We had the perfect story. One of those you are asked to tell so many times it becomes an act, and you begin to envision his best man telling at your wedding. Because with a story like this, well, how could you not get married?
It was a Friday in early March and I was facing a deadline at work while simultaneously racing to catch a train out to Connecticut. After not even bothering to try to make the train I should have been on, I was still left running down the platform for the already packed following train, balancing bags weighing more than me and clutching a coffee. I poured myself into the first open seat that caught my eye.
Smug in my seat, I pulled out the project I needed to finish and paid no attention to the hoards of people who had piled in behind me and were left standing. I didn’t care what was going on around me until ten minutes into that ride, as we pulled into Harlem-125th to let on even more passengers, when I noticed it – the car was full of young, good-looking men.
At first I dismissed most of them as finance douche-bags after overhearing their conversation about how much they had dropped on bottle service the night before, but there was one gem in there. Mr. Tall,Dark and Blue-eyed was wearing a hoodie that covered his curly hair and leaning against the smudged plastic wall dividing my section of the Metro North train car from the next. He acted as if he didn’t know anyone around him, which made me hopeful he did not fall into the twat parade.
As it so happened, while I was not so discreetly checking him out, I caught his eye. My face burned, and I could feel the flush as its heat overwhelmed my body causing me to immediately drop my head to hide. “God, he is hot”, I thought to myself. Seriously, I was unable to come up with a better descriptor. My brain was dumbfounded.
Attempting to turn my thoughts back to the pile of work sitting in my lap, I counted the seconds before I felt it was appropriate to look up again. One Mississippi…Two Mississippi…
This exchange of glances went on for the next 45-minutes until the next stop where an opportunity presented itself as the older, portly gentleman next to me promptly made an exit to start his weekend. Sliding over to the window seat from the aisle, I made an opening for this guy to sit next to me, which was instead taken by another man old enough to be my father. Pouting, I pulled out a book to feign interest in reading.
From there we continued this too-scared-to-stare-and-find-a-way-to-talk-to-one-another game – I’d peer over the seat every time the train stopped to make sure he hadn’t left and he’d still be standing there looking hot. By the time we approached my stop I had invented an entire background for him, planned out our future and made some kind of deal with God to ensure he wouldn’t end up having a girlfriend.
A few stops away from mine, I found it really hard to believe that this would end without words so I snapped back to the present to plot out how I could make my way over there without being too obvious (yea, I know, too late for that). As the train inched toward my hometown, and with only a few more stops left, I realized that unless he were to climb over the seats and push aside the standing passengers on this overcrowded commuter train, it was up to me to collect my weekend bags and make the grand gesture of the first move.
The train began to slow down as it neared the upcoming stop and my body, one step ahead of my debating mind, began to gather everything around me. Shoving my unread book into my purse, I ungracefully pulled my heavy suitcase off the overhead rack and then excused (pushed) myself through the crowd to make my way to the divider just as the train let out the overflowing passengers.
I dropped my many bags. Braced myself. Looked up. But of course, he was gone.
The sliding doors closed and the train began to pull away from the platform. Nose pressed against the glass window of the door I looked for him while trying to deny that I had missed my opportunity.
Monday morning I found myself at work early and already distracted at my desk. Feeling a bit silly, I opened the Internet browser and searched for Craig’s List’s New York Missed Connections page. This action in itself seemed foolish, but in the back of my mind, I knew that other than riding Friday’s 4:12 train weekly in search of him (ha, sorry boss), this was my only shot in hell. I put off deciding to post something myself by crawling through the weekend’s listings for something that sounded relevant to me or that would catch my attention in the clutter of “NYSC, 16th Street, Men’s Locker Room M4M, 22” listings.
My expectations got ahead of me as my stomach knotted up backtracking to that past Friday’s postings. Disappointed by the first page, I had half given up when I read the subject line, “Friday 4:12 Metro North Train toward New Haven, M4W, 24”, and promptly had a mild heart attack.
Then the Internet took its sweet time as it loaded the posting, giving me more time to tack on a few events to our fake life. And then there it was. Here are the three reactions I had to what appeared on my screen:
-OMG, OMG, OMG
-What if he’s a serial killer?
-My friends are prank-pulling nimrods.
I arrived to the Ace Hotel early and with stomach pains. I can still remember that anxious, gnawing feeling about how this was going to go. Also, I’m not accustomed to being early and having to wait didn’t help. Questioning myself and my sanity, I wondered if I (and my roommates, friends, co-workers – not my family, for once I didn’t dare mention this to them. They would have gone on assuming he was a serial killer) had built this moment up and whether this could only lead to disappointment.
So I paced. Walked in and out and back into the hotel lobby. Then finally settled on locking my eyes on the entrance and giving myself a stern chin-up pep talk.
Then a tall, brown-haired boy walked through the revolving doors, I caught his bright eyes with the slight scar over the right one. Oh yes, it was him and it was awkward. But I got over it because in swapping the casual sweatshirt for his work attire he looked even better than I had remembered.
The only open seat in this library-esque setting was a large wooden table. So we clambered up and with beers clutched in our hands and my legs dangling over the edge, we seemed to lose sight of the crowded hotel lobby full of first dates, happy hours and people pouring themselves into their computers. Over the week we had exchanged numerous e-mails that gave us plenty of fodder to fuel our conversations. And when the chatter went quiet we just turned to the room full of people for material. Both of us were a little surprised when we checked our phones to see that three hours had flown away.
He didn’t kiss me that night, but Chip and I went on to have second, third, fourth dates, first kisses on park benches, make-out sessions, and introductions to our friends and siblings. I’m pretty sure there were invites to some family parties in there, too. I was routinely prompted to tell the story to anyone who asked if I was dating anyone and the response was always, “you have to get married!”
Yet, something went wrong over a few short months together. Chip became distant and I felt a growing anxiety over waiting for responses to our once daily e-mails. Then what felt like suddenly, he was gone.
I’ve held on to that story for a long time since it reminds me to stop and pay attention to your surroundings. Cheesy (creepy?) as this may sound, you never know who is watching you smile.
Oh, and in case you are wondering, I have seen and heard from Chip since those trickling e-mails. A 3am apology note once appeared in my inbox on a Friday night, a catch up over Peanut Butter Company sandwiches in Washington Square Park (a hopeful replica of our second date) happened months later and sometimes I catch a a glimpse of him in passing on the Metro North Train. I’ve let it go, and fortunately for my sanity the feelings have passed, But still, the story never gets old.