It’s a very bland place. The walls are white, the ceiling tiles are speckled white, the floors are white linoleum of some kind with little grey and brown flecks. The nasty, dirty fridge is white with a brown psuedo-wood handle on the left side that creaks open to reveal grey shelves covered in dried liquids and sticky stains. The counter where the new microwave sits is low and off kilter, the cabinets below are either empty or filled with old and decaying paper products. There are two tables, one is covered with a jumbled assortment of forks, knives, plates and a decided lack of napkins. The other sits in the center of the room, facing the tv on its rolling stand, surrounded by a few uncomfortable chairs that are barely good enough for the employed, let alone seriously high valued customers.
It’s an uncomfortable place. We may enjoy one another on the teller line, and we may laugh like we are all friends, but just come down to our break room and you’ll see another side. We have nothing to say to one another. The tv is always on, a welcome distraction from the awkward silences that would otherwise lay heavily on our souls. Edmundo asks me about my time in Colorado: the usual small talk that I so desperately abhorr. He manages to ask if I have a boyfriend, since I remark that I have little to call a social life and my free time is taken up by running. The bizarre movie on the tele is broken up by my little laugh as I say no, no not anymore. To which he asks why, and I can hardly give him an answer that does not divulge more than I am willing to say in this cold and empty room.
Michael steps in, boasts that he eating tamales. They’ve been bought somewhere of course. Not even Edmundo has ever made tamales, though he admits to making his own tortillas. Sarah comes in as well and she sits in the corner, fiddling with her phone while eating McDonalds. We talk about sales, about kids, about the fact that Michael and his girlfriend looked at rings recently but he isn’t getting married any time soon. Edmundo seems surprised when I say I like cooking, Michael complains about the catering for hte Chamber of Commerce event the night before.
It’s awful this empty conversation. THere is nothing to it, though I think Edmundo wishes it were different. Befor eeveryone else arrived he asked how my Spanish was. I think he might be lonely away from home. It’s been three years since he went back to see his family. He said he just bought a tv recently and a cable package but there is nothing on with his 500 channels. Still, he says he appreciates the background noise. There is a blank look in his eyes, does he appreciate the background noise? Or does he need it because there is no one at home? No community, no family, just a cold apartment, full of things but no one to share them with. He does have a daughter, he says that the cartoons are useful when she comes over.
But Edmundo, if you aren’t married, and you share custody with your former girlfriend/wife/signifcant other, how often do you see your daughter? Don’t you want to spend time with her instead of puting her in front of the wildly colourful and perfectly unnecessary tv screen? Or are you so lost and confused and dazed by this bizarre culture we call “American” that you have lost sight of that? I know you say your father wanted you to play futbol, and I’m sure it was a rift when you refused, I’m sure that throws a wrench into family relations. But did no one model to you the love that a father can shower upon a child?
He seems a little quiet and unsure. Maybe it’s me. No one ever knows what to do with me. He says I seem older than I am, but he also doesn’t seem like he knows how to talk to me. He stares at the tv. I stare at the tv. It’s a safe escape from the awkward lack of conversation we are having.
I risk a sideways glance. He is one of the paler Mexicans I have known. His face is almost too round. But his leather jacket he wears to cover the stain he got on his shirt when preparing lunch, it’s familiar to me. I’m sure if I was sitting closer I could smell the open air market in Ciudad de Mexico. The way he walks is not quite macho enough to be truly Mexican, but his Spanish is beautiful, wringing my soul in almost painful longing.
Edmundo leaves the break room soon after he finishes eating his instant rice and meat that looks like my favorite dinner at La Leonesa. He looks like a man escaping, and this lunch room is a place that deserves to be fled. There is nothing substantial here, only empty souls longing and yet unsure of how to relate to one another.
I almost want to follow him. He looks so small and worried, I want to hug him. Edmundo, come with me. Let me show you my life. It’s better on this side. I promise. It’s not perfect, I’d laugh at that thought. It’s far from perfect because we may be reconciled to the creator but we are daily being reconciled to each other because we are daily pulling apart. I promise, it’s not like the Catholicism you knew as a child in Mexico. But come with me! It’s jacked up over here, it’s messy and it hurts. But there is something beautiful on this side as well. Let me introduce you to the Christian hedonists, the way we were meant to live and enjoy creation, each other and God.
Edmundo, there’s a way to live, it’s so much better than the lonely existence you know now. I don’t know what I’m doing half the time, I’m so screwed up I can hardly see straight, but there’s a sort of peace that seems to calm my spirit in the midst of the questions. I’m finally letting go and being okay with not understanding. I’m losing control and it doesn’t scare me as much as I expected. I am learning how to be loved and how to share that with others, isn’t that something you want? I’m learning it doesn’t have to be about me, that I can have a purpose outside of reputation and my self image–and it actually makes life better in a way.
Don’t you want that?
But I don’t know how to say that to him. So I slouch in my uncomfortable red chair and turn back to the tv after helplessly watching him leave the room. Michael is still chewing his tamale, Sarah is texting and I am wishing I had profound words to change the life of a man I hardly know.