Two weeks ago, I was sitting by myself on the outdoor patio of a breakfast joint two towns away from where I live, waiting for the waitress to deliver coffee. It was Labor Day, and I’d embarked on a sunny motorcycle jaunt to clear my head, and, perhaps, to physically distance myself from the sort of boozy, raucous weekend that has come to characterize my first summer in Aspen, Colorado.
It might have been the beat-up leather jacket on my shoulders or the weary scowl I wore on my face or something else entirely, but suddenly I felt the warm, prickly, neck-creeping sensation that one does when strangers nearby are talking about her.
I shrugged it away. After smirking slightly, of course. Odd glances and perplexed commentary are what young, solo biker chicks come to expect; they’re not ordinary creatures.
“Hey, where’d you get your sunglasses?” A ruddy-faced blonde called out to me from the four-top of twenty-somethings sitting nearby.
I smiled and cocked my head for a moment. The tortoiseshell Wayfarer imposters had a sprinkling of taupe cheetah print at the outer edges: cat eyes, literally.
“Oh, uh, eBay,” I replied. “Yeah. You can probably still find them on there…they’re Betsey Johnson!”
“Oh,” she replied. Her eyes were glazed like a cinnamon bun. I thought she might say more, but no. She spun back around and the murmuring recommenced. Eyes darted to and fro in my direction, and I wondered if they could see me watching them from beneath the shade of my dark lenses.
Minutes passed. The waitress arrived. I ordered huevos rancheros as cheerfully as I could muster, but inside I envisioned myself turning to the whisperers, pounding the table with a clenched fist, and demanding an explanation.
Thankfully, it didn’t come to that.
Now the blonde whipped back around, throwing an arm over the back of her chair.
“You know it’s funny,” she began, wagging a pudgy digit in my direction, “I had those same sunglasses but I lost them the other day here in town…and they were also missing that little emblem by the eye there….”
I felt unreasonable redness burn my cheeks. The best I comeback I could deliver? “Oh, wow. That’s a bummer.”
She stared me down for a hot, uncomfortable moment and then returned to her brunch-time gossip summit.
Meanwhile, my plate arrived, and I tucked gladly into the eggs. I’d devoured most of my meal by the time the kids at the other table stood up and began filing past me and out of the restaurant. Last in line, the blonde–whom I now noticed stood at troll-like proportion–made a swift detour. She dropped a tiny scrap of paper onto my table. I glanced at it: Jenna: 248.892.4099.
“When you’re ready to give me my sunglasses back, you can call me.”
OH, NO, SHE DIDN’T. (SHE DID.)
“Um, actually, I own two pair of these sunglasses,” I said, feeling my voice quicken in arbitrary self-defense. My pulse pounded in my throat.
“I’ve been wearing them forever. Actually, my first pair got all scratched so this is my second pair. I still have the others as backups, I love them so much. If you write down your email address, I can send you Paypal receipts. I think I paid $49.99 on eBay….”
There I go again, offering too much information in an attempt to prove my innocence.
“Well,” she retorted, “I paid fifteen dollars for mine at T.J.Maxx in Michigan, where I’m from.”
“Really,” I repeated, now fully realizing that I was dealing with a paranoid trout. “Give me your email address. I have photos of me wearing these sunglasses going back a year and a half. I get compliments on mine all the time, I’m sorry you lost yours. That sucks.”
The runt offered a winced smile, began to back away, and I barely caught the last of her mumbled farewell: “…if you change your mind.”
She slipped out the door. My temples cooled.
At home the next day, I dug into a pile of duffel bags on my closet floor. Sure enough, the left lens of my backup Betsey Johnson’s looked like a toddler had scribbled on it with a thumbtack.
I’m not sure why I felt compelled to do this, but I did it: I took a photo of both pair sandwiching the hot pink carrying sleeve that came with the replacements, and I fired off a gentle missive to Jenna 248.892.4099. “Super sorry about your sunglasses,” I tapped, “but I wasn’t kidding. I have an extra pair that are all scratched…do you want them?”
“I’m sooo sorry about that yesterday i hope you accept my apology,” she replied. “I would love to buy those from u, but I would only pay what I paid $14.99 would that b cool?”
Her mastery of efficient texting or penchant for saving a penny must have won me over, because suddenly I had an idea.
“No worries,” I replied. “I will gift them to you.”
We set a time to meet, and when the time came, I showed up ten minutes early. “Yeah, start a tab, please,” I told the bartender when he asked. “The girl I’m meeting here will be buying my drinks. If she shows up….”
She was forty-five minutes late, and I suspect she only showed because I texted her again. We bullshitted for an hour; it wasn’t unpleasant for me, but I hoped she was mildly uncomfortable about it all. I told her how incredibly awkward I felt at breakfast that fateful morning; she apologized profusely. I learned that she’s 25 and some other nonsense. That pretty much explained it.
Finally, I reached into my purse and pulled out the sunglasses. She trilled a long saccharine thank you, and I stood up to leave. I think we hugged goodbye and made halfhearted plans to “do brunch soon.” I strolled toward the door, winking at the bartender along the way, and reveled in a flurry of imaginary coins that were cascading into my karmic savings account.
I’ve recounted this story to a handful of friends, and all are equally surprised. Yup, I gave designer accessories (damaged, I remind them) away to a total stranger who acted like a jerk.
“Ah she’s just young, and immature,” I say. “I’m not using them, anyway! Why not pay it forward?”
Living in Colorado has made me a nicer person, I add. It’s too beautiful here to be bitter.
A few days ago, I went to a party.
And I lost my favorite Betsey Johnson sunglasses.
I made it halfway to my closet before I realized that I’d given my backups away to a total stranger who acted like a jerk.
Maybe I should have remembered what they say about Karma?
Or maybe it’s just time for different sunglasses.
*True story. No names have been changed.