Blog: Point No Point

Pine Street Episode 137

Call me when you need a break.

Allison read the text from Kassandra once, twice, three times. The first time, she read in astonishment; the second and third times, she read with deepening gratitude. 

As she waited for the soup she’d made for her parents’ lunch to heat up, Allison called. 

“Are you at work?” she asked Kassandra.

“Just stepped out for my 15 minute break, so your timing is perfect,” Kassandra answered. Allison allowed herself to suspect that this was a white lie, that the young artist-barista had called to her work mate and said, hey, I’m taking my break now, when she saw Allison’s name on her phone. 

She is just that much more kind than the rest of us, Allison thought.

“How’s your mom?” Kassandra asked.

“Fine, you know, as much as can be expected,” Allison said. She prepared herself to launch into the story of her mom’s diagnosis, surgery, prognosis, but Kassandra spoke again.

“Good. And you? How are you?” 

Perhaps it was the unexpectedness of the question, or even the way Kassandra had reached out. Or perhaps it was the build up of all the worry over her mother’s condition. Maybe, it was the accumulated frustration of being cast as both child and caregiver. 

Allison began to cry. She stepped to the other side of the kitchen door, closed it behind her, huddled under the little overhang on the back stoop. And cried. 

“I thought so,” Kassandra said, softly. 

When Allison could choke out a few words, they were an apology. “I’m sorry,” she said. 

“Nothing to apologize for. You need to let it out. It’s okay. It’s necessary. I don’t mind. I can listen to you cry as long as you need to.”

This made Allison giggle. The image of Kassandra, on Pine Street, holding her phone close enough to listen to a friend sob, while squinting into the sun or trying to find a place out of the spring wind, seemed terribly funny.

Soon, they were both laughing. Young women, each facing very different challenges, had found a moment to laugh together, across the miles between them. 

“I’d better get back inside. My parents need their lunch.” After a few more shared giggles, Allison hung up and returned to her parents. 

Friendship, Allison pondered, is such a gift. 

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Pine Street Episode 136

Allison sat on the front steps of her parents’ house, holding a mug of coffee in her hands, and staring into the middle distance between their front fence and the street.

She understood why people took up smoking. At least it gave them an excuse to step outside every hour or so for a few minutes. And when you are staying with your mother, watching her struggle to recover from surgery, with all your past swirling around, the future uncertain, and the present full of pain, you need to step outside.

Or, get up super early, as Allison had, bundle up against the morning chill, and take your first cup of coffee out on the porch. So if Mom wakes up, she won’t see me and start the day’s conversation, Allison pondered.

The thought immediately triggered a pang of guilt that threatened to interfere with her ability to swallow her coffee. I should be grateful Mom’s home for her recovery, and well enough to talk, she thought, not annoyed by her need to comment on everything about me and my life. Even when she says she supports me, it comes across as micromanagement.

There was something else, too, underneath the moderate annoyance at her mother’s ongoing critiques of her educational, vocational, and relationship choices. 

Allison was stunned by the vision of her mother as physically frail. She had always known her mom’s emotional ups and downs, had memorized them as a kind of road map of hazard areas to avoid. But seeing her mother in her nightgown, face dreadfully pale, thin hair mussed from too much time on a pillow, weaving unsteadily on her feet as she rejected the walker the hospital had sent home with her, this was new territory.

And it was territory that Allison disliked intensely. Any moment, watching her mom, panic would creep up her spine, or clutch at her bowels. This panic was beyond word or thought. It was, Allison began to understand, the simple, blank terror of confronting a vision of one’s own future. 

“Allison? Honey?” Her mother’s voice came through the front door. “Where are you?”

Taking a deep breath, Allison downed the dregs of her coffee, and stood. She took a long look around her, and started her inner clock, counting down to when she could, legitimately, take her next break to step outside. 

She opened the door.

“I’m here, Mom. Right here.”

Pine Street Episode 135

On the day everyone set their clocks ahead, to “spring forward,” Kassandra woke early and sprang out of bed. One gift of youth is that the change in time is absorbed quickly, with very little lingering resentment in the body. 

