One of the problems of being a fan of nineteenth-century literature is that I find myself assigning a tragic story to every person with whom I make eye contact. Every accidental hand touch on the subway or shared glance on the street becomes layered with ten shades of innuendo. Essentially, my life has become Downton Abbey.
Enter my commute buddy. Every day for the last week (yes, even Saturday) he and I have shared a train car to and from work. Every single day. He wears socks that match his scarf which matches his eyes, and seems like the type to have a job with a fancy title and very few tangible responsibilities. Director in charge of output. Synergy team leader. Assistant head of ongoing projects. I want his name to be Jack: he hates his job but loves his boss, has strong opinions about Chris Christie, and pledged for his not-quite-Ivy-league school’s fraternity, but never quite made the cut. Now, he spends his commutes reading the WSJ online on his ipad, and wondering when he will finally meet his future ex-wife. Every morning we rush to transfer onto the 7 together and fume about missing our connection, and every night the hypnotic rocking of the G helps us unwind from a long day.
He and I have never exchanged a single word, let alone a sympathetic shrug or smirk of commiseration. Even though we get off at the same stop every night, I have yet to run into him at any of my favorite coffee shops, or catch his eye as I’m walking out of my apartment, the sun hitting me just so and a gentle breeze blowing through my hair. Romcoms lead me to believe that, if I make eyes at him long enough and will the universe, he’ll just turn to me one day as we’re stepping off the train, lock eyes with mine, and say, “I know this sounds crazy but…I’ve been noticing you for weeks, and I would just hate myself if I didn’t ask: do you have time to grab a cup of coffee?” Before you know it, I’m Mrs. Head of client input, and Jack and I are fighting in IKEA about stools vs. high-backed chairs for our newly remodeled breakfast nook.
But yesterday, disaster struck, and suddenly great news became horrible. I’m happy to announce to all of my loyal readers (read: my mother) that I’ve been hired at a new job: one for which I’m under-qualified and very excited. But wait! Suddenly it was my last night of commuting with Jack, and my slow and strategic game of chess had to suddenly convert to go fish (or more accurately, old maid).
Miraculously, he made the first move. That’s right: he sat in the empty seat next to mine, right as I was sitting down. I finally got to hear his voice as he spoke, “I’m sorry: did you want this one? It has an armrest.” Just then, the train doors opened, and distant echoing harp music from the platform swelled. The force of the opening doors blew my hair across my eyes. This was my chance.
Now one thing I will say about myself is that most of the time, I’m a fairly confident woman, and for good reason (I’m pretty awesome). But upon hearing his warm and caramel-y voice, I just shook my head demurely, brushed my hair back, and stared at his shoes until the doors closed.
The rest of the commute passed uneventfully. I had blown it. That was the moment I should have seized, had I not let the constant narration in my head get the best of me.
Jack, if you’re reading this: It’s not you—it’s me. At least we’ll always have the G.
**Originally published on TwentysomethingNYC on January 9, 2015**