Friday, May 8, 2009
Max IV: The Final Chapter
May 8, 1998:
Feeling a bit lucky to find a seat on the MAX downtown during the Friday evening rush hour, I start to wonder what kind of freak will end up sitting by me from the next stop. Usually, it’s some old woman who seems appalled at my very existence, or some drunk fuck who likes to spread out onto my half of the seat, rubbing his stained fur-lined jean jacket all over me, while chattering incoherently about something incoherent. I’ve never been able to figure out why they call the Light Rail Train “MAX.” The “Metropolitan Area Express.” What is that? Are they kidding? I think maybe it’s a generic name for the strange beings that you’re sure to encounter while riding, and has nothing to do with the name of the train itself. Maybe the “MAX” printed on the outside of the train is a warning. Actually, the commute on the train everyday isn’t so bad. Mostly, there’s just everyday people and it sure as hell beats sitting on the freeway going nowhere, but today I’m just not in the mood.
Much to my surprise, an attractive girl decides to save me from my usual fate. As she sits, we make eye contact. I try to force a smile through my natural scowl. I’ve been trying to smile at women more frequently. Anything to improve my status as a lonely single guy. In response, this girl beams back and lightly nudges me with her elbow.
“How are you?” she queries with genuine enthusiasm.
Unable to reply with words, due to shock, I wave my hands aimlessly in the air and look at her with a confused expression. Eventually, I shrug my shoulders. I don’t lie well. I quickly turn my head and look down at the magazine that I have sitting on my lap. I try and keep the image of her alive in my mind. She’s wearing a bright white T-shirt and some gray sweatpants. She was carrying an athletic bag over her shoulder. It is now sitting at her feet. She must’ve just finished a workout. She has a tired confidence about her, the kind of satisfaction that a cathartic workout can give. Damn, she’s cute. Absolutely, adorable. Her eyes, dare I say, dazzle with some kind of energy, as if she has made a pact with the devil to easily recruit unsuspecting chumps like me.
She leans forward and pulls a magazine out of her bag. I glance over at her. Her light brown hair is slightly mussed and very soft. The direction of her hair seems to flow effortlessly over her ear, and the ends begin to curl back toward her earlobes, framing her face. Her eyes look nearly closed as she focuses on her magazine and situates herself. The lids of her eyes are so smooth and supple and her eyelashes so long, I begin to lose my already tenuous grip on reality. Her eyelashes tangle, ever so slightly, as she blinks. Each blink seems to occur in slow motion.
“How are you?” I stammer without warning. Instantly, she glances over at me with her head still tilted forward. Her mouth is open a little bit and she’s smiling. Her smile draws my eyes to the tiny lines that frame the ends of her lips. Blood floods my face. My body temperature has risen to about eight times its functional capacity.
“I’m glad it’s the weekend,” I hear her joyful lilt float through me.
I begin to shake. My heart pounds uncontrollably and I tug my shirt away from my chest. I begin to hyperventilate. I actively try and slow down my breath by holding it for a pause every time I exhale.
“What are you reading?” she asks, as she bumps my shoulder again with her forearm.
“Um, it’s called, uh….” I can’t speak! I have completely forgotten how to talk! I show her the cover.
“Oh, the Utne Reader, I’ve heard that that’s pretty cool! Where did you buy it? I’ve never seen it anywhere.”
“Uh, over at the, um, that bookstore…you know, the, uh, big one….” I fumble in answer.
Her smile somehow grows. I tug at my shirt again. I am staring into her deep, dark blue eyes, and she is looking back at mine. For a moment, I feel as if I am floating miles above the ocean, seeing the sun glitter off of the various blue shades of the rippled surface of the water. A chill goes up my back. My eyes start to sting from not blinking.
“Powell’s?” she asks.
“Oh yeah, Powell’s. Yes, they sell it at Powell’s.”
“How is it?”
“Powell’s?” I ask for clarification.
“No, silly, the magazine,” she laughs.
“It’s pretty cool.” I look down at the pages, as if to demonstrate it’s powerful draw.
“Oh, okay,” she trails off.
Snap the fuck out of it! I am better than this!
“It’s a sort of a compilation of writing from various independent magazines of all sorts presented thematically each issue.” That’s a bit more like it.
“That does sound cool, and impressive,” she says as she flashes her eyes playfully.
My fear and nerves are starting to turn into excited energy. I think this girl likes me! Doesn’t she realize that I daydream about this kind of thing, never believing it could happen?
“What are you reading?” I ask, just as some guy stands directly in front of the seat we’re in. The MAX is absolutely jammed. This guy’s overcoat is dangling between us and a sour smell fills my nostrils. I also hear some mysterious growling noises coming from the coat, but try and ignore them. She leans back, never losing sight of me, nor me of her. I see her tongue poke lightly at the left side of her mouth just before she closes it. Her smile remains. I grimace and shoot a glance towards the guy’s coat wondering if I am the only one hearing the growls and smelling the stench.
“It’s just a crappy Rolling Stone,” she sighs.
I smile and ask her what happened to Rolling Stone. Why did it turn into something so terrible? We both shake our heads in silence.
