Look, I'm not going to pretend she wasn't cute. She was. I thought she was. Was she my type? Not a question I can answer. I couldn't know enough to tell. I think a lot of people are beautiful, but don't you quickly lose interest sometimes, when you hear how far apart the two of you are in perspective? Doesn't the urge to fall asleep overwhelm you when they start talking about how they don't really like books, hate art, and don't care about poor people? I digress.
As a photographer, I'm platonically allowed to observe that she looked great. I was compelled by the lack of pretense in her appearance, dressed as she was in a collared flannel, unpressed, and trim pants, jeans probably, that I can hardly remember. Nothing's less attractive than trying really hard. Indulge me, friend, and imagine her wavy, unbrushed dark hair blowing in the wind, no makeup applied or needed, taller, a sort of scrappy confidence; definitely not a student. Wide open brown eyes and a jawline Dürer or Fra Filippo Lippi would have loved painting. When did Third and Seneca become a Botticelli meadow? Okay, I'm done. You get the picture!
I didn't pass her up, is what I'm trying to say here. She got on without incident. We exchanged brief hello's, a clarification about where the bus was going, and she took a seat not at the front but near, the first pair of forward-facing seats.
It was a meandering, uneventful ride. The 49 in front of us was grabbing most of the passengers, and though he skipped the occasional stop when possible to spread the load between buses (as per policy), we got only a few stragglers. Our friend in the collared shirt was buried in her phone, texting mostly, smiling to herself: the silent smile you don't know you're making when you're absorbed in thought. In so doing she missed a staggeringly beautiful sunset she'll never see again.
It seems to be a generational quirk, this tendency to ignore what's around you for the sake of secondary experience. I for myself soaked up the scene as much as the circumstances could allow. The conflation of yellow clouds and pink sky, grading so transcendently down to grey and baby blue… ah, Nathan heaven, something right out of Bierstadt, or maybe Claude Lorrain. Now I was the one smiling to myself.
She didn't quite know where she was. She spoke loudly on her phone now, making plans to meet someone, relaying between her phone and myself where we were, saying things like "I'm getting close to Campus Parkway" to the mostly empty vehicle.
I wasn't attracted to her so much as curious. You meet people where the pieces don't quite seem to fit, where the looks and behaviors don't line up with each other or themselves; she was tomboyish and feminine at the same time, confident but somewhat lost, agreeable but unaware of the social faux pas of loud phone conversation. We could get annoyed by this last element, or think less of her, but to myself I thought, there's a story here. I can only see the surface. I wanted her to feel accepted.
"Um let me see," she told her phone. "There's a Shell station, there's a... Forty-fifth and,"
"Forty-fifth and Eleventh," I said.
"Forty-fifth and Eleventh. Yes okay. Bye."
I caught her eye in the mirror, trading a smile. She was standing now, swinging lightly to the bus's slowing groove. I said, "is it gonna be a fun night?"
She laughed, and laughed again. "I just got outta jail," she said, the last syllable slanted downward, a hint of revelation and embarrassment, the deprecating exposure of self.
We need to love people in moments like that.
"Oh, congratulations," I exclaimed. Now I really wanted her to feel accepted, unjudged. The first moments back out can be formative. Give her that warm space, genuine and level. She tilted her head in a smile as she said, "thank you!"
Isn't that one of your favorite things, to hear the phrase uttered which such appreciative gratefulness? There are times when it positively threatens to be music.
I was saying, "gosh, that's a huge deal!"
"It is, actually!"
"Well, you brought the sunshine back! So thank you."
"Thank you! Good." Laughter.
"Have a really great night!"
"You too, thank you."
"Thank you so much."
We were talking over each other at the end there. Those last several thank you's swirled about together, gratitude and respect splattered out in a cappella, a makeshift chorus in the first minutes after sundown. We were trading the Glow, building on the blocks of it, each taking the effort to remind the other that yes, there are good people out here, people who see the better sides of you, the common and living good.