Then, an afternoon snack on a swivel stool is everything, you with your cartoonishly big Diet Coke, your date with their Gumby-long fries. It’s as if you’re playing hooky on your real life— which isn’t a thing, and which you will soon learn when you leave your cell phone in the bathroom stall.
When it occurs to you that you and your screen have been separated, you will ask your date to call it first and then, with less lilt in your voice, to look for it in the car. Even as you are asking, you are also remembering. You remember telling yourself, as you took it out of your bib overalls and placed it atop the toilet paper dispenser, “Do not forget your cell phone.” You may have even paused and blinked, as if taking a mental picture would memorialize its placement. It didn’t, and now you are an hour away, checked into a groovy hotel, with your bikini bottoms on but your button-up shirt not yet off.
After your date pulls up the Find My iPhone app and it pinpoints the location of your lover’s stop, you will know what you must do. At least, you will think you know because there is often a ready script for the SHOULDS of your life. You must go back and get it. It is the responsible, adult thing to do, even though getting back in the car means you will miss drinking sangria from a box by the pool, miss the ink from your library book rubbing off on your thighs, and very likely miss the dinner reservations you and your date made two months ago.
There will be nothing sexy about the start of your getaway, save for the fact that you once were wearing only half a swimsuit.
And so, you will take your pants to the bathroom in order to put them back on in the privacy of your own shame. You know it’s okay to make mistakes. That it’s not the end of the world. Emotional recovery is possible. You are also not okay that it was YOU who made the mistake, embarrassed to have ended if not the world then at least the MOOD, and aware that the average time span for you to “emotionally recover” is more than your anticipated round trip. You are doomed, and you can’t stop thinking it.
“I have to go back,” you will mutter to yourself.
And then another voice will answer, “But what if you didn’t?”
You will take your palms off your face and look up as if to catch who said it. But there is no one there but you and a strange calm currently settling over your insides as if someone turned off the jets in a hundred-degree hot tub.
In the quiet, your inner compass will finally turn off auto-pilot and asses. What’s more important? Reconnecting with your phone or reconnecting with your date?
It will occur to you now that you do not even like your phone. It’s greasy with makeup and turns off at will and doesn’t even give the satisfaction of a doodle-y-do anymore when you plug it in at night to take its charge. The more you play this out—the getting in the car, the sullen look on your face (there’s no getting around it), the way your date tries too hard to reassure you, not to mention getting to McDonald’s with no guarantee that your phone isn’t in someone’s pocket or someone’s toilet water—the more you know that “but what if you didn’t” is your freedom song.
You will still do right by your phone. You will call and leave a message on the McDonald’s answering machine which you are sure ZERO people check. You will lock your phone and somehow—through the miracle of technology—post your date’s phone number should anyone find it. You will pray, too, and get a little lofty with the words, swanning, “What can mere mortals do to me?” Finally, yes, finally, you will put your bathing suit top on and feel as if the weekend has begun.
By the time you towel off to get ready for dinner, your phone has been found and is being held until you can drive back through on Sunday. PRAISE THE LORD. By the time you drive back through on Sunday, you have begun hearing “but what if you didn’t?” about almost everything.
But what if you didn’t reply to that text that’s testing your boundaries?
But what if you didn’t listen to your inner critic when she cries fraud?
But what if you didn’t try to make more money and learned to live on less?
But what if you didn’t pour four glasses when you got bored?
But what if you didn’t say every small thing you were thinking?
But what if you didn’t hold back on being honest about the big stuff?
But what if you didn’t try to fix other people’s bad behavior by being good?
But what if you didn’t decide on an end time for intimacy?
But what if you didn’t settle for less than you’re worth?
But what if you didn’t do the thing you always do?
You will not know the answers to all these questions, not yet. You will only know that the question itself is an invitation into another way, in which you are not an automaton in your own life. You are its co-author.
You know that a good story cannot move forward until it changes direction.
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