Before We Were Strangers: A Love Story: Chapter 3

Five Weeks After I Saw You

MATT

“Matt, I’m talking to you.”

I looked up to see Elizabeth peering over the cubicle partition. “Huh?”

“I said, do you want to get lunch with us and go through the new slides?”

“Who’s ‘us’?”

“Scott, Brad, and me.”

“No.”

“Matt . . .” she warned. “You have to be there.”

“I’m busy, Elizabeth.” I was playing the Sudoku game printed on the brown paper bag from the deli where I buy my turkey sandwiches. “And, I’m eating. Can’t you see that?”

“You’re supposed to eat in the break room. I can smell those onions down the hall.”

“That’s because you’re pregnant,” I mumbled into my sandwich.

She huffed and then turned and walked down the hallway, muttering something to herself.

Scott came up to my cubicle a minute later. “We need to go over those slides, buddy.”

“Can’t I just eat in peace? By the way, did you look over my request?”

He grinned. “You get in touch with Subway Girl yet?”

“I rode the subway to Brooklyn every day for a month and didn’t see her. I tried.”

It was true, I had been looking for Grace. After work, I would go to all of our old haunts in the East Village; I even hung out in front of the NYU dorm rooms where we had lived. Nothing.

“Hmm.” He scratched his chin. “With all the technology out there, you’re bound to find her. Maybe she wrote a Missed Connections ad. Did you look there?”

I set my sandwich down. “What’s a ‘missed connections’ ad?”

He walked into my cubicle. “Get up, let me sit there.” I rose from my chair. Scott sat down to pull up Craigslist on my computer, navigating over to the Missed Connections section. “It’s like when you see someone in public and have a connection but don’t know how to reach them. You can post about the experience here and hope they find it.”

“Why wouldn’t you just ask for their number when you see them?”

“It’s one of those sensitive-guy, new-wave things. Like, if you don’t have the balls to approach someone but maybe there’s an attraction, you can post here. If they were feeling it too, they might see it and respond to your post. No harm, no foul. You write where it happened and what you were wearing and all that so the other person knows it’s you.”

I was squinting at the screen, thinking it was a stupid idea. “Yeah, but I actually used to know Grace. I might have said hello if I had more than a second before the train pulled away.”

He swiveled the chair around to face me. “Look, you’re not gonna find her on the subway. The odds are against you. Maybe she wrote one of these?”

“I’ll look. Although, I’m pretty sure if she wanted to find me, she’d have no problem. My name hasn’t changed and I still work at the same place.”

“You never know. Just read them.”

I spent the entire afternoon reading posts like, I saw you in the park, you were wearing a powder blue jacket. We kept stealing glances at each other. If you like me, call me. Or, Where’d you go that night at SaGalls, you were talking about a cherry-drop martini and then you were gone. I thought you liked me. What’s up? And the-oh-so-common, I want to do nasty things to you. I thought you knew that when you were droppin’ it like it’s hot and grinding on my leg at ClubForty. Gimme a buzz.

Grace wasn’t there, and I was relatively sure no one under the age of thirty could be found in the Missed Connections section. And then I read a post called “A Poem for Margaret.”

Once there was a you and me

We were lovers

We were friends

Before life changed

Before we were strangers

Do you still think of me?

—Joe

I couldn’t imagine twenty-year-olds named Joe and Margaret who spoke of the past in that manner. In an eerie way, it conveyed exactly what I felt for Grace, and I wondered for a moment if it was her. I called the number and a man answered.

“Hello, is this Joe?” I asked.

“Nope, that’s the third time someone has called today asking that. Joe sure is a popular guy, but he doesn’t live here.”

“Thank you.”

I hung up. Suddenly, the room darkened, with the exception of one set of fluorescent lights over my head and the desk lamp in my cubicle. From the hallway, Scott shouted, “I’ll leave that one on for you, Matt! Get to it.” He knew exactly what I was doing. Maybe Grace would find the post, maybe she wouldn’t. Either way, I had to write it—if for nothing else, my own peace of mind.

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


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