One day, you’ll be leaving work, your limbs heavy with dating fatigue. You’ll trudge to the subway with a sourness in your soul. I’m done with dating, you’ll whisper into to the dank subway air. That’s it. I will live underground in the subway tunnels like those mole people and never have to sit through another awkward round of drinks again. You’ll be so wrapped up in your self-pitying reverie that you’ll miss the train. You’ll, swear, gnaw on your cheek, hating yourself for thinking like this and wait for the next one.
Moments later, you’ll notice a man on the platform standing next to you and feel drawn to him like a super-duty magnet. He’ll pull you with great gravitational force onto the same subway car as him and you’ll sit across from him. He’ll pull out the NY Post. And you’ll think No one reads the paper anymore. But this guy does. He’s the last paper reader alive.
You’ll study his face, this paper reading unicorn, taking it in, trying to make sense of it. He has kind eyes. His mouth is fixed in a perma-smirk. When his smirk spreads to a smile, you’ll realize you recognize that smile. You know him!? This realization will untether you. This is someone you know?! But how? From where?
You’ll go through a long checklist in your mind. Did we go on a date? Did we work together? Does he know my brother? Did he live in Los Angeles anytime between 2001 and 2007? He’ll smile again and this time you’ll know how you know him: he lived in your dorm freshman year of college. You spent time together, his friends and yours, listening to records and drinking bootlegged beers. And then sophomore year, you both moved to different dorms and never saw each other again. That was 16 years ago. His name is on the tip of your tongue.
“This may be weird,” you’ll say, propelled across the subway car, “but did we go to college together?”
“Yeah …” he’ll say, half-confused, like you just woke him from a long nap.
He’ll put the Post away. He’ll come and sit next to you. You’ll discover that you both happen to be getting off at the same stop. A far stop. You’ll have 30 minutes to talk.
In those 30 minutes you’ll share personal things with each other, the kind of stuff you don’t normally say to a person you haven’t seen in 16 years.
“Are you happy in life,” you’ll ask him.
He’ll answer brutally honestly, “I don’t know.”
Because of his brutal honesty, you’ll feel no reservation whatsoever about slipping him your business card and asking him if he’d like to get a drink sometime after work. All that stuff about who should ask whom out and under what circumstances will suddenly seem absurd to you. He’ll make it so easy for you, that you don’t even consider doing anything else.
The next afternoon, he’ll email you and tell you how nice it was to run into you on the subway. Your heart will do an Olympic tumbling routine. You weren’t imagining it. It couldn’t really be this easy, could it? you’ll wonder. There must be a catch here. Sure, there may be a catch, but that won’t stop you from getting excited in a way you haven’t gotten excited in a decade. You’ll feel excited in a pure way to see him again next week, when you’ve planned to meet for a drink.
He’ll walk into the bar that he let you pick. He’ll take your coat and hang it up for you. Your armpits will be sweating. You’ll ask if he likes cheesy tater tots and then he’ll laugh because there’s nothing he likes more and everything will just fade away for the next five hours. The conversation will be easy. The world will go soft and fuzzy. You must have ordered a glass of wine. You must have used the restroom. You must have moved to a second location and eaten dinner and paid the check and tipped the waiter. But you don’t remember doing any of that. You’ll exist in a bubble, you and him, like the one that Glinda from “The Wizard of OZ” travels in. Nothing can touch you in the bubble.
The next moment you’ll remember is when, near the end of dinner, you ask him, “Can I touch your hand?”
You’ve never said anything like this before. The words sound ridiculous coming out of your mouth. Like a fish speaking, its use of language foreign. He understands your request and reaches out his hand for you to touch. Other human beings call this hand-holding. But you’re not other human beings. You’ll stare into each other’s eyes without speaking. Minutes? Hours? When you stand up to leave, he’ll lean over and kiss you. When his lips touch yours you’ll feel like he’s been kissing you for your whole life. You didn’t think these moments existed in real life. But they do.