One Sentence Love Story

Sometimes when you think you love something what you really love is not the thing itself but just some small and inessential part of it: you think you love banana splits but really you just love the maraschino cherry on top and you think you love autumn but really you just love getting a Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks and you think you love Shrek but really you just love that montage near the end after Shrek and Fiona have their falling out when he’s sitting in his swamp all alone and she’s getting ready for her wedding and Rufus Wainwright’s cover of “Hallelujah” is playing in the background, and you think you’re in love with him but really you’re just in love with the smile that pops onto his face when he spots you in the Think Coffee near Washington Square Park, in love with the way it makes you feel to see someone look at you like that, look at you like you’re the only real thing in the entire world, even though he only looks at you like that because he just moved to the city a month ago and doesn’t know anyone and because he saw you on the subway reading the same book that he was reading, which made him think of a New Yorker cover by Adrian Tomine that he once saw when he was in high school, except on the New Yorker cover the boy and the girl were on different trains, and when he saw you reading the same book that he was reading he thought “Here’s my chance to make it right” as if the boy and the girl on the New Yorker cover were real people, since in high school he liked thinking of himself as the sort of person who thinks of fictional characters (especially tortured young men like Hamlet and Raskolnikov and Stephen Dedalus) as real people and never quite got out of that habit, just like he never quite got out of the habit of fantasizing about his middle-school crush or the habit of starting up a multiplayer game in a first-person shooter just to wander around the level all alone or the habit of coming downstairs in his pajamas on Christmas and sitting cross-legged on the floor opening his presents and smiling involuntarily because “Santa” brought him just what he wanted or the habit of sometimes waking up in the middle of the night with a nameless fear lodged in his heart and crying out, in the quietest whisper, for his mother, and because since moving to the city he’d started feeling that fear even in broad daylight when he saw an ambiguity on the subway map that might make him late for work or an abandoned shopping cart filled with dirty plastic bags or when he thought about how maybe this morning he left his apartment door unlocked or maybe today he’ll be talking with someone and they’ll bring up a movie he’s never seen or maybe someone is mad at him for doing something he doesn’t even remember doing, but really feeling that fear all the time and just being reminded of it at certain moments, reminded that it had become his default state, not a fear of something so much as a fear of the lack of something that he felt in the center of his stomach as if there were no center there at all, as if he were built around nothing but an emptiness and had to exert a constant effort just to keep from collapsing inward like a black hole, and he would lie awake at night feeling the emptiness gurgle up and down inside him and sometimes feeling what he thought were the inside surfaces of his stomach rubbing against one another and saying “ouch, ouch, ouch” and twisting his face like he would cry when stomach acid refluxed into the lower part of his esophagus and sometimes being afraid that he had stomach cancer but then seeing you reading the same book that he was reading on the subway that he hadn’t yet realized was the wrong subway, which he got on because of an ambiguity on the subway map, seeing you reading the same book that he was reading and thinking of that New Yorker cover and thinking “Here’s my chance to make it right” except he didn’t realize he was thinking either of those thoughts but thought he was just thinking “I’m going to go talk to that girl” and then getting up from his seat and walking over to you and saying “Hey is that a good book?” and laughing and not feeling embarrassed at all even though he knew the other people on the train would see what he was doing, and seeing you nod and laugh and thinking about how the two of you already had an inside joke, and then seeing that he’d gotten on the wrong train and would be late for work because the train had gone past his stop and the stop after and kept going and going and going, which was exactly what he’d been afraid of when he saw that ambiguity on the subway map and now the thing he’d been afraid of was happening, except now that it was happening he wasn’t afraid at all because on the wrong train he found a girl who was reading the same book that he was reading and went up to her and talked to her and made her laugh and they already had their little inside joke together and they were already talking about where they lived and where they were from and what they did and when the train stopped at 125th St. he said he had to get off and go back downtown but did she want to grab coffee sometime and she said yes that would be great and he said okay how about six o’clock tomorrow at the Think Coffee near Washington Square Park and she said that sounds great and he said okay see you then and walked away feeling better than he had ever felt in his entire life because he’d been in the city for a month and hadn’t made a single friend and had spent every night just drinking alone and watching porn and masturbating over and over and over until it hurt to come as if there was something inside of him that he was trying to get rid of except that thing was not something but the lack of something but now all of a sudden there was another human being in his life and life was going to be okay after all, life was going to be better than okay, life was going to be everything he ever imagined it would be, except better because it was going to be not imaginary but real, after all these years of living out his life in fantasies it was finally going to be real, and he spent the next day and a half not thinking any thoughts except “IT’S GOING TO BE REAL IT’S GOING TO BE REAL IT’S GOING TO BE REAL” over and over and over until six o’clock the next day when he walks into Think Coffee and looks around and then sees you and thinks “IT’S REAL” and the thought registers on his face as a smile, a smile that says, with absolute clarity, “You are the only real thing in the entire world,” and that smile — not him, but that smile — is what you’re really in love with, and you think you love Jameson but really you just love that time when you were home for winter break your freshman year of college and your dad poured you a glass of it like it was no big deal, like it was something he did all the time, even though it was the first time your parents had ever given you alcohol, and you sat on the couch by the fire and drank it and it burned but you’d already been in college for a semester and you were getting used to the burn of alcohol, even getting to like it, and you liked thinking of yourself as the sort of girl who likes whiskey, and you sat by the fire and listened to your dad read “’Twas The Night Before Christmas” out loud and drank just enough, just enough to feel like every cell in your body was buzzing with happiness, and later when the fire had turned to embers you and your parents watched The Snowman on VHS and you were still feeling just drunk enough that during the “We’re Walking In The Air” part, for the first time in maybe eight years, or at any rate for the first time since whenever it was that you turned into a surly teenager and started wearing dark lipstick and hating your parents, you lay your head on your mom’s shoulder and you didn’t feel embarrassed at all when she put her arm around you and kissed your head and didn’t even feel embarrassed when you cried a little bit into her hair at the end of the movie and she stroked your hair and rocked you back and forth just a little bit and maybe even said “shhh” really quietly and kissed your head again and you just let her do it because you didn’t feel embarrassed at all because you were just drunk enough, just drunk enough to feel, for just one night, like a child, and you think you love Animal Collective but really you just love that one moment in “In The Flowers” when the beat rises up out of the swirl of noise and Avey Tare sings “Then we could be dancing, no more missing you while I’m gone” and you feel like oh my god I’ve been waiting for this my whole life, which is why you play Merriweather Post Pavilion right after sending the boy you met on the subway, the one who was reading the same book you were reading, the last text you will ever send him, and why you wonder why it isn’t making you feel any better. 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Nick Cox

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