Commuting and Conversing

Bartender Mike (far right) went on to bigger and better things, but he still asks a mean follow-up question.

Great conversations don’t happen every day for me. Often, Anxiety is banging pots and pans in the background and making me rush to hang up the phone or walk away from the person I’m talking to. Sometimes she’s telling me that my conversation partner has better things they could be doing. I’m then preoccupied with the need to provide them with an “out” so that they don’t feel like they have to keep talking to me. “Just end the conversation and let them be on their way,” she tells me.

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She is the worst.

Some people are just so good at talking. They engage you, draw you out, and make you feel way more interesting than you thought you were. If I’m still up and talking to you past midnight, you KNOW it’s a good conversation – there are very few people who take precedence over my warm, cozy bed and the inside of my eyelids.

Back in the day, my friend Mike was the bartender at The Windsor Station. He is one of the best at asking interesting questions, really listening to the answers, and responding in ways that make it feel like there is nowhere that he would rather be than right there, talking to me (and usually Nikki). He is the king of good follow-up questions. He hasn’t been the bartender there for many years, and I miss those days. He works in the office across the street from Boston Dreams now, so I always kind of hope to bump into him there when I stop in to grab a chai.

My grad school professor/professional mentor is another fantastic conversationalist. We have a great deal in common, both in our work and our personal lives, but what makes her so compelling is her ability to dig deep and reflect hard on any given topic. For such an impressive person, she always seems so genuinely impressed by the person she is talking to. For such a phenomenal teacher, she always seems to learn something valuable from her conversation partner. I don’t remember ever walking away from a conversation with Christine feeling like I was finished, and whenever we are reunited, it always feels like a continuation of something deeply personal and lifelong.

Chris and I are in the middle. Professional conferences were a great excuse for late night chats over a couple of bottles of shiraz.

Lately, of course, a single subject dominates most of my conversations. I’m not complaining about it. It IS a pretty big deal, after all. I’m deeply touched when people ask about the details of my health. But it’s rare that we end up saying much new about cancer in general or about mine specifically.

That’s why I’ve loved my morning commutes with a good friend from church. When my mom is off – gasp! – living her life, Joe is usually the one whose commute I crash to get myself up to DHMC. Joe is chock-full of great questions. Frequently, they’re about cancer. Often, they’re about my boys. Occasionally, they’re about something from out in left field. Oh yeah, sometimes, they’re about baseball. I try to ask some questions back, but I recognize that my skill set skews WAY more into writing than into talking.

In spite of my awkwardness, I never feel like anything less than an equal conversation partner when I get into his passenger seat. What I love most about our talks is that he fully recognizes the looming presence that cancer plays in my life and strikes a near perfect balance of acknowledging its effect on, while not allowing it to encompass, the other aspects of who I am.

This is Joe. Taken on the day that he donated his Saturday morning and risked the rear axle of his truck to help Dalton get the supplies he needed to build a fire pit for his mom. I don't know who made me feel more grateful that day.

There are so many great stories to tell. In 3K alone, I’ve heard more tales than my addled chemo brain could possibly remember. And this whole decade-long online dating adventure has revealed another book full. I hope that Miss Anxiety never wins in her unending attempts to keep me from seeking the stories out and listening closely.

And in the interest of becoming a better follow-up question-asker: do you remember any of the great conversations of your life? What were the details that made it so good?

While I wait for your answers, I’m going to go call Chris…

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