She gets on the train in the morning and sits nearby, just happens to, like she’s happened to so many times before, and once again my imagination runs away with both of us, breathless and fast and stumbling over itself, thinking of asking hers to step outside all this for a moment to speak, one to one and this to that. I don’t know how, never do, and have even less of an idea what that means. So I scribble something down, just to see.
But I’ve been thinking about you since last week and the week before and before, hoping I’d see you again so we could have one of those stupid chance romantic encounters that tease us in films and books and tv and all that but knowing I’d just sit here silently like this like always, never saying a word or even giving a signal but unleashing a bewildered and bewildering torrent on paper, barely legible and not for rereading anyway. This doesn’t belong on the screen or page and I’m not even sure it belongs in life but I thought you should know, just in case you like to imagine too.
Like that? No, never. Never like that.
To be at such a loss for the right words in the midst of so many, sitting dumbly in the eye of another storm inside and beginning to believe I must be comprised of some lesser, baser substance that prevents thought from mingling with action as if they really are mutually exclusive, as if a deliberate, decisive piece of courageous fortitude is required for their unification, something only heroes and idiots have because they don’t know the difference in the first place and I’m only a fool with too many words swirling around too many thoughts to make my imagined lives real. Again. And again the storm rolls through, stirring and drenching and bending but still not enough, never enough to uproot and move and break me out of whatever this is to go and talk to her.
I’d rather cut myself off at the knees. Stay put. You stay put too. And I’ll keep pseudo-solving a mystery with clues I’ve planted, thinking I’m playing it safe and artfully distant by bleeding a slow, sad little death on a page no one will ever read. Just going in circles, clues and cues and questions and hypotheses and daydreams and back to clues and cues and questions. Follow it out, and follow it back again. Imagining giving everything I have to an alluring stranger because her allure strikes deep, someplace words can’t seem to go—giving everything, apparently, everything but so much as hello. Hello, you, gorgeous, stunning woman-thing you. You seem wonderful and I like wonderful, I think. It sounds good, at least. What would I do with wonderful? Sorry, that was a question for me. What is life to you? What do you wish for and think of and wonder when the world quiets down—or when it’s too noisy? I think I’d like the man you’d make me want to be if I met him—that’s a nice thing to say, right? I’m sorry, what’s your name?
I don’t know the first fucking thing about her—would I ever? Knowing is a strange notion. Seems the most we can do, no matter how much time we spend, is compile approximations about these someones, round up and tag a bunch of half-educated guesses and more or less trustworthy assumptions and send them back into the wild, hoping they come back and prove some useless hypothesis or other about whether someone is everything we think, useless because by the time we get our data and sort it out with all our complex gadgets and mind games they’re probably already much more and we’ve gone and missed it all, still expecting them to be who we thought they were back then and having a hard time reconciling that with now, as if they were supposed to just hold still.
We might come close to the truth, though, maybe—but why bother, why be so cruel, why do that to ourselves, to each other, why eliminate surprise with all the answers? I’d rather let her be—seems kinder, more humane. And easier, too, if I’m honest, and I’m trying. I’ll just watch and appreciate and marvel and dream from over here while that magnificent creature does its magnificent thing in its natural habitat, undisturbed by me and all my questions—and all my hopes, desires, dreams, and ambitions and all that foolishness—no matter how badly I want to get involved. I am nothing if not good at finding reasons.
Here’s one: They say that when two people meet they’re changed instantly into two others. Maybe they become strangers to themselves so they can be familiar to each other. Doesn’t seem fair. To either or both. Today, if I were to pry myself form this seat and go over there, it means the people we are now would be gone with my hello, right out the window as soon as we began to speak through this marvelous murk of unknowns. And so, probably, would the she and the me and the we I’m imagining us becoming—yes, imagining us becoming.
Getting to know would mean loss, then, wouldn’t it? Not just transformation—or what is transformation if not a variety of loss? I’d rather be free to wonder than bound to knowing. Knowing is a frightful thing, and being known is worse. It’s distance—I think that was Knausgaard, and whoever else has thought so too. This presumptive, largely (but not entirely) ignorant wonderment is, on the other hand, what makes all this feel like it means something. She’s five seats away but there’s some kind of unnamable essence that would be ruined, I think, by getting any closer, by even knowing her name. One thing would lead to another and she’d start to fall into associations and categories and after a while the person there would be lost. I love the essence; details trip me up. I want to feel free. Free to imagine how she’d look at me through sleepy eyes in the morning, how we’d take trips and make scenes and turn heads when I stopped to kiss her on a crowded sidewalk because everything about her said I had to, how the world around me would fall away when she approached with that approach of hers, how my touch would make her sound and how hers would feel electric, how she’d melt into the most magnificent puddle of woman when I told her I loved her and she knew it. I can’t go there if I know—that’s what I think.
