Most. Awkward. Lunch. Break. Ever.
In Missoula, I’ve welcomed meeting new friends with open arms. This means going on what I like to call, “blind-friend-dates.” Letting friends I know, set me up with their friends who live in Missoula. Nothing can go wrong, right?
So, I get an email from my friend, Jeff Brown, telling me I have to meet his friend, Dana.
Jeff Brown is better friends with Evan, but he’s dating my way good friend, Katrina [whom i’ve been on many an adventure with], so I trust his judgement. And this is Jeff Brown…
I email Dana and we exchange a few notes back and forth. I ask them if they wanna get a beer sometime after work, they say we should meet for coffee sometime in the middle of the day. Perfect!
And the first thing that’s a bit awkward is that I don’t actually know if Dana is a male or a female. No offense to Dana, but we’d only been communicating via email. I had just met a male Dana and knew a bunch of female Danas. And this Dana had said somethings like, “You’ll know me by my long, overdue-for-a-haircut hair, and my nubby, oatmeal-colored cap that I wear everywhere in the winter.” And I thought, Alright, maybe they are a guy… but I’m pretty sure they’re a girl.
So, I tell my friends at work to wish me luck on my blind-friend-date… with either a guy or a lady.
I walk into the coffee shop we were meeting at today and see an older lady sitting at a table, wearing an oatmeal-colored cap. I kinda look around, but, no, she’s the only one. I walk up to her and ask…
– Are you Dana?
– Yes, you must be Rachel!
Alright, lady Dana.
– Hi! I’m gonna go grab a cup of coffee… I’ll be right back.
And I’m thinking, Alright, Jeff could have a good friend that’s 55. There’s nothing wrong with that… a bit weird… but nothing wrong.
I get my cup of coffee and go back to the table, asking Dana…
– So, how do you know Jeff?
– Oh, well I lived in Austin for about 12 years.
– Oh, I didn’t know Jeff lived in Austin.
– Did he go to school there?
– No, he went to school in Indiana.
– Oh, cool.
Dana is super sweet. A gentle, lovely soul. I see how Jeff could be friends with her… sure… She asks me…
– How do you know Jeff?
– Well, he’s good friends with my boyfriend, but he’s also dating my really good friend, Katrina.
– Yeah, him and Katrina just moved to Boulder… they’re super in love… it’s awesome.
– Wait… What??
She’s obviously confused… and really worried about something. This is not going well and I’m feeling a bit uncomfortable at this point… so, I sound a bit shaky when I say,
– Yeeeeah, has Jeff not told you about Katrina?
– No! I thought Jeff was still married to Maryam.
– Yeah, are they not married anymore??
– Jeff was married?!
At this point, I’m freaking out. How the hell did I not know that my friend’s live-in boyfriend has an ex-wife?? I bet she doesn’t even know!
– Wait, Jeff Brown?
– Yeah, Jeff Brown… lives in Boulder… was in Australia for a year… lived in Jackson…
– No, this Jeff Brown lives in Austin and is married to Maryam!
– Oh, my god.
It hits me. My PARENTS have a friend named Jeff Brown. They MUST have given my email address to him… and he set this up… my parents’ friend. This is all a big misunderstanding. I immediately start apologizing.
– I am so sorry. Okay. I’m figuring it out. We’re talking about different Jeff Browns. Your Jeff Brown lives in Austin… he’s friends with my parents. Nice guy. Yes. Okay. My friend, Jeff Brown, lives in Boulder… with my good friend, Katrina.
– Oh, my gosh, you had me so scared! I was so confused!
– Yeah, me too. Okay, we’ve got it figured out. Jeff and Maryam.
– Yes, Jeff and Maryam.
And then I remember a few phone conversations I’ve had with my mother lately about her friends in Austin and I say…
– Oh, and I’m so sorry to hear the sad news about Maryam.
– What sad news?
– Well…….. that… she has… cancer… [i say this the same way anyone would tell someone they didn’t know that their dear friend has cancer… very timidly and unsure of what the hell is even happening.]
She looks like she’s going to cry… like, bawl… in the middle of this coffee shop. I am currently turning this woman [who is old enough to be my mother]’s life upside-down.
– Well, okay. Ummm… I’m pretty sure? No, okay, I could be wrong.
