This piece was first published in NortheastPoetry Review 2020
The Olive Tree
I had a roommate in college that couldn’t understand it. His name was Frank and he’d walk in the room and find me sitting in bed, staring at the ceiling and the wall. He’d say, “How come you’re always just looking at the wall when I come in?” I wanted to tell him that I was actually staring at the corner between the ceiling and the wall, but I thought it wouldn’t matter. So I’d say nothing back.
I didn’t know what to say, and I couldn’t understand it myself back then. I would just lie there and think. In those years, I daydreamed a lot and I’d get very depressed, so it was probably a bit of both. But it really seemed to bother him on some level. It was the way he’d say it. Not with malice, but not jokingly either. Like he’d caught someone smelling their own underwear. In time, whenever I heard him approaching the door, I’d sit up and find something to do in order to look occupied.
Living with others forces us to be more self-conscious in a very uncomfortable way. Even if ‘living’ means living on Earth with co-workers and classmates and family and friends. We still have to walk on eggshells and look into what we think are other people’s mirrors. Even if it’s for a second. What a horrible encounter.
I sat my ass in a nice chair today for 40 minutes with a cup of tea and stared at the wall, half-thinking and half-not-thinking at all. I hadn’t done that in a very long time. And when I did get to thinking, I finally thought of Frank and what he would say if somehow he walked in the room. Then it all came to me like a wild horse over a razor edge sand dune. Frank just didn’t understand. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
I exhaled and picked up my tea. A few drops pooled at the bottom. I lifted the cup and tilted it toward my mouth. I could taste one sweet drop, and I swallowed it down.
Sometimes the one thing harder than life itself is picking the right place to just sit.
With or without a ceiling or a wall.