I was leaning against the counter in a smoothie bar, waiting to meet up with a friend. It was his college campus, not mine, which is why we were meeting in a public place and not a dorm hall or classroom building. I suppose we could have rendez voused at the Newman Center, which is where we originally met, but he was currently avoiding a beautiful, cold-hearted girl who frequented there – drama, dram drama… I shook my head.
The shop was bright, with white and azure-blue tiles lining the walls. The counter was clean pink lacquer, and the floor a dizzying array of green, pink, and stone white tiles. A display of frozen yogurt decorated the wall behind the counter, and accents of fruit dotted about the room were a nod to their main advertised product.
Leisurely waiting, and with nothing else to do, I stared at the tv screen suspended on the ceiling. Five women flashed across it in an ad, over made-up, over-frizzed, and over-frilled.
They looked like women from the cover of W or Harper’s Bazaar. Meant to display five different types of fashion styles and personalities, to me, they all looked alike. I shuddered and commented to the girl behind me, before quite turning around, “Do any of those fashions appeal to you?” To my horror, when I turned all the way around, she looked just like the women on the screen. Blue lips, dark, heavily-rimmed eyes, pale face, and grunge/punk clothing that hid and revealed her body in all the wrong places. My face burned with embarrassment, and I gaped a moment, but then she answered me. I have a habit of not sounding sarcastic when I actually am, and to my relief, she had taken me seriously.
“Yes,” she said in a quiet, uncomfortable voice. Hearing her discomfort, I saw through her appearance to the person beneath. Her voice sounded bored, tired, and lonely, and rather than just seeing the liner around her eyes, I saw the deadness inside them. “The…” she made a movement on her chin, obviously trying to communicate one of the styles, but I was lost.
“The…” She did it again. I shook my head, and she repeated, “The…; the artist one. I like that.”
“Ah.” I smiled at her, trying to remember which one that was, but failing. They all looked the same to me. “So, what are you doing tonight?”
“My boyfriend’s picking me up. We’re going to a club.”
“Oh fun! That’ll be nice.”
She shrugged languidly. “Hm. We go every night and stay out till morning. I only woke up a few hours ago.”
The bar had cleared out so there was only the two of us left, and the guy behind the counter leaned over to take our orders. But he paused and remained to listen when he heard our conversation.
I was suddenly very frustrated with a world that would suck girls down into a void, where they felt they had to be sexy, dead, and numb to be recognized. This girl – I felt in my bones – did not have meaning in her life. What made her tick? What gave her a reason to get up every…afternoon? I leaned over intensely, the way I get sometimes when I passionately want to save the world and everyone in it.
“What do you think it means to be good?” I blurted out. “You know? I feel like no one talks about that anymore. What does it mean to be good? Not just polite or nice, but genuine goodness. What do you guys think?”
The boy leaning against the counter had a longish blonde crew-cut, clear, handsome blue eyes, and a defined oval face. He looked wholesome, but I had met enough clean-cut young men who turned out to be empty shells. You can’t judge anyone by their cover. I was genuinely interested to hear what these two people had to say about my question.
I was surprised to see that they were both thinking about it; the girl in a sluggish, hazy sort of way, and the boy with a wrinkle and crease in his forehead.
“My girlfriend and I say something to each other a lot.” He spoke up. “We both try to sacrifice.”
I gazed at him in admiration. He wasn’t an empty shell after all.
“I love it!” I exclaimed. “That’s exactly right, I think. Sacrifice. You mean, like, for each other?”
“Yeah. It’s the only way to not think about yourself all the time.”
I basked in this bit of truth, then whirled on the girl and demanded an answer with my passionate, exuberant gaze.
“Well,” she mumbled, and it was hard to hear her, “I guess it has something to do with entertaining people.” At least, I think that was what she said, but I definitely heard the word ‘entertaining’.
The young man answered her. “But isn’t entertaining just pleasing ourselves?”
She shrugged, and I made a wild stab in the dark to help her out.
“Well, but entertaining can be about the other person. I think that if we entertain well and graciously, we show that we notice and care about people. That you value them. Is that what you meant?”
She nodded and shrugged. Then they both looked at me.
I thought hard. Then laughed in embarrassment. “I feel like you’ve said what had to be said. Anything I think of seems to fall into either of your categories: sacrifice or valuing people. But I need to give an answer; I’m sure there’s more to goodness.” After another moment, I had a thought. “We can’t take life for granted. It’s good, or goodness, to live each day as if it were our last. To try to leave something behind for posterity. Sometimes it’s something sacrificial that’s hardly noticed, and sometimes it’s noticing a person for who they are, and letting them know. But I think it goes beyond that. We have to leave a mark behind us, something that says, “I’ve been here, and I hope I left the world a better place because of it.” For me, it’s my writing and storytelling. For parents, it would be their children. I guess it’s something different for everyone.”
They nodded. Then the boy laughed heartily. “You don’t hear conversations like this every day. I’m glad you girls came in tonight. Smoothies?”
We ordered, and soon my friend showed up, so I left. And, I suppose her boyfriend came soon after, to leave the boy behind the counter alone with his pureed fruit. I liked to think that they would both go home that night with a changed view of the world, but then I realized it didn’t matter what they did. I had no control over that. I had control over me. Would I go forth, from that brightly-lit, frozen drink bar, to think about myself, entertain myself, and live for myself? Or would I have a new lease on life, and go out to sacrifice for others, entertain and value men and women, and leave something behind to posterity, to let them know that once upon a time, a girl lived here, and she cared about making the world a better place?