I wouldn’t call myself obsessive-compulsive, but I do have patterns. If I don’t follow them, I get nervous, my skin feels wavy. Train rides are the worst. Maybe because my mind is free to wander. Music being pumped directly into my ears via tiny white speakers while I’m being chauffeured over and under the city streets only heightens things. There are two things I must do in order to keep myself settled:
1. I position my feet exactly one shoe length apart, one facing forward and the other slightly pointed toward the exit I will take. (Doors open on the right at Chicago and State.)
2. I find someone on the train whom I deem an alternate version of myself. Sometimes this is difficult if it’s not crowded, but usually I can find someone sharing thoughts with me. This person can come in any shape or size. I may know by the way they hold their hands or have a crumb of breakfast left over in the corner of their mouth. Most recently, this was an old man with a yellowed collar and knotted hands clenched around the top of an equally knotted cane. I sat down right next to him, positioned my feet, and knew right away. I ached to rest my head on his shoulder. It was painful. My head weighed a million pounds. It started to drift over, but then I caught the eye of the scrappy guy in skate shoes sitting across from me. I straightened. I realized he might be thinking I was an alternate version of him.
I’ve come to realize that the thing with my feet doesn’t help me keep balance when standing. I realize this and I know nothing of physics. Except that I’m infinitely drawn to you.
You. Things didn’t work, and I told myself it wasn’t meant to be. I was good at leaving, and you were good at being left. You didn’t seem to care. Where I was desperate, you were quiet, calm, never drastic. I’d worn you out.
You still have not really called. Maybe you’re looking at your hands. Maybe you’ve found out where I work and you’ll meet me at the door one Tuesday morning. You’ve been watching me as I approach. I’m shocked but thrilled.
“Call in sick,” you say.
“But I’m already here,” I laugh.
You don’t laugh. Instead you plead with me to take a walk along the lake.
We walk and sit and run and climb ledges. Maybe you tell me I’m your ghost, how you seek my ghost approval when combing your bangs down your forehead or falling in love with a new song. The morning light flies off the waves in splinters. We never touch. Our heads come close, but there’s an atomic gap between. I want to punch you in the stomach. I want to bury my face in your jacket.
I ride the Red Line home. I keep my feet together, looking at nothing and no one. v