Some of you may remember this post I put up a couple months ago. I've been working on it a bit here and there, and I wanted to share an excerpt from the next segment. For those who are new around here, please follow the link above and read the first part before continuing.
I came to know her by pure coincidence. She was one of the hundreds of faces that you see each day on your way to work, when you pick up a few things at the grocery store, when you drop off your prescription. We were two strangers in a city of thousands, our lives drawn slowly together. Fate, I guess you could say.
I couldn’t help but notice her, the first time I saw her. I was standing outside the building I worked in, delaying until the last possible moment before going inside. It was, as they say in the movies, a day just like any other. Another day of smiling politely at the boss who still hasn’t taken the time to know your name after three years. Another day of mindless productivity and corporate bullshit. Another day of watching the clock and praying for the day to be over, where the coffee is horrible and the only reward is the bi-weekly paycheck that never seems to be enough.
I stood there on the sidewalk, contemplating as I often did back then how easy it would be to walk out into traffic, to leap off the curb in front of a sedan or commuter bus, just to feel something different for a change. Or maybe, after the glass settles and the smell of hot rubber fills the air, I would feel nothing at all.
I was about to go inside when she walked by. Despite her anonymity among the throng of passersby, she was like a ray of sunshine in an endlessly dark place. It was her perfume that truly caught my attention, an intoxicating scent on the morning air that cut through my shadowy thoughts. She was passing in front of me, a slender brunette with a trim figure under stylish clothes. She carried a purse in one hand and a coffee in the other, and in that way she looked just like the multitude of other women trying to survive in this city that I had seen and met with apathy countless times before.
I was sure that I had never seen her before, yet there was something about her that seemed familiar to me. She walked quickly, her hair shining smoothly in the sun. I paused inside the doorway to steal another look before she was gone around the corner.
I followed her with my eyes for a few moments, and when she reached the corner of the walk she stopped. She turned and looked at me, and even with the distance between us I could see that her eyes were a brilliant blue. She smiled, and a rush of color filled her cheeks. She turned forward and started walking again, and disappeared around the corner.
I ran down the sidewalk to see if I could catch her. It only took me a few seconds to get to the corner where she turned but by then she was lost among the tangle of business suits and briefcases. I watched the crowd for a few moments before turning back down the walk to my office. I waited outside after my shift was over to see if she would pass by again, but the sun crept below the horizon without any sign of her.
The next morning I loitered outside my office again, hoping to see her. Gone were the thoughts of jumping into traffic. Instead, I twitched with anticipation. At last she appeared, walking with the same confidence that I had seen the day before. She passed, more beautiful than I had remembered her to be, and our eyes met. Her eyes looked deep into mine, searching. Her pupils sharpened, and the piercing blue of her eyes became too much to look at. I shifted my gaze to the ground at my feet for a moment, and then looked back up at her. I smiled, and breathed deep the smell of her perfume that clung to the rising breeze.
And what a scent it was! I filled my lungs with it, holding it in for as long as I could stand. It made my pulse quicken while everything else around me slowed down. It tasted sweet on my tongue, and a wave of inebriation swept over me. Every now and again since she left, I will catch a trace of her perfume on the air, the finishing touch of another womans ensemble. Remembering it now pulls back the curtains on the lies I tell myself, that I am surviving without her, when in reality, the pieces of me that I hold together for my outward appearance will forever be ripped apart. The memory of her is a wound on my soul that will never heal.
She smiled back, and a flood of red filled her cheeks as they had the day before. She tipped her head forward causing her hair to spill over, concealing her face. I wanted to say something, but my mouth had gone dry. She kept walking, pausing to smile again before turning the corner. This time, I didn’t follow her.
Seeing her disappear around the corner reminded me of being a child, and how I used to make tiny boats out of scraps of folded newspaper and release them into the burbling stream that ran behind my house. They would tumble along in the shifting current, beautiful and elegant and fragile. I would race along the edge of the water, following the boat as it floated until the little stream emptied into a larger river. The path along the stream ended here, and I would stand and watch the boat push courageously forward into the stronger current. I would crane my neck to see it go around the bend, and then it was gone. The fast current of the river frightened me, so I never tried to see where my boats ended up. I imagined a pile of broken ships, wrecked on stones or grounded on sandbars, torn apart over time by the water.
The chance of seeing this woman became the reason to shave in the morning or to spend more time pressing my shirts. She was the reason I trimmed my hair, bought new shoes, and tightened my collar. We had a routine on those mornings. She would blush when she smiled at me, and I would smile in return, never gathering enough courage to do anything else except that. Her smiles got me through one workweek, and then another, and then another.
There was one day where I didn’t see her. A misty rain was falling that day, the kind of rain that doesn’t seem to get you very wet until you step inside. I waited without impatience outside in my usual spot despite it, and when the time came when she normally walked by passed, I waited still. I delayed until I was late for work, but she never came.
At first I became worried. Where was she? Was she hurt? Sick? My concern for her safety consumed my thoughts, and soon my concern shifted into despair. I saw myself then as one of my childhood paper boats, breaking apart under the heavy pressure of the relentless water.
After a month of shy smiles and long distance glances, she had become an essential part of my life. On the days where I saw her I felt alive. I was grateful for her. It was different, to actually feel something, anything, other than the weight of my own thoughts. Our sidewalk relationship made me feel more human than I had ever remembered being. It took one day without her to make me wonder how I ever survived my life before.
I think I knew it long before that moment, but my mind finally wrapped itself around it then as I climbed the stairs to my office, wet from the rain. I needed her. She was oxygen, she was sunlight. She was gravity. She was an anchor, holding my life in place and keeping me from drifting away.
I knew it then, and I would know it forever.
Have a good weekend, folks.