Dear man on the Metro in DC last weekend,
I noticed you because of the suit. It was a dangerously well cut suit. And I think you knew it from the way you held yourself, standing up against the rumbling of the car, against the forces and the inertia pulling against the rest of us with our tired arms and suitcases wedged between our knees.
I saw you and you saw me. We made the awkward kind of eye contact that you make when you’ve noticed someone because of their dangerously well cut suit or their unique red-gold hair. We looked away again. We looked back, and then away, and then you leaned in to the very lovely woman sitting to your left and whispered something to her.
We didn’t make eye contact after that – you made the gesture, the signal, that though perhaps you and I had acknowledged our striking selves, you were with the effortlessly lovely woman to your left.
Thank you for smiling at her so completely, for your well-polished shoes pointed in her direction. Thank you for laughing just loud enough to tell us that the thing she had said was sweet and you enjoyed it. Thank you for holding her hand oh-so-briefly as we pulled away from Dupont Circle.
You see, sir, when I noticed that suit on a Sunday morning on the red line of the metro in my favorite city, when I was lost in the frustration that I was not that lovely woman on your left, my imagination ran away from me. I thought, hey, that guy just looked at me. And a second look, too. I wonder whether he is getting off at Metro Center, or if we’re both headed to the airport, and maybe he’s headed back… You know what I mean. I thought all the thoughts that a twenty-something in a metro car thinks when she’s faced with a second look and her heart is already three months past drained of emotional confidence.
But you didn’t look again. You instead offered the woman you were with another gesture of your care for her. You told us that there was a story between the two of you, somewhere between her hand in its dark grey glove, and your aviators dangling out of your pocket. Something is alive, you were telling us, and it belongs to the two of you, and whether a girl with curly red-gold hair wonders if you’re headed to the airport, or not, whether you are wearing a dangerously well cut suit, or not, you are wholeheartedly somewhere else.
Thank you for loving the lovely woman on your left in just the way we all ought to love those people in our lives. Sometimes I think the biggest lessons in love I could learn riding a metro and watching the people who ride it next to me. Because in all the gestures you probably don’t even remember making, you wrote your love. You wrote a note to us – as if on a napkin at a restaurant or on the back of an extra customs declaration form just before landing – and that this person, next to you, she was particular and compelling and you were in it.
I don’t know, sir, stranger, where you fall in the midst of your story with her. I don’t know if you two are the novel, or the short story, or even the haiku of love. I don’t know if I will see you riding the metro again, someday when we’re both in DC again and you will be with her, or someone else, or no one.
But I don’t need to know the ending of the whole story to appreciate the sentence you just wrote. I just wanted to thank you, that in a moment when I could have sat back on the ugly orange seats, and run away in my imagination with who you could have been, instead, you offered me a glimpse at the kind of real intimacy I hope I someday have.
You gave me – and all of us sitting in that metro car on our way to Metro Center or the airport or Arlington National Cemetery – a reminder that love in its best and brightest is often (and maybe always) the simplicity of drawing the other person near to you. Love, real love, is you on the metro not looking back at anyone, but only leaning in closer to her.
Thank you, sir, for not looking back.