The promise of tomorrow, sometimes tonight.
It was a dark and really, really, REALLY f@#$%& cold night…
The week had been miserable. Work was busy, as expected for year-end, and grad school had reduced my social activities to a minimum. November came and went in a blink and it was now another holiday season. A hectic schedule managed to distract me from general life worries but I could not escape those fears and doubts one Thursday evening.
I had seen myself in the moment.
A dark-haired twenty-something sitting by herself on the PATH staring into her phone. She was dressed for a date, probably not the first judging by lack of nerves, and yet she seemed troubled. Maybe she was running late, maybe she had second thoughts about the guy, or maybe she was avoiding letting herself become too excited. The year had brought its share of heartbreak and every guy with promise had disappointed her in the end. Some faded away like ghosts while others managed deeper cuts. This train would take her somewhere she could be happy, if only for a little while. She would forget about reaching 30 in the next couple of years, the pressures to succeed, the dreams that never became reality, expectations, and the yearning for that which all little girls dream of: True Love.
The PATH operator came through the speaker system, “We will be leaving momentarily. This is the train for 33rd Street.”
Would I get there on time? This was a third date and rules mandated I determined my level of interest. I imagined the future and the possibility of “us,” but my thoughts were interrupted by one poignant question: Do I WANT him? The honest answer was “I don’t know.” People will always present the best version of themselves in the initial stages of any relationship. It takes time to discover someone’s true person and that truth helps cultivate and nourish love. I had not shared enough time with my date to accurately assess our compatibility, but so far he had been playing my wants with dead-on accuracy… causing me to give pause. The self-preservation defense mechanism kicked in: Be wary of those that promise paradise… He was, after all, seeing other people. A woman just knows certain things. It was a fact I accepted as no talk of exclusivity ever took place. The annoying part of it was knowing he shared his attention while I gave it entirely. I felt the fool.
The train doors closed and we departed for the city. At the following stop a few passengers got on-board and a tall man sat across from my seat. I was lost in thought, too distracted by mental calculations to notice my surroundings, when it dawns on me that I will probably arrive late. I look up – exasperated – and lock eyes with my tall neighbor. I freeze under his piercing gaze and feel the blood rush to my face. I manage a swift shy smile and go back to staring at my phone like it’s the most interesting object in the world. Lighting had struck.
Sharply dressed, well-groomed, and a knowing smile. My peripheral tells me he is still looking AT me but his smile had struck me deaf and mute. A minute goes by, then two. It feels like an eternity.
I’m on his radar. I know it, and he knows I know. The stranger puts away his book and leans forward. I sense his look and a million thoughts race through my mind: He’s dapper, WHY is he looking AT ME? Maybe he knows me. Will he say something? Oh God, if he talks to me what do I say? What if he asks me where I’m going? I’m technically going to a date. I would be a TERRIBLE person if I flirted with this guy. Is that red hair? Wow, I’ve never dated a ginger. Will our babies have souls? Eh, still cute. STOP IT! I am… insane. Wow.
“So where are you off to tonight?” A deep and measured voice. Just how I like them. Boyish good looks and a charming presence… I’m definitely in trouble.
Ok, now smiiiile… NOT LIKE A HORSE! Jesus! “Going for drinks on Broadway. Catching up and enjoying a night in the city. Yourself?” Nice, he liked that. Even gave you a little chuckle. It’s better than “Oh yeah, meeting my date later. We’re probably gonna end up making out a lot.”
“Going to see some of my old college buddies play a show. We were actually all in college for music.” Fellow music major? Mmm, could go either way. So long as he’s not a music snob.
“Really? I’m also a music major! I’m a lyrical soprano.” The coincidence brings a laugh out of us and the inevitable comes to pass.
“May I sit next you?”
I smile. “You may.”
The stranger approaches and takes a seat by my side. The conversation flows effortlessly and we find ourselves smiling at each other and laughing more oft than not. We attended the same college and even shared the same professors, but it apparently took a random train ride to orchestrate our encounter. The conductor announces our next stop and my companion takes reluctant notice.
“Well, I’m getting off at the next stop but… I’m really glad I ran into you. Could I ask for your number and maybe ask you out for a drink later in the week?”
It was a snapshot in my life. A defining moment in my twentieth decade. Single, occasionally heartbroken, disillusioned but not surrendered, doubtful of the future but sure of step, and now faced with a decision. Should I remain on the safe path or take the leap? Do you want to dream of the life you want or live it?
He bid me goodnight and we shared one last look before the train completed its stop. The reality of what just transpired finally hit me and I couldn’t help but to laugh out loud. A good friend always makes it a point to remind me that “When the universe speaks, you’d do well to listen.”
Well Universe, I’m listening. Just don’t screw with me for entertainment. So many other d-bags to punish first.