Chapter 23: Take On Me
from the 1985 album “Hunting High and Low” by A-ha
posted at 11:31, 11 April 2019
So needless to say, I’m odds and ends
But I’ll be stumbling away, slowly learning that life is okay
As a romantic, I fall in love with everyone I meet.
I don’t know how it happens. It’s not like I’m constantly on the lookout for people who look attractive, or that I’m blessed with the gift of kindness or anything. I’m cynical, ignorant, and plain as white paper. (Not even ugly. Plain. I’m just there. You’d be able to hide me in a crowd.) And yet… it happens. Every single time I go out.
So like I’m standing here at the bus station, right, and it’s a really hot day and everybody’s just looking at their phones. I’ve got my earphones in, listening to a podcast. What kind of podcast? True crime. World cultures. Horror film discussions. Nothing romantic. And then somebody joins me at the queue for the number 35. I glance up for a bit, and I can see that she’s a woman my age, or slightly older, right, and it’s obvious that she’s pretty or something, but I don’t really want to stare at people, so I close my eyes, and try to focus on whatever Robbie Shepard is saying at that moment. But then something inside me clicks, the memory of a smile or a bewitching look floats into my head. Who did I just see? Through the corner of half-shuttered eyes I see the tips of her hair, her fingertips hanging by her jeans. Maybe I should just open my eyes and look. At least I can do that instead of making a show of not staring. So I turn to look, and I see that she’s got like really long hair with blonde highlights at the end, and the most charming smile you could ever imagine. My mouth’s dropped open without me noticing, and somewhere down in my fingers I can feel my skin tingling. Her eyes are done up in this like really smoky way, and —
Wait: she looks up from her phone, talking to her friend. She realizes I’m looking at her eyes. The smile disappears — what’s that she has on her face? Annoyance, confusion, horror? I feel the blood rushing to my face, and I break away almost immediately. The bus comes up before any of us can say a word, and I board, my face on the floor, imagining the daggers from her gaze in my back. Another romance that could have been, another experience of washing up on the rocks.
That’s an average encounter for me these days, and I don’t know why it’s like that. It’s a pain, a constant, terrible pain, but I just can’t help finding so many people out there so beautiful and strange. It happens with everyone, as long as they’re around my age: a young father holding the hand of his little child just in front of me; a girl chatting with her friends at the top of her voice on the Metro. A nerd wiping his glasses. An office lady in the highest of heels. I look at them, and I just fall for them, instantly, hopelessly. They’re always the most beautiful people I’ve seen in my entire life, and I can’t help feeling just so fascinated with each and every one of them. But it’s just terrible and just so, so crippling. I can’t stop myself thinking about all those people, imagining their smiles, tracing the curves and corners of their bodies. Their faces imprint themselves in my head, distract me from conversations. Why does this happen to me? Nobody else walks out on the street and faces crushes from every single direction. Nobody wants that. I don’t want to, either. But so many other people are just too irresistible out there.
I guess that I’m good at hiding it, because I’ve never been gotten more than a weird look. Nobody sneers at me, or shouts, or notifies the nearest policeman. Here in Rushton, everyone just keeps to themselves. They’re all very polite, and they all brush it off as if it’s just coincidence that another person on the road locked eyes with them for less than a second. But thing is, I hope they’d say something. I look at them, at their lovely facades and their bewitching expressions and I wonder what they’d say if they came and met me. They say that you can never judge a person by their looks, that you always need to dig beneath the surface, and I love that: what lies behind those glasses, behind the shirts, behind that pretty face? Pretty soon it gets out of control: what if I chatted them up, what would happen if we kissed? Would they prove to be amazingly stupid; would they have really kinky sex? (Oh yes, sex does come into it, but I swear it’s not the first thing that pops into my mind when I look at them.) In five seconds I’ve already imagined my whole future with them. Then they turn around. The vision explodes, never to be seen again.
