“Just wait,” you said, holding onto the railing of the subway escalator. “It’ll all be good when I get back.”
I remember when a friend of mine — one who had enough years on me to make everything she said seem wise, even privileged — told me that I was silly. “Don’t wait for anyone,” she said, “The only thing that’s guaranteed to happen is losing precious time.” I would get embarrassed when she would say things like this, because they made so much sense, but were so impossible to apply to my life. She told me that I thought I had so much time, but that I just wasn’t watching the clock tick. I didn’t think so. Time, to me, seemed to be incredibly malleable. There was When You Were Here Time and When You Were Gone Time, and they seemed to negate one another.
I would have traded a thousand days alone for a few together, and never seemed to realize how many years that would actually cost me. You would say “wait,” and I would forget what we were even talking about. I would watch your hand on the railing of the subway escalator and wish that it would suddenly stop running, that the train would stick in its tracks and buy me a few more minutes here in the station.
My friend dated a boy when she was 19 years old, a boy she waited for while she spent the first two years of her collegiate experience locked away in her room, afraid of what would constitute “not being patient.” He told her that it would be worth it, that they only had a few years to go, and that all the waiting would mean something. I remember her telling me, “There is a party on my floor and I’m afraid to go to it. I don’t know what I would do if I got drunk… I don’t know who I would meet.”
That summer, her boyfriend returned triumphantly to our small-enough-to-sting town with a girlfriend he had met during spring semester. My friend burned a box of his things in her back yard and said, “I don’t know what I thought I was waiting for.” Her case was extreme, I think, but it’s not really her boyfriend returning with something else that hurts to think about. I wonder about all of the things she did not do because she was waiting for someone to answer to, waiting for something to make it all worth it. She told me about one party; there must have been hundreds of others.
You took your hand off the escalator railing and placed it on mine. “Everything okay?” you asked. How could it have been okay? What was I supposed to say? I thought about my much-older friend who told me to look at the clock. I thought about my friend who didn’t want to go the party for fear of how much fun she might have, of what she might no longer need if she went. What was I going to wait for? And why was it always me that was going to have to wait? I imagined a porcelain box where I turned and turned on an endless loop, perfect in a tutu with a ribbon in my hair. Someone would close me and leave me on a shelf while they went away to do fun, dangerous, interesting things. They would open me a few days or weeks or years later and, after the tinkling music sputters for a few notes, I would start turning again. The thought of that little ballerina disgusted me.
I looked at the clock.
“Yeah,” I said, “I’m fine. I just have somewhere to be.”