Sundays were typically her days to work in the studio that Douglas had set up for her, but this morning she’d offered to fill in for a coworker at the coffee shop. The coworker volunteered at the cold weather shelter, staying overnight at the church which opened its doors to anyone who needed a warm place to sleep, no questions asked. Kassandra had done this once or twice herself, and knew what it was like to try to adjust after having virtually no sleep. So she was happy to step in and let her coworker go home and rest.

Plus, it gave her a chance to see some of her regulars one more time. Kassandra loved the few moments she got to connect with each customer while she took their orders, made their drinks, corralled their sweet treats, and tidied up the tables. Regular or stranger, Kassandra felt each person brought something special to her day, each interaction created an opportunity to make their day a bit better.

This spring-forward Sunday, she was delighted to see Allison walk through the door. Kassandra greeted her friend heartily, and offered her usual dose of caffeine. “Ready to go to work at your store, Allison, and keep this community in printer paper and art supplies?” Kassandra smiled.

“I wish,” Allison answered. Kassandra noted the flatness of her friend’s voice, and trouble that lurked behind her eyes.

“Why, what’s up?” Kassandra asked.

“It’s my mom,” Allison said, taking the first sip from her mug of steaming, strong espresso. “She needs surgery, and my dad’s still not well enough to care for her. So I’ve got to go stay with her for a while.” 

Kassandra imagined this situation in her own life: having to give up, even temporarily, all the routines she’d built to care for the mother who was never truly satisfied with Kassandra’s choices anyway. It made her stomach ache a little.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” she said genuinely. “I hope your mom will be okay.”

“Me too,” Allison said. Her expression was so bleak, Kassandra pulled a cinnamon roll from her pastry case and put it on a plate.

“Here, it’s on the house,” Kassandra said, and was rewarded with a brief smile from her friend.

Pine Street Episode 134

Spring on the “other” side of the mountains, far from Pine Street, closer to the moderating effect of the ocean, was a very different experience. Although the strange late-winter snow had buried the entire state, for a while, the other side soon found itself back in its usual pattern of gradual lightening of the grey that blanketed each day. Once in a while, a brisk wind would blow the clouds away, revealing blue sky and sending seagulls and starlings swirling on its drafts. The denizens of this “other” side would be drawn out of doors, only to be chilled to the bone by the wind. 

On the whole, they much preferred the incremental change of seasons, becoming connoisseurs of various shades of grey.

This included Sasha. Deeply tempting though it was to show up on David’s doorstep, to disrupt his small-town idyll, to win him back, the climate helped hold her to home. She could not quite imagine living year-round in such extremes of cold and heat. 

No, reunion with David depended on luring him back to the city, back to the lifestyle Sasha loved and she knew David would love, too, much as he would learn to love her again. 

She’d grown so much since they were together, and she longed for the chance to demonstrate to him her new depth of understanding, her revised character. 

In the meantime, she waited, as spring waited for its chance to be revealed in all its other-side glory.

That day arrived in early April. The wind arrived, but this time it did not bring a bone-curdling chill. This time, it carried the lightness and warmth of the sun to every corner of the city. The thick grey overcast dissipated, leaving puffs of white clouds sailing in its wake. Baby crows stretched their immature wings, cawing out their desire to try flight for the first time.

Sasha stepped outside, ready to walk to her favorite coffee shop, and watched as the sky turned the shade of blue that only sky over water can achieve.  

She snapped a quick selfie, coffee mug in hand, blue sky in the background, and texted it to David, with no words to accompany it. Her message was clear: 

Wish you were here.

Pine Street Episode 133

Franny looked up from her keyboard and squinted. 

A beam of sunshine entered her apartment through the window, slanted low, aglow with the promise of actual warmth. 

Snow still covered the rooftops and yards on Pine Street; ice crystals glittered in the breakthrough of sunlight. Winter had lingered this year, with a late punch of blizzards that seemed unending. The energy on Pine Street turned anxious and edgy. People were irritable and dogs misbehaved out of boredom. A daylong break would bring out the people and dogs, slogging across berms of snow and ice left by the plows, and then the next storm would chase them all back inside.

This sunbeam felt different, somehow. Franny went to the window to be closer to it, to absorb its warmth. In a fit of madness, judging by the lingering ice, she threw the window open and took a deep breath.

