There is a two-inch deep purple bruise on the inside of my left forearm caused by a fluke bleed from acupuncture treatment earlier this week. When I turn my hand palm-up to give customers their change across the counter at the coffeehouse, I involuntarily flash them with this bruise – a move that has invited multiple gasps and questions from people all week long.
But this afternoon, the half-caf-half-decaf refill customer, standing tall and smiling sweetly in my direction, knew just what the bruise was from.
“Oh, right.” He eyes the bruise sympathetically. “I’m taking classes part time for acupuncture right now. I’m shawdowing a practitioner in TinyTown, NC, you know, Doctor—“
“Doctor Queene,” I say.
“What are you studying now?” I say.
“Pulses. All the variations, the points, you know.” His speaks quickly, though more out of habit than eagerness. It is his hands that express the eagerness, moving like seaweed atop ocean waves, as he intones the details of his studies. Pulses, I think. I know something about pulses. “Look,” he says, leaning across the counter and locking his eyes on mine. “Can I take your pulse? I need to practice for class.”
I lean away, pause, and consider his request. He sips his coffee and I notice the strikingly gentle grip of his right hand around the heavy ceramic mug. When he tips his head back to take another sip, the track lighting catches subtle waves in his sandy-blonde hair and I forget, for a moment, that he is awaiting my response. His left hand raises to chest level and finds, by memory, a dangling necklace of malas. His fingers click across the tops of each bead, running the necklace in a slow, methodical circle around his neck.
“What do you practice?” I say, nodding in the direction of the malas, buying myself some time. He describes the Buddhist practices he does, mumbling a few mantras (which I recognize) to elaborate and quite quickly we engaged in discussion. I consider the coffee he is drinking, that I have not rung it into the register yet, that no one seems to be entering or leaving the coffeehouse, that essentially, time has stopped.
“So, can I?” He looks at my wrist.
“Ok. But I just had a double latte,” I say, considering my elevated pulse. I sit on the single tile step that separates the service area from the coffeehouse kitchen. He squats down low, directly across from me, knees knocking into mine. I offer my left arm, the bruised one, and he slides his left hand into mine, handshake style. But his grip is light, almost petting, and slowly, he brings his right hand to center on the pulses near my wrist.
“Relax,” he says, looking at me, which is precisely when I begin to panic inside.
Don’t go there, I think. Remember the lessons you’ve learned. Remember that you are busy. Remember that this morning the words finally broke through the other side of the storm, spilling onto the page in joyful exodus from your burdened mind. Remember that even attraction takes energy, time, headspace, and oh but those eyes, I think.
“Just loosen your arm muscles.”
Those eyes. Green as glowing lichen, an Easter pastel, cool like a tropical spring, wide and beautiful and round and holy shit, I could swim in them.
He glances down at our hands, as if noticing only now that they’re poised for a proper greeting, then he chuckles out loud, squeezes my hand. “Hi,” he says. “My name is Joel.”
I squeeze back. “I’m Katey.”
Four hours later at dinner with friends Raines gets one look at me coming through the double-doors of the craftschool dining area and points her finger at me, smile spreading across her face.
“Was that a scene, or was that a scene?” she says.
“Oh god. I’m so glad someone else saw that,” I say, blushing from the neck up to my hairline.
“I had the thought that I could be witnessing an epic event,” Raines says, catching the attention of the entire table. “I mean, holy shit.”
A choruses of What happened’s chimes around the table. Raines and I re-enact the event, and others that ensued after the pulse reading, and laugh our way through the whole memory.
What I don’t say is that when I put my mind to something, there’s no stopping it. That I could use a little practice with that urban tradition we call “dating,” in the paced sense of the word. That I’m really busy and sometimes set in my ways and don’t always know what I want and sometimes I’m nervous and awkward in large crowds and other times I’m glowing and comfortable. That while Joel was taking my pulse I was swimming in his eyes and that he asked when I work and also, did I hike? But I do tell them that now he has my number and I have his. That, oh god, he has the business card, which means he has the blog address, which means…[Hi. How are you? I was thinking we could go to the Core Show in a couple of weeks. Raines said I should ask you. I mean, I’m asking you. Now. Here. Um. I should probably go do my homework now. It was nice to meet you.]