The man with the jacket moves. I regain the sweet scent of her hair. I take in long deep breaths in order to absorb her aroma and to keep myself as relaxed as possible.
I start to fiddle with the rubber band on my right wrist, which is near her left knee. I am hoping that I can somehow find a way to ask her out, without sounding like an idiot.
“Is that a reminder for something?” she asks, as she sticks her index finger under the rubber band. For a brief moment, her skin is touching mine. The entire world stops. I truly begin to realize how important each moment in life really is. How I don’t appreciate the beauty and majesty of the world all around.
“No, it’s just there…huh huh.” Not the Butthead laugh! I suppose if you joke around enough, use it enough, it becomes a part of you. Memo to myself: stop the Butthead laughs. I don’t have the heart to tell her that the rubber band is meaningful to me. It does act as a reminder – a reminder of someone, of lost hopes and dreams, of my biggest mistakes.
I cross my feet at the ankles, in an attempt to relax my tense body. I am so pumped up! I have to ask this girl out. I just need to figure out how and when to pull it off. I start thinking of questions that might lead me to the key one. My throat starts to constrict and my temples pound. I glance outside the MAX and try and take in the tranquility of the fresh mist outside. I look back at her. Our eyes meet again. She is pinning down her lower lip with her upper one. Her eyebrows are raised and her eyes, as a result, are fully open. The sheer beauty of her expression nearly reduces me to tears. She looks down, but still toward me. I try and follow her eyes, as if I’ll lose a part of my soul if I don’t. She presses the bottom of her right foot against the bottom of my left one. I take in a fast gasp of air from the surprise.
“Boy, you sure have big feet!” she laughs, as her hand brushes my leg. This is so weird! This is so strange! No really, this is unbelievable! How can I not ask her out? How can even I blow this one? Even I have something to work with here. Maybe this year won’t be so bad after all. Maybe this is some kind of cosmic birthday present, surprising me a day late.
“No, my feet really aren’t that big. They’re pretty average.” A little more enthusiasm would be nice here. Don’t get too cool. “Um…” I start to speak, but I am not able to focus on anything to say. Now seems like the time I’ve been waiting for. Waiting for so long. She takes a quick breath. I know. I can ask her name. I can do the introduction thing.
“My boyfriend is about your size, and his feet aren’t this big.”
Boyfriend. Of course she has a boyfriend. No girl this unbelievable could be without a boyfriend. He’s probably really cool too. He probably has a good paying job, which is fun and self-actualizing. He's probably active and in superb shape. He’s most assuredly confident - at ease with himself and his surroundings. Even with all of that, she’ll still most likely still break up with him at some point, because he’s just not good enough for her. Boyfriend. What a bastard! He gets to hear her opinions on everything. He has the chance to learn her views on music, books, politics, religion, and whatever else may come up. He gets to enjoy her sense of humor. He’s lucky enough to hear her speak of times from her past – good and bad. He gets to hold her in his arms, when she needs to be held.
“He must have small feet,” I mumble, barely able to hold back the devastation.
“No, I’m the one with small feet!” she says with a smile as she looks down for a second, before making eye contact again.
“Yes. Yes, I suppose you do,” I say flatly, as I close my magazine and set it in my bag sitting on the floor. My stop is a way off, but I want off now. I grab my bag and set it on my lap. Without looking at her, while twirling the bag’s shoulder strap around my fist, I say, “It’s been nice talking with you.” My heart has dropped into my stomach. My teeth are clenched. Fuck it! I still have to do something. This is too much to take. I have to at least try.
“I know what you just said, but…I don’t suppose it’s too much to, um, ask if you’d like to go out sometime?” I can almost see the words floating out of my mouth. I wish I could grab them and pull them back in. I want to hide them away forever. She looks deep into my eyes with a very serious focus. I avert my eyes. “You are so very beautiful,” I mumble half-heartedly, while I stand up. I take a long step, which puts me near the door. I look at her again. About twelve people are staring at me, save for our friend in the trench coat who has moved to the seat across the aisle. He seems comfortable making squealing noises, while staring at the helpless victim next to him.
“Thank you,” she says, as she looks down at her magazine. “That’s really sweet, but….” Believe me, I know. You wouldn’t want to waste your time with me anyway. Having to put up with my constant fear and paranoia. Seeing all of my confused and pent up anger. I would not be worth your while. Why would you ever want to deal with me? You’d have to hold me while I bawl my head off every night, due to my countless insecurities. I have nothing to offer you but frustration. Believe me, I know.
“I’m sorry,” she quietly begins. “I hope I didn’t….”
“No, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have put you in that position.” I cut her off. I look at one of the people watching all of this. They turn away. The girl’s smile is gone. I already miss her smile. The MAX stops and the doors open. People start to flood between us in and out the door. I try to smile to her.
“Really, it was nice to talk with you, and I’m very sorry,” I say sincerely as I turn to the steps.
“Thanks! Take care!” she beams, as she waves.
I am outside in the mist. The doors close. Thanks for what?
I throw my bag over my shoulder and stand still. The MAX starts to move. I look in through the window to where I was sitting. The girl is reading her Rolling Stone.
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