A letter to Caroline Winters
Updated: May 25
I thought of you earlier today and decided I'd waste a stamp to talk about it. I'm happy to say my original plans to catch you up on my life were derailed by the most you situation I think I've ever found myself in.
I'm sitting in a modernist-rustic (rustic-modern?) café in Norfolk, near the brutalist health center I sent you the photo of on Tuesday. It's imposed upon by a gentrified apartment complex on its flanks and top—the one I live in—and has all sorts of small, $15 cold sandwich wraps. I can't imagine people go for those. I've bought you at least ten of them over the years.
But my point is the barista. She's in her late twenties, straight(ened) brunette hair in a ponytail, beautiful black ink on her forearms, a kind smile. A whole kindness to her. She'll celebrate her 101st birthday about 80 years from now with a kind family. I sat at the coffee bar for about seven minutes before she turned around to see me and ask for an order.
The other woman was younger, with short hair and a powerful smile, glasses with glass frames, a sharpness to her that she was definitely aware of. She had an awesome shacket on too, like you probably do now.
The two talked for those seven minutes and I couldn't tell if they were together, but any sense of timeliness or the "they're taking so long, shit service" impulse was washed away by my hope that they were.
I got the sense that they weren't there quite yet, though, because the barista was indeed faced away from me, but the girl with the short hair saw me at least twice a minute for seven minutes (that's 14 minutes, Caroline). She could've nudged the barista and pointed to me 14 times, but kept darting her eyes from me back to the warmth of the barista's, trying to control her laughter and failing so perfectly. Maybe she didn't say anything out of contempt for me, maybe out of a desire to cherish all the time she could with the barista. Either way, I was happy to be waiting.
It was a set of moments that I think only God was supposed to see. This was the beginning of something, or maybe stage two or three of it. I could see the glasses girl's soul behind the wrinkles around her eyes when she smiled and laughed, when she playfully smirked and raised her eyebrows at something the woman across from her was saying. I saw desire and hope. I saw the relentless need in that woman's eyes to make something real between them. They haven't been together long, they're still getting comfortable, but it seems so inevitable that they will. I hope they go so far.
I don't know why this struck me so much if I'm honest with you. It could be how I simultaneously miss Emma and Imani. Imani was so obviously the one for me, but then she wasn't. I don't know how that happened or what exactly changed, and the hardest part was finding out that I'd never know—finding out that the way to move on was to stop looking for answers about it. Emma is who I picture when I think of beauty, like the word. Not the word perfection (that's you). She was problematic for a whole bunch of reasons we talked about the other day. Her mom only ever talks about bad work ethic and immigration, and that didn't help things. I don't know why I'm thinking about them now.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that I know now what you meant in your last letter by "I felt a click in my soul and knew damn well Harrison and I had a future." I could see that moment happen in real time today, waiting for my cold brew. I remember that feeling with Imani. I remember wanting to plan the damn wedding. I remember wanting to stop every part of my life for her—even and especially the parts I'd worked hardest to establish. I missed that moment so damn much every day for a whole year after Imani moved. But today when I think of a moment like that, I think only of the woman in the shacket and the barista woman she shared that shock with.
I miss you, Care. I hope you're well and, like always, hope you and Harrison are doing well. New Carried Soul episode out tonight—I'll give you guys a call for our debrief, probably before you get this letter.
I think everyone should have an ex like me who watches shows with you and your new, much better boyfriend. Or probably no one should.