I had almost managed to re-find a seat after my five minutes at the conference podium before being handed a business card. This happened at the back of the auditorium—naturally—because I’ve always gravitated towards the rear seats of the classroom, else comfortable corners where’s it’s easy to hide. I figure it’s a mammalian tendency, and of the beta variety: hug a wall, protect your spine (or lack thereof).
The lady who proffers the card says her name is M—(?). There’s an’M’ certainly, but I don’t hear her name exactly because the room is now applauding the keynote speaker (Michael Kimmel—and, yes, he was great). M—(?) says she would like to speak to me and I find it curious she has a tear in her eye when we’re still halfway through coffee; tears generally come later and when en vino veritas is the presiding sentiment. While still in a haze, I thank her and stammer a ‘Sure’ though networking remains something I’m not good at and something I most likely won’t improve on much over the weekend. (I’m the guy who leaves sweaty palm-prints at the bank-clerk counter, else replies a clumsy ‘how are you?’ when asked the same question).
A day later, I finger the card while doing some typing in the corner of the foyer. M—(?) is from the CDC. (Y’know: the place that blew up in Season One of ‘The Walking Dead’). The Center of Disease Control. And, for emphasis, ‘.gov.’ I find M—(?) today, and she was walking away from a leather-chaired sit-down; I overhear her saying she was right hitting a wall. I felt apologetic tapping her on the shoulder, but I was also the one that could direct her to coffee, so all was even. You see: I’m industrious in my shyness—I had the hotel completely staked out. Coffee in a few strategic locations, sub-par IPA downstairs.
(I know the barback’s name. At three’o clock the light at Table 10 by the window is fantastic and perfect for writing).
We collect coffee. We also graze some chocolate-covered things as bonus. Suddenly there’s a DC PR attache, too, also with a card. I’m certainly not used to this; I was asked for a reciprocal card a few times this weekend and wished to reply that I hadn’t exactly figured out the cut n’ paste feature on my phone just yet. Which—all things considered—means business cards may not exactly be in my immediate future.
(But ask me about Patrick Bateman and I’ll tell you that his card has a ‘bone’ motif; it’s also lettered in ‘silian rail.’).
I don’t know exactly how to hold my coffee cup. M tells me she’s wanted to meet me even before the conference began. And we’re in a side-room where there is something more than hotel-light and where we’re offered charging-stations and cushioned respite. There is talk of messaging, policy-initiatives, media-dissemination. Most importantly—advocacy.
“I love your writing. You made me cry.” M is gracious and exudes something earnest.
‘You made me cry’, mind you, is flattery for any writer. Or maybe relief, actually.
Because I guarantee you every writer cries at least once when putting down some serious bones. That the tears should be of worth and collectively pooled means someone’s crying with you, and when the drying of tears becomes a necessarily shared activity, there is empathy. Endall, it usually amounts to change.
That’s exactly when you want a business card pressed your way. When you’re both drying your cheeks. It means it’s not exactly business; the cards take softer corners.
I talk a lot while the sun spills in and I figure out that the best thing to do is to set my coffee cup down on the table in front of me. I talk, and: too much? I dunno. We break, and I’m excited as can be; I probably end the conversation abruptly because my world generally lacks pressed palms, and I really want to hear my new buddy Justin read in the conference hall. I’m not good at this. I really liked M, though, and when we separate I pour another cardboard demitasse from the communal carafe. Then I hide again. I tap some more keys. Being fond of ellipses, I type a few of those. (As something promising, though, and not something necessarily unfinished).
I take my fortieth look at the business card afterward. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.
I think of my sons who I’m missing, currently.
In my satchel is one of those knit hospital caps—Findlay’s. The post-delivery nurse scribbled ‘FINN’ on it when my son was born with a permanent marker; she talked around the fact of his diagnosis, and with unnecessary and frenetic alarm. Considering everything, I would prefer to have the last word, and a word not scribbled messily with a Sharpie.
I pocket the business card and it fits my thigh perfectly.