When Your Life is in Ruins, Simple Companionship is Such a Gift

Read this reflective narrative about being there for others in times of need.

Shemaiah’s world fell apart when her fiancée left unexpectedly. The next day, she crossed paths with a work acquaintance who had the vision to see that she was in distress. His simple gesture was enough to help her return from the margins of grief.

I found him sobbing in our front room. I thought he ran over our cat.

I glanced across the room and noticed the fish tank was gone, as was his banjo. The books in the bookshelves leaned into each other because he had removed his novels.

And it hit me: he was leaving me.

After seven years of dating and five years of living together, he was leaving. And he couldn’t even tell me. He just sat there and cried. Then left me alone with the cat.

It would be a few days before I made it back to classes. Even then, I wore my never-actually-worn-for-yoga pants to campus, the ones I had been sleeping in. I was in a daze.

I truly did not know what to do next. After graduation, we were to be married. I had the rest of my life lined up, planned out, and now I didn’t even know where to start. I was to graduate in just a few short months, but now, just getting through the week was an issue — let alone to the end of the semester.

On Friday, I went into the office where I worked part-time. I needed to pick up my check. I knocked on the door to my boss’s office and walked in. Alden was less than 10 years older than me; I assumed he was Irish, with his rosy cheeks and unkempt ginger hair. He always seemed more funny-older-brother than boss.

He looked up from his desk. “Wow, you look like shit!” he said without missing a beat.

I had honestly made an effort to be presentable, to hide my pain behind a little lipstick and a fresh shirt. Alden saw right through it.

“I feel like shit,” I told him as flatly as I could. “R moved out.” There was no way I was going to cry in front of my boss. No matter how cool he was.

Alden didn’t flinch. “I’m taking you to lunch,” he said as he grabbed his jacket.

I didn’t know if I had class that afternoon or not. I did know I hadn’t eaten in a while, unless you consider eating an entire bag of Doritos as dinner the night before. I appreciated not having to make a decision, and followed after him.

Alden drove us to one of those fancy grocery stores — like Whole Foods, but fancier. He said there was a café inside where we could grab lunch and then he could pick up some groceries he needed. Thankfully, he was buying lunch.

As we ate California rolls in the café, I expected Alden to ask me about R. I didn’t want to have to tell the story. It was embarrassing. And I didn’t want to cry. But he didn’t ask.

Instead, we watched the people who walked by the café. Alden pointed out great shoes or someone who looked like a B-level celebrity. He told me about his album collection — he’d been hunting for a few of his wife’s favorite artists and recently found a recording at a yard sale.

When we finished eating, we went farther into the store where he wanted to pick up items for dinner. He told me his wife had been working a lot lately. It was a stressful time at her job. He wanted to make her a special dinner.  

I followed him to the produce section, where he selected cherry tomatoes (they tasted like candy, he said), tender baby greens, and cobs of corn. Then to the wine shelves, where he seemed to actually know what he was looking for: a crisp California Viognier. Then to the seafood counter where he picked out blue soft-shell crabs. They were alive.

“You know how to cook this stuff?” I asked him.

“Yeah! I always make my wife a special meal at the end of her project to celebrate.”

I felt better when we returned to the office. I’d even smiled a little bit. Alden hadn’t asked about R and me. He didn’t offer any words of encouragement or wisdom. He saw I was hurting and was willing to just spend time with me.

That night, alone in my apartment, I thought about how restorative it was to just be during that lunch hour — to have room to simply exist in the human family again.

It was such a small gesture— hey, come eat lunch with me as I grab groceries — but it meant so much. Alden had offered it instinctively — he saw me in distress and offered the simple gift of companionship. He didn’t try to fix anything, and didn’t even need to understand everything that had gone wrong. It was enough to just spend time together. My grief had sent me into orbit and I had lost my tether to the world. For that lunch hour at least, I had my feet on the ground.

I also thought about how lovingly Alden had selected all those special foods for his wife. I could see he loved her. He was always talking about how smart and put-together she was.

R would have never done something like that for me. I don’t mean that he didn’t buy me fancy things or never made a delicious dinner for me, but he would never have celebrated me in that manner. We did not have that sort of relationship.

And then it hit me: I had dodged a bullet. I could have married R. I could have spent the rest of my life not feeling celebrated or loved. I could have spent the rest of my life listening to banjo music.

That realization was enough of a foothold to start climbing out of the dark hole I was in. But without Alden’s kindness, it would have taken me a lot longer to find.

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