I’ll get close, we’ll get close, and then there we’ll be, having conversations, maybe even debates, about what kind of milk to buy (whole), about what size bags fit the new garbage can we just bought (13 gallon), about where our next meal is coming from because I can’t cook and her specialty is tuna fish hot dish and for god’s sake we just had that on Tuesday (no idea). That’s how it goes, right? One day, one day ya’ll frequent the booty clubs and for the next four years you and somebody’s daughter raisin ya’ll own youngin. Wait. What? That’s Big Boi and I’m plagiarizing. What I meant to say was one day your spottieottiedopaliscious angel won’t be so spottieottie or so dopaliscious because you realize those were just made up words in a song you liked a long time ago because it spoke to this very idea, words as made up as any other words have ever been and nowhere close to as made up as your dreams. I tell myself. Where’s the essence then? Where is it when I say I can’t anymore and she says why and I say because the tuna fish hot dish and because you don’t light that fire in me and I can’t find the fucking matches.
Where’s her essence when she says oh I don’t really read much, I just watch tv. When she tells me I spend too much time ______ and not enough with her. When she stops looking at me the way she did at first. When we argue about trash bags and dinner. It’s still there, sure, but covered up by all this living. Anything sweet or charming or funny I say to her now would just be a memory by then, faint and impossible, almost as if of other people, not us. And indeed they would be other people, those early hello people, those unburdened, curious people, surprised and excited and feeling it out, wrapped up in meaning they can’t and don’t have time to comprehend.
If only I could keep it that way, keep it introductory, and then let it (her) go, set her free from me before knowing sets in. But I’d want more—to do it again, rather. An endless loop of first contacts, that’s what I want, reliving it each day she gets on the train, with no memory whatsoever of the day previous.
Every morning, some version of this: Excuse me, miss, I’d say, dry-mouthed and face flushed, I don’t mean to bother you but I’m going to because I can’t just sit over there…. Then give her some: I wanted to say… and I had to ask… and you’re just so… and what do you think of…. Dream girl. Maybe I’d tell her I never do this but this time I had to, and maybe she’d think it was bullshit. Maybe I’d say I think you’re absolutely gorgeous and the way you move—or sit there—(was that a giggle? Probably not) is as if the world were just here for you, such grace, such ease, such presence, as if you belong here and we’re all trying to. Wonder what she’d say to that. What could she? Thanks? I could tell her I’m a dreamer, a pathological dreamer, no less, I have a certificate to prove it. Tell her I believe—or want to believe, quite desperately at times—in love and romance and passion and irrepressible amorousness and connectedness and all that wonderful stuff. And that she, just by being, gives me some hope for that, not so much that I’ll find it and have it but that it exists, and that’s enough. Do you think I’m out of my mind? I’d ask. I usually do. What do you think about humor? No? Nothing? Well what about breakfast? I think it’s the best meal of the day, and it’s not funny at all, so it’s perfect. Let’s go get some.
And off we’d go. Just like that. Off at the next stop to find a café or restaurant or park bench, anywhere we could sit and talk and be all enchanted and wound up. As we chatted away, making remarkably intense eye contact at times, our souls igniting, in the back of my mind a certain theme would run, an explanatory disclaimer of sorts, kept all to myself and threatening to betray me. Please don’t take this the wrong way but right now I see you as a kind of shell, not all and only exterior, but with some framework, some details of your own but mostly a mystery and, to tell you the truth, I’m afraid I’ll pour too much of myself in like I always do and make fools of us both when it spills out all over the floor. All I’ve ever wanted was to stand proud and marvel, stunned and taken and even struck a little dumb but clear and close enough to touch another self known enough, understood enough, felt enough to be all in with me but still all its own, distinct, you as beautiful you, me as admiring, grateful me. Or would I just tell her? Does that make any sense?
