Becky Portman: Modern Love?
I’ve only been in love once, and it was with the back of a stranger’s head on the two train. I was listening to Frankie Cosmos and had just spilled cold brew on my sundress, so it was ripe to happen. I looked up from my New York Times Crossword app and my eyes met his cervical vertebrae; it was magic. His head wasn’t perfectly round, like maybe he was dropped a few times as a baby. I was intrigued. He had just gotten a haircut, I could tell because his neck was still slightly red. He wore a suit that was just a little wrinkled, as if to say I am employed but I don’t own an iron. His socks were “Firefly” themed — the show, not the bug. He listened to his music or podcast (probably podcast) on wired headphones, not AirPods, a rare sighting in New York City or Ann Arbor nowadays.
His posture looked like he had been touched by scoliosis or hit a growth spurt late in high school. He wasn’t popular in high school but he wasn’t unpopular. His friend group was solid and he still keeps in touch with some of them, they catch up every time he comes home for Thanksgiving at the diner they used to frequent. He probably went to a good college, maybe one in the Ivy League, but not Harvard or Yale, one of the underrated ones like Brown or Cornell. He probably studied English or history or political science or my favorite, philosophy. There was a time where I only dated philosophy majors, not because I love philosophy but because I love guys who think they’re smarter than me and then proving them wrong. But he wasn’t like that, he was considerate, he calls his mom once a week, he has a little sister he cares madly about but not in a weird way.
His family had a golden retriever named Florence but she died in a tragic car accident when he was eight years old. His dad ran her over in the family Jeep but they never told him that. His parents replaced Florence with a beagle named Harry but it wasn’t the same. He played soccer in elementary school and he was really good. When people asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up he said a professional soccer player and people kind of believed him because he was so confident. He still has that air of confidence, the certainty of a child telling someone what they want to be when they grow up. When all the other boys on the team hit their growth spurts in seventh grade, he was still the same size. He didn’t hit puberty till age 15. His soccer dreams faded, but he had new hobbies, new passions. He loved playing street hockey with his buddies and flying small planes above his neighborhood. He had a highschool girlfriend. She was controlling and paranoid. He lost his virginity to her when he was 17 in the back of the family Jeep, the one that killed his dog.
He plays golf with his dad on the weekends and helps his mom in the garden. He has a collection of thimbles from everywhere he has traveled. He loved to travel so he studied abroad in Spain. He fell in love with a girl he met in Cartagena named Anna. They had a short-lived courtship and a tearful goodbye at the end of the semester. She sends him nudes sometimes. His name was Ethan or Adam or Josh or Nathan or Peter, definitely not Jason. His eyes were blue or brown, definitely not green. I didn’t know anything about him apart from the back of his head but I felt like I knew him.
His face was a mystery but I could see it clearly in my head. He had strong features with a softness to them. He had braces when he was young but he doesn’t wear his retainer so his teeth have shifted a bit, adding some imperfection to his perfected pearly whites. His jawline was sharp enough to cut marble. He was a suburban James Dean, a Jewish Marlon Brando, the long lost Franco brother. He was perfect.
It was rush hour, people shuffled in and out but he stayed right where he was, trying to figure out the Casper-mattress advertisement riddles. We got off at the same stop downtown and I walked behind him for a little while hoping to catch a glimpse of his face, to see if he was everything I imagined he was. He left the station before I could even see it.