As she coughed out the cold air, she heard birdsong. A group of robins hopped about, eating the last lingering fruit on the ornamental pear tree in front of her building, creating mini snowfalls as they landed on laden branches. 

A single small cloud moved to block the sun, casting her apartment back into darkness, and sending a chill down her spine. Franny closed the window, turning back to her computer, ready to pick up where she left off in the chapter she was writing. 

But something changed in the five minutes the sunbeam had flooded her apartment, and she knew what it was.

The smell of cold air had changed, no longer full of the imminent arrival of more snow. It held an undertone of green, of growth, of newness.

The song of the robins was not the desperate calling to one another to help find the last source of food. It sounded of celebration, of hope.

Even the cloud that had blocked the sun looked different. 

Franny felt it in her bones. She pulled on boots and threw on a coat, and headed out of doors.

Spring was not here, and it was not even around the corner, but it was coming. It would bring the warmth of the sun, and the winds of change.

Franny walked, dodging snow dropping from tree limbs, toward the lingering light in the west, until it completely disappeared.

Pine Street Episode 132

David had no idea that Kassandra held such good will for him. His loneliness formed a wall around his intuition and understanding, a wall that was virtually impenetrable. Paradoxically, the more he longed for company, the more he behaved in ways that further cemented the wall.

The plan that tickled the back of his mind exemplified this paradox. He figured that Leo would soon move out of Allison’s basement and in with Franny, anyway, so why not hurry it along a bit? And then, with Allison needing a roommate, David could move in. 

Just down the street from his dad and Louise, not needing to see how close they were becoming, but nearby, so he could keep an eye on that situation.

Far enough away from Sasha so that she wouldn’t have an opportunity to slink back into his life more than he wanted her to.

And Allison would of course stay close to Leo, and give David information that he might be able to use, when the time was right, to insert a wedge between Leo and Franny.

All this scheming came from the need to find someone to be close to, someone who could be a partner. Most of us are like this. The seed of our behaviors is natural, necessary. The plant grows warped toward the only light we offer it, whether its source is compassion, understanding, and love, or jealousy, envy, and fear. 

The wall David built around himself only let in light from the fear that if anyone truly knew him, they would reject him. So the seeds of his behavior grew toward that light, creating a tangle of schemes and plans too complex to manage. 

Stealing dogs, knocking over lovers with a jeep, and now sowing consternation among friends. David kept plowing forward like a road grader through the snow, trying hard not to notice what he splattered along the way.

His next stop, after the office supply store, was not to Leo or Franny, as he could do nothing so directly. David’s next stop was back to Marilyn’s house, to start the wheels in motion with his father and Louise. 

Pine Street Episode 131

On her way into the office supply store, Kassandra nearly collided with David. “Hello,” she said. Ever since she discovered that David had, indeed, known her childhood friend Sasha, Kassandra had tried to reach out to him. She wanted to learn more about Sasha’s life, but did not want to raise sad memories. On some level, being closer to David was a way of being closer to Sasha, of holding out the hope that she could reconnect with Sasha herself, at some point.

But David had withdrawn further, as if this odd coincidence of a person whom they had both loved, or who had loved both of them, frightened him. Kassandra did not want him to be scared. She held nothing against anyone, including him, not even his strange behavior on Pine Street, not even his clear “secret” crush on Franny, not even his sometimes discourteous rejection of his father’s overtures. 

Kassandra is one of those rare souls who truly wants everyone to be happy. She never uses another person’s misfortunes to make herself feel more secure or more deserving of her own fortunes. She never asks the universe for revenge. She wastes no time or energy trying to even scores or elevate her own ego.

She loves people truly, as a whole and as individuals, and often finds herself puzzled by those who do not. How could you not love people? They are infinitely odd, curious, engaging, unpredictable, entertaining; they are always striving, always moving, always becoming.

Kassandra, therefore, mustered as warm a “hello” for David as she could manage on this cold slushy day, hoping for a moment of connection, a chance to reassure him with eye contact that at least one person today would be glad to see him.

But he brushed past her without making eye contact, lost in another world. David’s energy painted itself on the young artist-barista as he passed, and Kassandra’s heart ached for his loneliness.