All she’d have to do is say yes, that’s all. One of those soft-smiling, sweet yeses that can make a man forget the question he just asked, and probably forget who he is for a minute too. I snap back to reality at that thought, and look at her again, then out the window beside her, wondering how I can be so overcome. The thought of taking the first step carries me on and away and I sit back and watch it unfold word by word and scene by scene on the blur of trees and buildings through the window.
Change starts at the idea of contact, at the possibility.
The train stops and you make your way toward the doors, full of charm and bewitchery, whoever you are, goodbye girl again. What am I waiting for? No, it’s fine, next time, not now. Next time I will. Then you turn back at the last second, once I’ve decided on goodbye and later (again), and give me the eye over your shoulder. That’s it, and it changes me instantly from just another of your hapless bystanders and into the me who after an incredulous glance of “did you see that” around a traincar that suddenly seems perfectly empty without you chases after, driven by the hope of all hopes and a fierce clinging to a moment lived deep and full-felt, undeniable, instinctively certain your thoughts were in tune with mine, even if just for a second.
The embodiment of cliché but for once not caring at all, my hands force the closing doors open and my feet jump me off, my eyes show me a glimpse of you heading down the steps from the platform and I catch a faint whiff of your scent. I chase you down, slowing for the last few paces so as not to run up on you like the madman I must be, catching my breath more from the rush of desperate, unthinking audacity than exertion, and introduce myself, or think I do, forgetting to speak when you turn to me. I just stare. After a second, “you’re even more incredible up close” is the first and only thing that comes out. You laugh, confirming that I did in fact make discernible sounds, flattered but a little confused. I’m sorry, I say, but I saw that look and I hope to all that’s holy—and I’m not a praying man at all but sometimes people pray for me—that it was for me because I’m here now and there’s no going back. Train’s gone and I’ll be late for work now anyway, so I mean that literally.
With that, you change into the you who listens to me go on about noticing and wondering and compulsion and the seizing of moments, gulping down nervousness and apologizing for the disturbance and hoping I didn’t frighten you, I watch you becoming the you who puts up with me with grace and wit and a little nervous excitement of your own as your astonishment and confusion turn more recognizably to pleasure, even some relief at finding me as I am, strange, maybe, different but not weird—or not too.
You’re kind and sweet as can be but still a little guarded in that way some women seem to possess for controlling the unexpected since girlhood. You say the eye you just gave was definitely for me, absolutely for me and had, to tell the truth, been on me and precisely me for some time; you say you had a notion to speak but just couldn’t and kept hoping I would but I never even seemed to notice, never even smiled; I smile on cue, kicking myself inside for not doing this before, without all the chasing and dramatic fanfare, and telling you how glad I suddenly am to be alive, like the lights came on all at once and again you laugh, not so much at me but because the dream woke up inside you, just a little, and you know it. And I see it. It catches me like a one-two punch and I feel things sailing off, feel two new selves emerging from the old, taking a few shuffling first steps as we, all because I took a few as me.
The train slows, brakes scraping, the trees and buildings regaining shape and I come back to the world in time to see you get up to go. I watch, even stare, wondering if you’ll feel it, hoping you’ll look back as my imagination just said. And then you do, you actually do, and you look hard. Is that at me? I don’t look away, nothing moves, but inside that storm rages like never before, like you touched me; you vanish through the doors.
That wasn’t for me—it was just my imagination again, had to be, and it doesn’t know a thing. I haven’t changed, not yet. I’m still the me who sits here replaying what I just saw over and over, watching you go again and again, seeing you looking back again and again, wondering where you went and still thinking next time, next time I’ll speak, I have to now, she looked, next time. For now, though, I’ll have to be the me who finally remembers the notebook on his lap and pen in his hand and gets busy again making you something perfectly indefinite so I can talk to you on the page until the next moment I’m unprepared to grab comes to pass, still dreaming away and not moving an inch.
So go, you, and go back to she; I’ll go back to me—and back to filling up these pages and filling in gaps because, really, more than anything else right now I wanted a story to tell myself, something to believe in, something I can absorb into my tossed and troubled constitution that might bring word and thought to action and actually make me move without worrying one way or another about what the truth might be till I see it up close and personal, face-to-face and eye-to-eye, for any and everything it is. Next time. Please let there be a next time; I think I’d like this change. Maybe next time she’ll say goodbye and I’ll finally say hello.