We met Rebecca’s parents and their 90-year old friend, Ray, at the Country Buffet, one of those buffet restaurants that catered to seniors with the $8.99 for all you can eat lunch being slashed to $7.99 if you came between one and three in the afternoon. The seniors were arriving in droves, parking their cars, lifting one leg out of the driver or passenger side, grasping the frame of the car with their hands to support themselves and then—heave, ho!—lifting the other leg out and hoisting themselves upright to a vertical orientation before waddling across the parking lot to enter the restaurant. Someday I would be like that—but not yet.
Rebecca and I waited in our car in the parking lot for her parents. Finally they pulled up snagging the handicap spot right directly in front of the place. What luck! Quite a feat considering that all the customers had handicap stickers dangling from their rear-view mirrors but not that significant since fully three-quarters of the parking lot consisted of handicap-designated parking spots. Rebecca’s parents, Rita and Tom, and Ray emerged from the metal cocoon which was their car, I think about a 1997 Ford Focus or something like that, one of those shitty little cars that last forever so that older people never have to replace them. They emerged from the car in the pre-ordained manner and hustled into the restaurant not waiting for us to catch up. By the time we followed them in, her parents and Ray were already queued up getting their senior discounts from a rotund black woman who served as the sole cashier and gatekeeper to the buffet spread out behind her.
On more serious matters, I was still waiting for my visa but Rebecca had received hers and we had decided that she would leave without me since she had to begin work in a few days. In only a few hours she was about to embark on a trip travelling a goodly chunk around the world, 7300 miles, and would only be back who knows when. Not halfway around the world as one might be prone to say but more accurately 0.29316 way around the world.
Nothing was said. Everybody was hungry and made their way for the food.
“They changed the arrangement of things here,” Ray volunteered. “The fried okra used to be on the other side.” The others agreed and proceeded to fill their plates while making comments on the selection and the layout.
After they had filled their plates, Rita continued, “The portions are smaller.” The others nodded. I didn’t quite understand that. After all it was a buffet. You determined your own portion size. You could eat as much as you wanted. As soon as you cleaned one plate, a waitress would mysteriously appear and whisk your dirty plate away, so that you could go fill another one.
I expected some deep heartfelt words on Rebecca’s upcoming departure but the conversation continued to be focused on the food and more specifically on the various discordant food combinations on each person’s plate. For example, a wedge of runny lasagna, a few strands of dried-up asparagus, a taco and few slices of pineapple. Ray was trying to attack a few cubes of livid red jello which came alive and undulated like underwater sea anemones whenever he approached them.
Rebecca sat wearing a bright yellow bicycle jacket zipped up to her neck to hide the string around her neck that held the money pouch containing $10000 in fresh $100 bills and her passport. She had purposely made the string as long as possible so that the pouch itself was tucked into her pubic region displaying a distinctly abnormal bulge in that region whenever her jacket rode up slightly. She postulated that no one would go ‘down there’ to get her money or at the very least that she would notice if someone did. How this particular arrangement would play out over 22 hours of travel, flights, four different airports remained to be seen. Not to mention the reaction of New Zealand immigration officials when a woman reached down into her crotch to produce her work visa.
A short while later Rebecca hugged her parents (and Ray) goodbye and that was that. Nothing much was said. We left them there discussing whether they were going to get a Cappuccino before attacking the desert bar.
“Gosh, I guess we have to go through with this now,” I told Rebecca outside the Country Buffet.
“I know, we really can’t just change our minds now. I can’t go back to work here after all the loving goodbyes and heartfelt words and just say ‘Hey, you guys seemed to like me so much I decided to stay!’”
“I know. That would look stupid. Everybody would say, ‘We wouldn’t have said all that shit to you if we weren’t sure you were leaving!’”
When Rebecca had announced she was leaving her job in the emergency room here, she had purposely delayed the suspense a little. Her co-workers had asked her, “So where are you going, to work on the 5th floor or in Peds?” or “Are you going to work at the other hospital in Colorado Springs?” Finally she had announced with great aplomb and a short video clip I had made, “I’m moving to New Zealand!” There were gasps of astonishment as if she had just revealed the bones of some great pre-historic beast that had once roamed the earth. Now we had to go through with it.
“Maybe we can just move a little ways outside of town here”, she asked me on the way to the airport. “Would that count?”
I looked at her, “I don’t think so.”
And for a month now at every opportunity Rebecca had volunteered to all sorts of strangers how she was moving to Tauranga, New Zealand. Anything could serve as a segue.
Buying a pair of shoelaces—“I’m moving to New Zealand, you know, and things are expensive there!”
“Sunny today, but it’s raining today in Tauranga, New Zealand where I am moving to in two weeks.”
I reminded her in the airport that the nearer she actually got to New Zealand, the less novel her proclamations would appear. Indeed, what evoked gasps of amazement from a local supermarket clerk here in Colorado Springs would get next to no response in the International Terminal at LAX. Everybody was going somewhere far away and interesting. And when she finally boarded the plane for Auckland, she could expect absolutely no significant response. “We’re all going to New Zealand, luv.”