– I thought she would’ve told me!
– Okay, probably not then. Okay, these are my parents friend… I don’t really know any of them. Probably not.
– I hope not… Oh, my gosh.
She’s kinda in her own tiny world of gentle panic and I’m looking around for candid cameras or maybe a sign that this is a nightmare…
– Yeah, I would double check those facts. Okay, probably not. No, not at all. Sooo… How long you been in Missoula?
We talk for a while longer about Missoula and Austin and life and jobs and whatnot. When talking about Austin, Dana mentions Jeff and Maryam again… Except this time, “Maryam” is said in a softer tone and paired with drifting eyes to a hopeless stare into nothingness.
I panic and want nothing more than to snap at Dana a couple times and say, “Hay! Probably doesn’t have cancer… Really. Seriously. Hay! Probably does not have cancer. Seriously” But instead, I try to change the subject and ask…
– So, how is Jeff and Maryam’s kid?
– [very matter-of-factly.] They don’t have any children. They have like seven cats.
OH MY GOD, I SERIOUSLY HAVE NO IDEA WHO THE HELL WE’RE TALKING ABOUT.
– Phewwww… Yeah, oh, yeah, I knew that!
I can’t help but start to think about what this woman must think of me… what she’s going to say to our probably-mutual friend, Jeff and his probably-cancer-free wife, Maryam. I bet she thinks I’m drunk. God, I wish I were drunk at this point. And then I finally decide to stop faking it and find out who the hell Jeff is… I KNOW I know my parents’ friend, Jeff Brown…
– Okay, what does Jeff do?
– He’s a sculptor.
– YES! Oh, my goodness. With the beautiful studio in his home. And Maryam’s an artist as well!
I got it. I figured it out. Small victories. I had to clench to those small victories. But, then I was done with my cup of coffee and there was really no getting over the awkwardness that I had doused allllll over this meeting. It was time to get going. We said our goodbyes and I said…
– Well, it was nice to meet you. Glad I could confuse the fuck out of you…
Just kidding. I left that last part off. But I wanted to say that. I also wanted to assure her that Jeff Brown did not have a girlfriend living in Boulder and that Maryam didn’t have cancer… but I felt like hearing that again from the drunk 20-something that her friend made her have a cup of coffee with probably wouldn’t make her feel better.
I walked out of the coffee shop, already dialing my mom’s number.
– Hi Rachel.
– Mom. I’m sorry to ask this, but what’s the name of your dear friend who has cancer?
– Oh, my god… Yes, Laurel. Okay, I just told one of Maryam’s friends that Maryam has cancer.
– Yep. Yep.
– I don’t know! I thought I was meeting a different friend… or something! I just scarred a 55-year-old woman forever. I’m sure of it.
My mom started laughing and I did NOT think it was funny at the time.
– I’m sorry, Rachel, but I have to go… I’m at work.
I went back into work and plopped my coat down. Said,
– That was the most awkward lunch break of my life.
– That’s a pretty bold statement.
…my boss said.
– Oh, it’s accurate.
So, I tell him the story and everyone in the department starts listening. At one point my boss stands up, laughing at everything… especially at how frazzled I am, and puts his head in his hands because he can’t believe that the story keeps going. Everyone is laughing so hard and I’m seriously looking at them like, “What the hell is wrong with you?! This is horrible!”
They all keep asking me questions like…
– How did you not know she was older?
– I don’t know! I guess I should’ve known when she didn’t want to go for a beer! Of course she didn’t want to come to Missoula to have a beer after work!
– Come to Missoula?
– Oh, yeah! She lives in Florence! She drove from 20 miles outta town to have some seemingly-drunk girl give her a minor heart-attack!
Everyone is dying laughing. And I start smiling. I start breaking. It starts being funny. Then Mike, my boss, says…
– So, you pretty much told this poor woman that her good friend’s husband is cheating on her and that that good friend probably has cancer.
– Yeah. Pretty much.
– Ha. You need a beer.
– Yeah, I do.
– Hell, I feel like I need a beer after just hearing that story.
Side Note: Dana is lovely! We made tentative plans to have dinner with our partners and if she doesn’t think I’m completely bat-shit crazy, maybe we’ll become dear friends and laugh at that time we first met and I almost killed her with breaking news.