There are these guys at the Starbucks I go to. I think they’re retired. They’re always wearing sweatpants and don’t look like they’ve showered so I figure they aren’t working. These guys are here every time I am, and it drives me crazy. They take over the coffee shop and they’re so loud talking about sports and politics, women, and sometimes even religion. Everyone in this place talks to them. Everyone says hi, drops their two cents in, wishes them well. Not me. I refuse to engage. For almost ten years I’ve seen these guys every day in their sweatpants sitting in this Starbucks like they own the place.


One of them has tried to talk to me while I was writing. I hate when strangers ask me about writing. “Is it hard?” “Are you any good?” “Do you write about cats?” He was watching me set up my notebooks and pens, pull the bill low on my Calvin baseball hat, when he said, “I thought that was a Redskins hat.” I lifted my head and saw him and his old guy crew smiling at me.


“No, it’s not a Redskins hat,” I said, holding my pen as though I was mid word.


“What’s Calvin?” he asked. “Like, Calvin and Hobbes?” He laughed and so did his friends.


“It’s a small liberal arts college in Grand Rapids.” I didn’t want to say it’s a Christian school because I knew that would’ve prolonged the conversation.


“The Midwest?” he asked.


“Yeah,” I said.


“I hear it in your voice.” He said and nodded. That was the only time I smiled at him, but I don’t think he saw me because I put my head down so I could write and they would stop talking to me.


A few days ago one of these guys shuffled in slowly, abnormal for this group. They usually walk in like Norm from “Cheers,” happy to be here and ready with a quick joke. This guy though, he was having trouble walking and talking. His crew huddled around him and I stopped writing to listen in on their conversation. He was on some new medication. No, he didn’t want coffee. No, he wasn’t hungry, he told his friends when they offered to get him something. He just wanted to be off these stupid pills. He slid a napkin off the table and began to fold and refold it.


“How long do you have to take them?” the guy who asked me about my writing inquired.


“Til I die,” he said and he began to break the napkin and fling the pieces back on the table. Some of the pieces fell to the ground and I picked a few up because my table was near this man. My chair scratched the ground when I scooted forward and all the men looked at me. I realized how stupid I was to offer torn pieces of paper to this man, but I wasn’t sure what else to do, and I wanted to do something.


* * *


Down the street from the Starbucks is a Cold Stone Creamery. It’s always mobbed with teenagers. They spill out into the courtyard in front of the shop, rough housing and talking too loud. I’d prefer not to go near this place, but my family and I are here waiting at my youngest daughter’s request. She’s just danced in a ballet performance, and ice-cream is her celebratory treat.


Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself,” is on and above the menu is a flat screen that shows the accompanying music video. I listen and watch the video while I wait to place my order.


I shouldn’t, but I love this song. I love how unfazed Justin sounds as he sings to this girl, how nonchalant he is about how in love with her he once was but he’s now so over it.


I figured the music video would be a close up of Justin, his too blond hair and the six-pack abs he’s so proud of, but instead two dancers tell Justin’s message: they pop-lock, sachet, and gracefully jump as they show the struggle one has in getting the other’s attention. The boy dancer keeps trying to show the girl dancer how much he loves her but she is annoyed, self-involved, dismissive. The story is sad, even agonizing to watch while Justin quietly croons, “For all those times that you made me feel small.”


I wonder if Justin had any say in this production. Was this his idea? Did he want to show the pain in a relationship gone wrong and juxtapose that with a “come what may” tone of voice as he sang? Is Justin capable of processing his words this way?


The teenagers outside sing along with Justin, perfectly matching his attitude, and tone. Some of them dance, others bop their heads, others have their hands to their hearts, their fingers tapping the beat; a pledge to be unphased by a broken heart.


A man behind me is singing along and I’m relieved because he looks like he’s my age. I don’t know any 40 year olds who would admit to liking Justin Bieber’s music, but he clearly is not ashamed; he’s singing harmony.


The rest of my family has made their ice-cream decisions, but I’ve lost track of my place in line because I’ve become invested in this music video. At the end of the video, the boy dancer leaves, and the love story is no longer. I don’t think the girl dancer knows he’s left until the next morning, when she wakes up and he is not there, though the mattress is dented where the body used to be. Her face, that, for the duration of the video showed nothing but vain conceit, is now twitching with remorse.


“Now that’s a sad story,” the man behind me says. I turn and nod my head. “I had no idea,” he says and then turns his attention to the menu. “Cookies and cream with Oreo pieces? That sounds delicious.”


* * *


Every year come Holy Week, even Easter, the person I can’t stop thinking about is Judas. I am sad each time we arrive to the part when Judas tries to say he’s sorry for what he’s done to Jesus. I cry that the guards shrug him off, tell him what he’s done is his responsibility. I look at those verses and I try to think about how he could’ve said it better. What was his subtext? Did he pause, use gestures? Could he have yelled to express how sorry he was? Couldn’t there have been one guard who was affected? Maybe one who saw Judas’ pleading eyes and tried to make him feel less alone?


I cry because I think Judas thought Jesus was someone different; that he was supposed to save us from ourselves differently. But Jesus was giving clues all along, and I guess Judas didn’t pick them up, or, maybe he didn’t want to see them. Apparently this is how it was supposed to happen. A friend betrays another friend. Sends him off to be utterly and completely broken so that the rest of us can live.


I wonder sometimes if hell is seeing people the way God sees them, and forever being sorry because you got it wrong and there is nothing you can do to take it back.