I was running late this morning, stepping on the subway around 8am instead of my usual no-later-than-7:45. At first I was slightly annoyed with myself, as it’s a busy time at work (so basically, business as usual) and I’d wanted to stop at Starbucks for a coffee before the line reached epic proportions, but all of my annoyance rapidly disappeared when I heard the familiar voice over the subway system wishing us all a good morning – my favorite conductor was back! I haven’t heard his voice since one random morning back in November, and before that, since…
It hit me at that moment that the last time he’d been narrating my morning schedule was just about one year ago, when everything in my life was different. I don’t mean the obvious things – less tattoos, longer hair, different job – but the thing that probably shaped my last year more than anything else. This time last year there was a story playing out in my life that had every hint of a happy ending, but instead. Well, let’s just say instead. I’ve never told this story in its entirety here, but it’s one of those stories I’ve wanted to tell for a long time, and now feels like a good moment to get the words out of my head once and for all.
It all started in mid-April of last year, when a red jacket caught the corner of my eye one day while waiting for my typical morning train, hoping I’d catch the one where the conductor wishes you a “beautiful morning.” It was an interesting jacket on what turned out to be a really cute guy, waiting on my subway platform. I entertained the brief funny thought of “what if I met someone on the subway?” and smiled to myself at the ridiculousness of such a notion before pulling out one of my many back issues of Vogue or Vanity Fair that I’d been working to catch up on, having let them pile up for probably four months. My favorite conductor was running things that morning, and in between his cheerful “Good mornings!” at each stop, I stole a few glances at the cute guy; my imagination took over with a few “what ifs” and “wouldn’t it be funnys,” and then he got off the train one stop before I did, and I went back to my magazine, prepared never to see him again, not like I’d recognize him if I did – after all, how many subway strangers do we encounter on a daily basis in this city?
I walked down the steps the next morning, trying not to trip over myself as I pulled out the Vogue and flipped to the dog-eared page to keep reading, when I looked up and saw a flash of a red sleeve in the corner of my eye as I walked to my normal standing spot on the train. “Strange coincidence,” I thought, looking at him quickly again and happily confirming that he was, in fact, still cute. I buried my nose back in the magazine and spent the next three weeks doing the exact same thing every morning. I would walk to the train, either see him immediately and try to strategically position myself “close but not obviously close” so that we’d stand near each other on the train, or get there first and stare down the train tunnel, hoping that when the train doors open he’d appear like he did sometimes, having arrived after me; always my nose was buried in a back issue and we never said a word or even looked at each other, or at least he never caught me staring, so I thought. One morning we were standing next to each other and I tripped into his arms on a jerky train movement, better than if I’d planned it. Embarrassed, I looked at him and apologized breathlessly, but he just smiled and went back to the game on his phone, so I was convinced this crazy crush I was rapidly developing was entirely in my head.
In early May last year, one of the cool spring mornings that turn into a hot afternoon, I realized I was out of magazines. Out! I went to start hunting for my Kindle or a book, but stopped myself after a minute. “Maybe,” I let myself think, “this is the morning he’ll say something.” I was too much of a chicken to make any sort of move, especially because I was still positive it was all in my head, but I let myself play into the “What If” like a teenager dreaming about the magical love story that we learn as adults only exists in Nicholas Sparks novels. I remember exactly what I was wearing that day: my favorite ankle boots that are just tall enough and an at-that-time new maxi dress that I knew looked fantastic. In my last minutes of “should I find a book or not” that morning, I was running a few minutes late, and came down the stairs just in time to see the train arriving; without any time to look for him I got myself to the nearest door and waited for it to open, when out of the corner of my eye, I saw The Child notice me at the door and quickly turned to hide his smile. “Holy shit,” I thought, walking into the train and somehow finding myself next to him, holding the same pole and feeling electric with a nervous energy, “this might not all be in my head.”
We rode the train in silence for the entire ride. He kept trying to catch my eye and smiling, and I was furiously biting my lip trying to suppress my own smile, unable to focus on solitaire on my phone, barely able to look anywhere except my own arm holding the subway pole. We finally pulled into his stop, and I saw him turn towards me, which was not the easiest way for him to get off the train. My heart started pounding, pounding, pounding like a warning, and I heard the buzz of the doors open. I finally looked over at him and he was staring right at me with a smile on his face. He started to walk past me out the door, when he stopped, put his hand on my shoulder, leaned into my ear and said “So I’ll see you tomorrow?” I laughed then, pure joy and relief and something I still can’t define, and told him “I’ll see you tomorrow.” That was it for the first day – we didn’t exchange names, or numbers, or anything other than those words.
I won’t get into the details of the next two months. I don’t want to relive the first two weeks where he said all the right words, how we were in constant contact, hungry to learn anything and everything about the other person as quickly as possible. I don’t want to think any more about our impromptu first date, a walk through the entire city one Tuesday night holding hands, and our first kiss on the corner of 17th and Broadway, or the twelve-hour date where he met my friends and my brother, and I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to have found him. I don’t want to relive the first time he said just three words to me and how things felt like they were perfect, perfect, things couldn’t get any better or feel any more right. I don’t want to remember how immediately everything changed one Friday night where I left work early to put on makeup and change out of my ripped jeans and he blew me off the whole weekend, 72 hours of silence without an explanation and never an apology. And more than anything I don’t want to think any more about every morning before that day on the subway where he’d put his arm around me and kiss me before walking off the train, and whisper in my ear “I’ll see you tomorrow?” every single time, even if we had plans later that night.
I hadn’t thought about him in months, having long deleted every trace of him from my life after he abruptly left Manhattan for good without saying a thing to me, until I walked onto the train this morning and saw a cute guy walking towards the same door. I had a brief moment of “What if” before cutting that thought short, reminding myself that I’ve done the subway thing and I’ve learned my lesson, to be sure. He ended up standing next to me that whole train ride, and I found that I couldn’t stop reminiscing about this time last year, the exact week before everything started going downhill. It’s true once you notice something that it’s everywhere; now that he’s been on my mind again, if briefly, I keep seeing things around the city that remind me of him, like his haircut I could pick out of a crowd with ease, or his glasses, and there was a moment while writing this post that I had a flashback to the look he would give me on the train when things were still wonderful. It’s the only time in my life anyone has ever looked at me that way and it took months to forget how that look made me feel.
I had a version of this story written in my drafts folder last spring, a complete draft, waiting for the perfect moment to share the Adorable Love Story for the Adorable New Couple, and everyone would get to experience my happiness at no longer being single in the city, and how cute that the girl with the NYC Skyline tattooed on her arm met a boy on the subway. Instead I had to slowly delete bits and pieces until there was nothing left, no trace of his promises anywhere, not in my phone, not in my blog, not in my life. I suppose it’s silly then, to put the good parts, the early story of Us out there now, but it felt important to get the words out of my head once and for all. Plus, I’ve come to realize that I don’t mind reminiscing about the good parts of what happened. It was a great story for a period of time, and in the end I came out a stronger person. He was the first in a trio of men in my life last year to say a lot of things without meaning a single one of them, and he is the one that really instigated my not wanting to date this year. But he also taught me to open myself up to the chance of love again, and instead of dwelling on what went wrong, one year later I want to remember that there are good things out there, if you just take a moment to look up.