the store was composed windows, so I tried to walk around the corner while staring at my phone so everyone in the shop wouldn't think I was crazy. Nevermind they weren't even watching me... That's not how it felt. It felt like every single eye was on me. Everyone in the shop, everyone on the street... Everyone, watching me try my best not to cry.
And I didn't. Not this time.
A few months ago, however, that wasn't the case when the exact same scenario took place just down the street at a different coffee shop. Only that time, I was with John's wife, Jen, working on something completely different. And the wound of my marriage ending was much fresher. The same thing happened: the song that played during my first dance with the woman who had just become my wife... It came on over the radio of a coffee shop and I lost my shit. I had to run out of there and cry in the snow on a strange street in LaFayette, Indiana.
This time... No tears. Just a sock to the gut as I heard those strings play at the end of the song.
I stood there around the corner from the shop as I counted the notes and let the song play out in my head. I didn't want to hear the damn thing, even in my head. I tried my best to force it out, but I couldn't. Note by note, those strings played and played and played... I swear to God, that fucking song goes on forever at the end. That's actually part of the reason we chose it to dance to, so our dance would last.
How ironic that it would be playing in a random coffee shop in another town the day after I finally posted publicly about the fact that I am divorced. Maybe that was the point. Maybe fate is trying to test me to see how far I've come.
The song finally ended in my head. I felt it was safe to come in. When I did, John didn't ask what the hell happened. In fact, he didn't say a word. He just handed me my coffee and we discussed the art on the wall. And like that, the moment was over. There was no further pain. There was no lingering sadness. I heard the song; I ran from it and saved myself.
But that's the great lie, isn't it? You can't outrun yourself. Maybe you can avoid a song playing on the radio or in a public place that reminds you of something painful. Maybe you can avoid addressing the situation directly and run from your pain... But it'll find you. Even in a small town in Indiana while visiting friends, it'll find you.
As near as I can tell, that's the healing process in a nutshell. You run from your pain as long as your stamina holds out, and then at some point you run out of breath and it catches you and you have no choice but to feel it.
And then, it's over.
The song stops playing. The person you're arguing with walks away. The movie ends. The smell of her perfume fades. The sound of a laugh sounding just like his from a stranger is drowned out by the crowd. Your heart keeps beating. Air moves in and out of your lungs. At some point, your feet start walking and your arms start swinging and before you know it, it's months and months after the fact. And then that song comes on, or you see that person you fought with, or see that movie or smell that perfume or hear that laugh, and you don't cry this time. And next time, you don't even have to catch your breath. And the next time after that, you have to remember why it is it bothered you in the first place.
As Robert Frost said: "In three words, I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on."