In the winter of 1989 I transferred to NYU from the University of Southern Maine, intent upon studying poetry, nursing youthful fantasies of literary success. I was terribly nervous about making friends -- in addition to submerging myself in a completely unfamiliar, and overwhelming urban environment, I was terribly shy, often displaying a reluctant timidity towards strangers.
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You lived in the same dorm building as me -- a mishmash of dimly lit and shabbily painted converted office space on West 10th street. You, and a small handful of high school friends, had come to college together from Chicago. You had red hair, your favorite band was The Replacements, you were studying French, and we were introduced by my new roommate.
You and your Chicago friends were nice enough to take me out on the town several times in those first few weeks and in the process we struck up a casual romance -- although the youthful pressure to keep things "casual" often yanked at the oversensitive ventricles of my heart.
It was on a Sunday evening, when a small group of friends was smoking weed in your dorm room and watching Brewster's Millions, that one of our friends proposed the bet: the first person in the room to get married would be awarded $30 -- the cost of a New York State marriage license. The next morning, inspired as much by the novelty of the bet as my affection for you, I asked if you wanted to go to City Hall and get married -- you said yes.
The Justice of the Peace looked like Hank Williams Jr. and reeked of whiskey. We signed the marriage license, and on our walk back uptown to Washington Square, we ducked into bar after bar, brandishing our new union as a means of getting free drinks. Half-drunk, and half-in love, we returned to the dorm room, where our roommates, laughing through their disbelief, pooled together thirty dollars.
Fearing our family's reactions -- three days later we had the marriage annulled, and again, this time with paperwork indicating our "separation," managed to get some free drinks out of the deal. For the rest of the semester I slept in your bed, jokingly referring to you as my ex-wife.
Two weeks before the end of the semester, I received word that my estranged father -- an ex-pat living in rural Japan, was dying of cancer of the esophagus. I left immediately to go to his bedside, watching him teeter on life and death for the next six months. As this was pre-internet, and my father's village lacked even telephone lines, we lost touch.
That brings me to today. This morning, the L train was typically hectic -- car after car was so packed to the brim with people, that I was waiting patiently for a less crowded train to board. At one moment, looking up from my newspaper, we made eye contact -- you were packed in like a sardine among the other morning commuters. I saw the flash of recognition in your eyes, our jaws dropping in disbelief.
I stayed in Japan for another eight years, before returning to the United States where I built a decent career writing, not poems, but teleplays. I have lived all over the country, but only recently moved back to New York. I am once divorced, and have two daughters.
When I saw you, I felt all those years folding in on themselves, and have now spent the entire morning wondering what your life is like. It is perhaps an absurd suggestion, but would you maybe like to get a cup of coffee and catch up on a quarter century of life?
- Location: L Train
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