Fitzgerald. You were reading a Fitzgerald when I first noticed you. It was late September on a Friday, when my schedule was a variable and commute times were off balance. I had run from the skytrain down to the bus and my lungs were on the point of collapse. I needed oxygen but I got you instead.
Air was irrelevant, the concerns of my lungs became secondary the instant I saw that book in your hand, This Side of Paradise. I can notice a Fitzgerald from miles away and yours is not the terrible Penguin edition. It’s rusty, old and torn from the sides. You must have a penchant for used book stores. Do you value the old? Is Chapters too mainstream? Do you rebel against the conventional? Are you blindly ignorant in your youth like Amory Blaine? Do you admire or abhor him? Or are you him?
These questions pranced in my mind as I took my seat across from you, it was the last one available, really. I did not sit gracefully though I tried. I fumbled and fell into an acceptable position, I lost my orientation clearly. You probably didn’t notice, you were too enthralled in the world of fiction. I wanted to ask the old lady next to you if I could have her seat. I wanted to sit next you and ask. Ask for your thoughts and perceptions. I wanted to immerse myself with you in a thematic discussion of the book in your hand. Fitzgerald is my favorite and it’s not everyday you see a boy on the 99 reading one.
If our lives were a novel, maybe I would play the role of the courageous female who takes risks. Maybe she would create her own inciting incident and sit next to you. Maybe there would be a spark, maybe a worthy tale. But maybe is conditional and dependent on subjectivity. I am not that character, I wish I was, but I live in the present indicative of a feared reality.
I was fearful of being wrong, of creating some unattainable great expectation. I was fearful of rejection, I was fearful of your existence being a figment of my imagination. I blinked extensively, reminding myself you did exist.
You were present. You, in your red beanie and black sweater sat with such grace that was immune to the bumpy bus ride. You, with your curly brown hair peaking out through the beanie and impeccable blue eyes that moved swiftly horizontally across the page. You, with the Fitzgerald, you the boy on the 99 had me captivated.
I proceeded then with my own reading. I think it was Hemingway that week, or maybe Tolstoy. I took my book from my bag and hid behind my own world of fiction. However, it was a facade. My eyes tried to stay on the page infront of me, but they kept wandering off into your direction. This was the continuous story for the rest of the ride until you got off somewhere before the turn on W 10th or 4th or whatever it is. You reading, I pretending, you oblivious, I aware – polarity of our plot lines.
Eventually the aura you left would fade. The bus ride went on, I went to class, learned something important but irrelevant. I met some friends, ended up in a coffee shop and went about my mundane life. You were just a beacon on the B-line, a short fuse that brightened an otherwise nap filled bus ride.
Or so I thought.
Last Friday it happened again; I saw you on a bus I wasn’t supposed to be on. (I have a fixed schedule now, or relatively anyway.) I was heading east this time, direction had changed. I was coming back from a long day of lectures on Dickens and advantages of nuclear proliferation sweetened with interviews on interviews for prospects and opportunities far beyond my reach. The idealism favored by Hard Times did not resonate with me last friday, I was tired and gloomy and just wanted to nap. Desires are often short sighted and life threw me off when you stepped on.
You had a green beanie this time, I wondered what this alluded to, your favorite holiday maybe? You walked on the bus in search of something. Your blue eyes had that purposeful look, you weren’t just mindfully riding, you were searching. You walked my way, my heart skipped a beat. You walked right up to me, but then turned.
You found the object of your quest and sat right next to her. She was beautiful, equally matched to the cuteness that was you. She was yours, you were hers; the way you grasped her hand upon sitting down proved it. She gleamed, she bantered and you reciprocated with nods and smiles. I think there was a peck but at this point I had stopped looking but just listened. I just listened to her talk, on and on about people I did not know. I waited for your voice to interject but it never did. You just listened. I looked up this moment, thinking, hoping you were disinterested, hoping you really weren’t hers. But I was mistaken.
For what you lacked in verbal response, you made up for in your visual commitment. Your eyes, those impeccable blue eyes, did not falter once as you gazed at her. You just gleamed with intrigue and adoration. You did not have to say a word, your eyes spoke of your love for her. It was equally beautiful but disheartening. Because boys like you are so hard to find. Boys who read Fitzgerald, boys who dress so simple but polished. Boys who gaze with such commitment, who listen so selflessly.
Dickens warns against the world of fact, against the dim worldview of the Victorians. He fears the loss of spontaneity and creativity. Maybe I am too much of a realist, or neorealist, but I think the world works differently. I am tired of hope, it’s too costly, an expensive commodity as Thucydides puts it. It causes me pain, it reinforces expectations that can never be fulfilled. Even when prospects come, even when you, dear boy on the 99, enter my world, I only learn you cannot be mine. Fitzgerald once said I’m a cynical idealist. He hopes but life steals it from him. He tries for the what should but is forsaken with the what is. I wish you could be mine. Your kind should exist. But you are a numbered breed, bound for extinction. She’s lucky the one you gaze at, she will never know the degree of her fortune. Never.