Creepy Kind of Wonderful
When I was nineteen or twenty, I came back from college one summer to live at home. Our three-story walkup was on the north side of Chicago, had no AC, and the only way to get through that kind of cranking heat was to strip down, soak your top sheet in water, get in bed and watch the rotating fan swing back and forth, waiting for each small breath of air until you could drop into sleep. It was easy to think about boys on nights like that.
It was sometime in that August that I met a boy/a man–a year or two older–you could say a friend of a friend. I won’t say who, of course. But it was sweet, and a little scary, and he had AC and I really liked him. Then I went back to school to the cold fall of Syracuse where gray rain is chronic until the blinding white and gray winter begins, and I made plans to come home again for Thanksgiving. He and I, we talked on the phone and listened to each other breathe in the pauses. There was one phone in the entire house, so you had to stand in the hallway and hope no one overheard you, your coffee on a small wooden ledge with someone’s crushed cigarettes, a wooden chair if you wanted to sit down because you were giving or receiving bad news. After I made my plane reservations, he told me how he couldn’t wait to pick me up at the airport.
I don’t know if you’ve ever seized up for an unknown reason. Because you were burned to ash once, because you feel too young for something too serious, because you’re not ready for long distance, or the idea of love is too little or too much or too hard, or this other person, who you don’t really know–you can’t really say you know him–is pushing just a fraction further into your phone than you’d like. But there I was, pulling back on the phone cord, snapping it against the wall, saying, —You don’t actually need to come to the airport…I’ll call you when I get into town.
But…I didn’t. Years go by, faces, houses, boxes packed with your life as it swells and contracts, moves from location to location, births, deaths, and then the internet sends its spiders out, and you find yourself looking his name up, then his location, then his business, then, and this is where it gets creepy, his daughter’s name is listed along side his, and you discover that his daughter has posted pictures of her friends, her sports team, her dad.
And there he is. That boy. That boy you can’t even find in his face now. He’s not that guy who wanted to come to the airport. He’s certainly not the one you always wondered about, thinking maybe if you had said, –I’ll meet you in baggage. Bring your car and take me back to your place, and lean into me, and don’t worry if I can’t explain things entirely, if I act a little skittish.
This guy in the restaurant has a beard, and maybe it’s in need of a trim. His eyes seem…small. He has a wife and kids and they’re sitting in an Italian restaurant, taking a break in their meal to look into the lens. He’s not that boy. And there’s something entirely wonderful in this.