I pulled up to the streetlight and next to me was a silver Honda. The stereo illuminated the front seats just enough that I could make out two humans – one male, one female – sitting idly as they waited for the light to change. Their heads were turned away from each other, each staring at the thin film of glass that separated them from the world and the air and the life outside of themselves.
Inside their diorama was complacency. He gazed past the dash and out into the darkness while a puff of her cigarette smoke for a second obscured my transparent portal into their world. There were no words, no sneaking glances between the two of them, no need to acknowledge the seemingly omniscient presence of the other. Not anymore, anyway. They were comfortable.
There was a time not so long ago when that same man clutched that same steering wheel, except the sweat on his fingers made it difficult to drive and his eyes flickered between the road and the little digital clock above the radio. There were flowers tumbling around the upholstery as he pressed the gas pedal ten or fifteen above the speed limit. He didn’t want to be late. First impressions are important.
And there was a time not so long ago when it was five minutes before the hour and she was checking her lip gloss in the mirror, puckering to decide whether there was enough glimmer, enough shine like the little plastic tube advertised. She smiled at herself approvingly and then, with a worried glance, picked up the hair straightener one more time for a quick once over. That piece always just does what it wants to do, she thought to herself. And then she went downstairs and made her way to the door, trying to gauge the appropriate balance between eager and playfully hard-to-get, and waited for the boy with the sweaty palms and the bouquet in the front seat to ring the bell.
Years later and she is still sitting where the flowers were. His hands aren’t sweaty anymore.
I want someone I can I can hang out in sweatpants with. I want to put on my worst pair of jeans, pull back my hair because it’s too late in the evening to think about being pretty, and know that it’s not going to make any difference because I’m still the same me that happened to be dressed up in things with sequins and ruffles in the beginning when it was important to step it up like that.
I want the stuff of late-night fast-food runs and frenzied texts to remember to pick up that thing for the car at Target on your way home. I want to be so comfortable with someone that I can sit next to them on one of countless car rides and we can each look out our own window and think about bigger things in each other’s company than what we should say to break the silence without looking like we’re trying to break the silence.
I want the us part to override the date part. I want to lose count of how many times we’ve been to that diner we like, I want to look back and laugh at all the occasions when I said the wrong thing at the wrong time and it didn’t make a dent in the long run, to know that none of the disagreements or the misunderstandings, none of the unexplained periods of confusion, hindered our ability to persevere. Because by the time those things came around, we were more than just shaky hands and fragile first impressions. We were real.
There’s something to be said for the excitement, the butterflies, the looking over a tiny flickering candle at someone, being awed at how the light bounces off the contours of their face and wondering how in the world you ended up sitting across this glossy wooden table from them. And there’s also something to be said about sitting at a red light with someone, staring out opposite windows and emitting frequencies of comfort and self-unawareness, in the very car that chauffeured your relationship through its ups and downs, to all the somewheres and all the nowheres that make up the whole.