Really, I just wish that I could find a way to talk to them. They always just look at me weird when I stare at them. The thing is: I’d like to believe that the moment our eyes meet, or they catch me, it’ll be love at first sight for them, too. Perhaps they’ll say something to pull me in, maybe a cheeky remark. “Hey, I saw you peeking.” Or maybe even “that’s right, get a load of this, kid.” God, I can’t believe I’m even able to put it into words, it’s that weird. Maybe there’ll be a great big understanding, we’ll have a big argument, and then we come out of it as friends or even lovers. I’ve gone down this line so much lately, I just know it’s wishful thinking, that it only happens in the movies. But really, I can’t think of anything but me and them as one thing soon as I see them. If you saw them, you would know. How can you not fall in love with them?
And like — I know that it’s killing me, okay? I know that nothing’s going to come out of it. I know that I’m just imagining things, that these people don’t even care shit about me, that they don’t give this kid in glasses more than a second’s thought on the street. But I don’t care. There’s this one bit in me that thinks maybe they do, maybe there’s something in me that makes me special and unique and worth a second look and then maybe many more. There has to be that somebody out there that’s both smart and sexy, who kisses as good as they play the violin, and whose everything is just good enough for me — and me alone, too. I know it’s a toxic, selfish part of me. I know that I come out of it every time a little more hurt, a little more sad that I can’t know this beautiful person, and a little more angry towards my fellow humans, angry because they made me believe for a second that love was even possible. Then I promise myself that no, I’m not gonna do this ever again, that I’ll bide my time till I meet that someone and then really dig beneath the surface, really build a relationship that doesn’t end with me getting the short end of the stick. Until the next one comes along, and I fall in love all over again.
And sometimes I wonder: could it have been worth it? Could I have done more, to start the conversation, to get to know them better? I know that it’s been done before, that relationships have started simply cause two people were sat next to each other on the train and liked each other enough. But you just don’t go round talking to people you don’t even know, especially if you just happened to be sharing a seat. So I sit there, staring at the hemlines of the shirt or the dress — perhaps if I said “hey”, maybe they’d be interested enough to start it off? What would I really say, what would make them warm to me? At the end of the day, all I want with this person is an understanding, maybe a shared joke that leads up to something wonderful, something unexpected, something that both of us had never dreamed of when we began our day. On the rare occasion that I forget I’m staring and I’ve gazed at them for long enough — hey, maybe this would work! — they look at me, and my spark catches, becomes a roaring bushfire. For a moment, I admire them — their face, their clothes, the peek of flesh from underneath everything they wear. I admire their kindness, the bravery that they show in all kinds of circumstances. I can’t stop thinking about the way they can whip up a good dinner in no time at all, the way they can outrun me without breaking a sweat. I know all this, even when I’ve just had a single look, and I love them so much more for it. There’s nothing I’d want more than to rush into their arms, for us to hug each other, for us to kiss like we’ve never kissed before. I see their faces, and for a split second the world disappears, and it’s just them and me in a white void, just me and her spending eternity together. We laugh and cry, and I know we’re meant to be, even when I don’t know her name.
The moment passes. The air and colour rushes in to fill the void again. As usual it’s me who looks away first: their kindness is just a façade, their love a door that’s shut firmly in your face. All those details, just my imagination carrying me away. The world moves on, never stopping, never waiting for you. Always a pretty face — never a shared laugh. And I keep walking.
I don’t even know why I bother. You know how hard it is to keep up this café? You know how hard it is to deal with YOU? I work in this completely dead-end job from day in till way after day out and you have NO IDEA just how much I’d like to talk and find you in a communicative mood for once, and yet what do I get? A stupid wound on the head and some half-assed confession of love that you basically did to clear your head. You sit there and think you’re so lonely because you’ve got nothing but the sea and so many friends in town for company: what do you think I do? I spend every day being abused by people who don’t know shit about coffee and hounded by my family for debts and increasing sales, and never have I heard a SINGLE word from you asking me how I’ve been or coming over to talk, you just say hi and sit there while I mop the floor or do whatever it is to keep this goddamn place on its feet. I don’t even ask you to help out. All I want is somebody to actually care. And not in a “spend sixteen hours talking about her own stuff and dick-swinging every time I say something of my own” way. Not in a “girl tells me that she’s so so sad while I stew in the corner thinking how she’s not listening to me” kind of way.
You can give it up, I don’t care anymore.