“Would you be keen to go for a vibe some time?” I stare at the words on my screen, “we’ve both been busy, but it could be cool to meet up.” I stare. I wonder. I let myself imagine that reality. I try hard to make myself care and lose myself in the fantasy. I can’t. I wish I liked you. You’re great, you’re everything I would be happy to want. But you’re not quite what I want right now.
I’m sorry. I reply that I’m still very busy. I stare at my phone. I message Emma and then Abby. I don’t aim to, but somehow, I picture his face. I see him reading a book in the cafeteria today. Unaware of me. I remember myself talking to Jen. We discussed work. I was actively conscious of him. I was conscious of Jen’s ignorance of any potential significance his presence had. I turned to face her as we walked outside. I put my sunglasses on. I wondered if he saw me from his peripherals. I smiled wider and offered more of myself to the conversation. This is it, I thought. This is everything I want. Work and friends and coffee. I never dared look back.
I’m staring at the phone, now, at this other name on my screen. I try hard to make myself care. I fail. I tear up. I almost cry. But I’m waiting for a night bus, so I don’t. That’s not what I do, crying on buses isn’t quite my style. Abby calls me ‘Instagram’, always presenting a calculated image. She got it from a Thought Catalog listicle. I inadvertently smile at the thought. I send another message her way. It’s a Humans of New York post. Because relevance. Because friendship. Because Internet.
Here I am, waiting for a night bus, a little bit drunk. The last time I tipsily rejected someone, it was a good friend of Emma’s and it was hideously awkward. I didn’t care very much. I cared about the repercussions for Emma. But not about me or the girl whose heart I was breaking. I briefly think of Ellis and then wish I missed him right now. Ellis. Things were easy when we were us. I don’t bother pulling up his chat, I don’t want to think of him. I don’t want him. Not even a little.
The person who’d dated Ellis is gone, just as the ‘bookstore girl’ slowly but steadily disappeared. I sit in her skin, but she’s moved on. I go through characters like I go through people, I think. Characters are partnered on-stage with suitable someones and when the play ends, the characters wash off with the make up. There are some constants, of course. Daniella. Emma. Ellis, to a degree. That’s about it.
I think of how I’d be described now. It’s not the way those other versions of me would have been, we have almost nothing in common. If I met past versions of myself, I’d find them boring and dull, naive and cowardly. I am none of those things. I am pretty. I am witty. I am interesting. I am successful. People like me. For what is possibly the first time in my life, I have objective reasons to be happy.
I think of how easily I wrote a summary about myself at a workshop recently. When asked to think of two sentences to describe me, I wrote “I care” and “I will speak loudly.” Emma giggled and said, “Yes, that’s you.” But Ellis’s girlfriend wouldn’t have said those things. The bookstore girl couldn’t have said those things, she wouldn’t have been at the workshop in the first place. The fact that those women existed in me is moderately amusing to me. “Hey Tash,” I heard from a casual friend the other day, and inwardly I cringed at that. Ellis had dated Tash. Not to be dramatic, but the last part of Tash died the day Ben and I last had coffee.
It was the day after Ellis and I had had coffee. That was unintentional. I sat hugging my knees to my chest in a way that felt intrinsically like me, and was nothing like Tash. Ben looked at me, and he didn’t see any trace of the girl Ellis had searched for the day before. His many issues with me were different to any of the ones Ellis would have expressed. It was a rebirth. It was a death.
And here I am, waiting for a night bus, looking at a name flashing on my screen. Thinking about Ben. Always Ben. Does my lingering obsession mean anything? Maybe. Maybe this is something meaningful and real and important. Maybe he’s going to be inducted as one of the constants. Maybe I should write to him. Maybe we should speak.
But it’s late now and I’m tipsy and the night bus has just pulled in the stop. So I plug my earphones in and I turn on Fiona Apple and I take a window seat and stare dully at the familiar nighttime scenery passing by. And I think about everything else. I think about work and writing and music and friends.
But somehow it always leads back to him.