Please enjoy this post where I tell you a story about an event from my life. Nothing more, nothing less. Today’s story: A near miss.
“You should meet my friend” Nik is smiling at me like she has a secret. She does but not the one she’s presenting me with. “Oh, uh, do they go here?” we’ve been friends since halfway through the first year of college but I still don’t know that much about her. She’s on the outskirts of our social group but it seems like it’s by her own design more than anything else.
She’s clever and a writer and she has a smile that makes her face look strained. Not fake, just tired. I want desperately to be best friends with her which is probably why she keeps me at arms length but if she wants me to meet another one of her friends maybe we’re closer than I thought.
“No, he’s in Ohio, guy from high school. You should meet him though and make strange babies with him.”
Let it never be said that I’m not a person who takes recommendations lightly, especially not when they’re so pointed. So personal. But we don’t meet. At least, not for a while.
Instead Nik spends a few weeks talking about a TV show she likes. Constantly.
She loves the show Firefly which was cancelled after only one season but they’re about to release a movie to wrap up the series. There’s only 14 episodes, she cheerily tells us, so that we can watch it in a single day. And on that day I can teach her how to bake a cake and we’ll order pizza at Shane’s and everything’ll be perfect. We’ll all love the show and we’ll be ready for the movie and it’ll be great.
The cake catches fire in the oven which I worry is some kind of omen I don’t understand but Nik is right, the TV show is good. A handful of us watch the entire series in a single sitting. It’s pitch black outside while we all walk home humming the show’s theme.
Nik invites me to a free early screening of the movie. To keep herself entertained in the line outside she gets a bright idea to call a guy from middle school that she has the phone number of and asks him increasingly strange questions. When she gets off the phone I ask “was that strange babies?”
It wasn’t but it probably give her the next bright idea.
When our social group goes to see Serenity on its opening night Nik invites some of the friends from her high school social group to come to Pittsburgh and watch it with us. Including “strange babies”. The weekend before she makes us watch a movie they made for their senior project in high school. In the video strange babies is a tall, thin man with a tall, thin face who moves like his whole body is about to be jolted with electricity. I don’t see what the big deal is.
The day of the Serenity showing is the last day in September and it’s really cold. It’s the first day that chills me down to my bones and kicks off a long, frigid winter. Even with a thick sweater and my good jacket I shake all the way to work that morning but thankfully it’s a Friday so my day is over early and I spend the good part of two hours before the movies huddled around the TV playing video games and trying to unwind. I can’t unwind though, things are difficult now and they’re getting worse. I’m out of the petty cash I had saved for college despite working two jobs, I’m taking more than the recommended level of classes, and I’m in a dead end relationship that I’m working on convincing myself is fine. I’m drowning but I hope I’m not doing it too quickly.
I’m about to have the worst birthday of my life in a week and I already know it. I feel it deep in my bones. Isaac has been dead for two years as of that week and I’m about to be older than he ever got to be next week and I don’t like it. I don’t like how it sits in my stomach and I don’t like how it makes me feel guilty. I hate how I’ve managed to get so far and somehow still have to carry it with me. I put on my nice clothes and my big jacket and push all of those feelings down to my toes. I walk all over them.
I can see everyone milling around at the bus stop. A frothing, wiggling crowd of college students all eagerly chatting about their day and the TV show and everything in between. Bodies bouncing with joy. I don’t really try to look at strange babies. He’s buried in the crowd, between Nik and another friend. I stay next to Austin where it’s safe, or at least in a place where I understand the type of danger I’m in for.
On the bus I remain uncharacteristically terse. We take up entire rows of seats and I focus my eyes on Robyn’s skirt which is lined with shiny plastic coins that jingle with every movement the bus makes. We play a game of guessing everyone’s favorites colors just to break the ice and waste time. No one guesses my favorite color and we get stuck when it comes to Robyn.
It’s a specific blue, she huffs. Narrowing it down is difficult and leaves us grasping and pointing. Is it that one blue that no one is sure what it looks like? Like a green-blue? Like a blue-green? Like the ocean? Is it the blue on any of these pins? The blue in the sky just yesterday?The blue of this or that logo?
I dream up all the blues that I know it isn’t. The blue of my skin when I come out of the freezing cold shower. The blue that blooms from a bruise while it winds its way to healing. The dull blue handle of my x-acto knife as I hold it against my leg. The blue light of Austin’s laptop at 3am. The blue shine of the copy machine as I waste my life away. The blue feeling in my chest when I’m with someone but I still feel alone.
The bus lurches to a stop and my eyes flick up. They catch on strange babies’s face. His thin but long beard, his soft apple cheeks, his plush but pale lips. The hue of his eyes. And I know before I even see them that they’re blue. Blue. Blue. Nothing but blue.
Nik shuffles us around in the theater so that I’m sitting next to him of course. I should probably be glad she didn’t do that on the bus or on the way here or at the bus stop. She seems determined. I’m dating someone, I reminded her the day before. Her eyebrows arc like she’s trying to ask me if that’s really true. I feel guilty and then, I feel stupid. It’s a movie. You’re allowed to sit next to people at a movie. I’ve loved people (and lusted people) and sat next to them at the movies before and never worried. I’ve sat next to those exact types of people in this very theater and never worried about it before. Feeling buoyed and knowing what will happen in the movie lets me relax enough to enjoy it. I don’t look at him and he doesn’t look at me. Fair enough. We’re just two people sitting in a room watching a movie. Strangers in the dark.
Until the big scene happens.
I’ve seen this movie and it shouldn’t shock me but it does and my hand reaches out and his hand reaches out and then our hands are together, over the seat handle. Just for a second.
I shove my hand in my lap like it’s on a fire because holding hands is stupid. This wasn’t even holding hands, it was a mistake. Everything I do is a mistake. Watch the movie. Don’t think about holding hands!
On the way back everyone is talking about the movie except me. I’m starring at the ground and trying to punish myself for something that didn’t even happen. I haven’t spoken a single word to strange babies the whole time and our singular moment of contact makes me feel even less like a human and more like a shadow next to him. Almost there but fading into the background. Everyone wants to go out to dinner and I decide to make my exit. I don’t even say goodbye to Nik or my roommates.
I cry the entire way back home. When I get inside the house I slam my hands against the door and sink down to the floor.
Tears well up in my eyes and between my sobs all I keep repeating is, “It was nice to meet you.”