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Before We Were Strangers: A Love Story: Chapter 20

You Remembered . . .

THIRD MOVEMENT: NOW, FIFTEEN YEARS LATER

GRACE

The present is our own. The right-this-second, the here-and-now, this moment before the next, is ours for the taking. It’s the only free gift the universe has to offer. The past doesn’t belong to us anymore, and the future is just a fantasy, never guaranteed. But the present is ours to own. The only way we can realize that fantasy is if we embrace the now.

I had been closed off for a long time, and I hadn’t allowed myself to imagine the future because I was still stuck in the past. Though it was impossible, I had tried to re-create what Matt and I once had. I wanted nothing else; he was all I could imagine.

But Orvin once told me that time is the currency of life. And I had lost so much of it. It was that idea of lost time that finally made me realize I needed to move on, that I would never have what I once had with Matt. I had to mourn our relationship and move on.

At least, that’s what I told myself.

Two months ago I was walking around in a thick fog of regret. I was going through the motions but wasn’t feeling anything. I’d stare at my new wrinkles in the mirror and wonder where they came from. I wasted more time, repeating the same thing day in and day out, barely present in my own life. I wasn’t looking to break out of the cycle in search of anything meaningful.

Until I saw Matt in the subway station.

Everything changed. I could see in color again, every image vivid and crisp.

Over the last fifteen years, the pain of what had happened to us waxed and waned. Many times I tried to force myself to stop thinking about him, but there were too many reminders. I thought, if I ever saw him again, he’d look right through me, like I was a ghost from his past. That’s how he made me feel that summer after college: someone who no longer existed.

But when I saw him in the station, his eyes locked on mine. He recognized me instantly, and all I could see in his face was pure wonder. It was like he was seeing the sunset over the ocean for the first time. As my train disappeared into the tunnel, his expression turned to desperation, and that’s when I knew there was a missing piece to our story. What was behind his desperation? What had happened to him in the last fifteen years that would send him running down the platform, his hand outstretched, his eyes full of longing?

I needed to find the answer. I had an idea of where I could find Matt, but I was too scared to look.

“Ms. Porter?”

“Yes, Eli?” I stared into the big blue eyes of one of my senior trombone players as I cleaned up sheet music from a table. We were in the band room at the high school where I taught.

“Do you know what Craigslist is?”

I smiled. “Of course. I’m not that old, Eli.”

He blushed. “I know you’re not.” He seemed nervous. “I’m asking because I saw your tattoo the other day when you put your hair up.” He swallowed.

“Go on,” I said, totally curious.

“ ‘Green-eyed Lovebird.’ That’s what it says, right?”

I nodded.

“Did someone used to call you that?”

“Yes, someone I used to know.” My pulse quickened at the thought. Where is he going with this?

He fished a folded rectangle of paper out of his pocket. “So remember when we did that band tournament and there was that girl from Southwest High who played the tuba?”

“Sure.” I had no idea what he was talking about.

“Well, I kind of thought we had a connection but neither of us acted on it. Anyway, I was looking to see if she posted a message for me in the Missed Connections section of Craigslist when I saw this.”

He unfolded the paper and handed it to me.

To the Green-Eyed Lovebird:

We met fifteen years ago, almost to the day, when I moved my stuff into the NYU dorm room next to yours at Senior House.

You called us fast friends. I like to think it was more.

We lived on nothing but the excitement of finding ourselves through music ( you were obsessed with Jeff Buckley ), photography ( I couldn’t stop taking pictures of you ), hanging out in Washington Square Park, and all the weird things we did to make money. I learned more about myself that year than any other.

Yet, somehow, it all fell apart. We lost touch the summer after graduation, when I went to South America to work for National Geographic. When I came back, you were gone. A part of me still wonders if I pushed you too hard after the wedding . . .

I didn’t see you again until a month ago. It was a Wednesday. You were rocking back on your heels, balancing on that thick yellow line that runs along the subway platform, waiting for the F train. I didn’t know it was you until it was too late, and then you were gone. Again. You said my name; I saw it on your lips. I tried to will the train to stop, just so I could say hello.

After seeing you, all of the youthful feelings and memories came flooding back to me, and now I’ve spent the better part of a month wondering what your life is like. I might be totally out of my mind, but would you like to get a drink with me and catch up on the last decade and a half?

M

(212)-555-3004

My mouth was open in shock as I reread it to myself three times.

“Ms. Porter, is this letter for you? Do you know this M person?”

“Yes,” I said, my voice shaking. Tears began to fill my eyes. I reached out and hugged him. “Thank you.”

“That’s pretty cool. I didn’t think those posts ever worked. Good thing you have that tattoo. Are you gonna call the dude?”

“I think so. Listen, Eli, I really appreciate what you’ve done, but I need to head out. Can I take this?” I held up the paper.

“Of course. It’s yours.”

I gave him a grateful, teary smile, grabbed my things, and hurried to the steps at the front of the school to call Tati.

She answered right away. “Hello?”

“Hey, are you busy?”

“I’m at the salon,” she said. Soon after we graduated from college, Tati got dumped by Brandon. She immediately ran out, cut her hair very short, and dyed it jet black. She’d been wearing it that way for fifteen years, I think as a reminder of some kind. She hadn’t been in a committed relationship since Brandon, except for the one she had with her hairdresser.

“Can I meet you there?”

“Sure. What’s up? Why do you sound so weird?”

“I don’t.” I was breathing hard.

“Okay, come on over.”

Remember speed-walking? It was a short-lived exercise fad in the eighties. It’s a really goofy way of walking so fast that your hips jut from side to side. It’s actually an Olympic event still.

I speed-walked six blocks to the salon so fast, I could’ve won a gold medal.

I exploded through the door and found Tati in the first chair, wearing one of those black salon capes. Her hair was coated in purplish-black dye and covered in a cellophane cap while her hairdresser gave her a shoulder massage.

“I’m processing,” Tati said, pointing to her head.

“Hi,” I said to her hairdresser, “I can do that.”

The girl smiled and walked away. I stood behind Tati and started rubbing her shoulders.

“Ooh, easy, your cello hands are too rough,” she whined.

“Oh, shut it. I have to talk to you.”

“Talk then.”

“He wants to meet with me.”

“What are you talking about?” I had told Tati about seeing Matt on the subway, but that had been two months ago.

“Read this.” I handed her the piece of paper.

A moment later she was sniffling.

“Are you crying?” I asked from behind her.

“I must be hormonal. This is just so sad. Why does he sound so oblivious in this post?”

“I don’t know.”

“You have to call him. Grace. You need to go home right now and call him.”

“What do I say?”

“Just feel him out and see what his deal is. I think this sounds like the old Matt, thoughtful and deep.”

“I know, right?”

She popped out of the chair, looked at me, and pointed toward the door. “Go, Now.”


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