There is a strip of bars in the heart of Atlanta, in a neighborhood called Buckhead.
During the slow June, July, and August months, the college students who have stuck around town flock here. The promise of cheap beer and wall-thumping country music is alluring enough to drag even the most steadfast homebodies out of the confines of their childhood bedrooms or summer dorm rooms.
At one of these bars, I met someone who had just graduated from the university I currently attend. He was 23, ready to climb over the brink of adulthood, and enthusiastic in the way that those who have nothing but a diploma guiding them into the future are.
We spent the night talking — about his job prospects (none at the moment), my summer research project, and his love for Jason Garrett. I planned to spend the night on the couch of a friend who lived in the area. After last call, she gathered our remaining friends and announced that we could keep the night alive at her apartment, so that it didn’t have to end prematurely.
This guy hopped into the cab with us. I didn’t even have to ask.
“Why not?” He said, gleefully and kissed me full on the mouth — much to everyone’s surprise. Drunk on the muggy night air, he pulled out his wallet to hand a wad of cash to the cabbie — before we had even started to drive.
The evening’s prolonged festivities began to wind down when five o’clock slipped into six and the first few flecks of red-and-orange sunrise began to appear in the sky. I had to wake up early that Sunday to run errands. What this meant was that I planned to stay in bed until three in the afternoon, at which point I’d wake up and lament wasting away more than half of the day, but I needed sleep, and he needed to go.
“It was really nice to meet you,” I said to the guy, indicating that it was his cue to grab his things and head home. After a few more pithy hints, he finally got the message and started to look around for where he’d set down his wallet and jacket.
He found and collected his things, and I walked him to the front door of my friend’s apartment.
“Hey, I’ll text you, all right?” He unrolled the sleeves of his button-down, flashed me a quick smile, and started to step into the hallway. As though he’d changed his mind midway, he promptly turned around, grabbed me by the shoulders, and kissed me again — certainly not the second time of the night, but certainly the second unexpected time of the night.
When he left and I closed the front door behind him, it occurred to me that we hadn’t exchanged phone numbers.
The chances that he would text me were, therefore, nonexistent, and the chances that I would ever see him again were almost as low. Atlanta is a big city, and at our age, most people are constantly in transit — looking for the next grand adventure or the shiniest new preoccupation to whittle down the time before they have to take their lives more seriously.
Besides, by this point, I was used to having thrilling yet fleeting interactions with strangers that ended just as quickly as they began. People I met like him on nights like these were meant only to exist in a vacuum.
Several months later, I was headed home for the Thanksgiving holidays when I ran into that guy from the summer at the airport. It was the end of November, and he was so far gone from my memory that I had almost forgotten what his face looked like. It even took me a few minutes to remember his name.
Hartsfield-Jackson is a massive airport — one of the largest in the country. Thousands — maybe tens of thousands — of people move in and out of its terminals on a daily basis, roaming its temporary space until they get to their final, most important destinations.
I booked my plane tickets home too late and consequently, was flying on one of the busiest days of the year. There seemed to be more people than usual crowding every corner that Hartsfield-Jackson had to offer — the couples kissing next to the security lines, the young mothers with toddlers on their arms and bags under their eyes, and the soldiers on their brief reprieves from service.
The odds that I would run into Summer Guy on this day, through these crowds, were low.
I flashed my boarding pass and driver’s license to the TSA officer at the front of my security line (taking a few seconds to ensure her that, yes, that was indeed my name — my license displays my Chinese, legal name which no one ever believes is real).
As I unwrapped my scarf and peeled off my boots, placing them in a bin, I happened to look up and catch a glimpse at the person in front of me. He looked familiar. I swore that I had seen him before — that I recognized that particular combination of auburn hair, olive skin, and straight nose-onto-a-straighter-jaw.
He unzipped his jacket and shrugged it off his shoulders, folding it neatly next to the duffel bag he’d placed on the security conveyer belt. Right before he moved to pass through the metal detector, I said, “Hey!” before I could catch myself — because I am irrational and impulsive and often act before thinking, saving embarrassment to savor on my own.
“Hey?” He responded, his greeting more a question than anything else. He stared at me for a full few seconds before his face relaxed as he realized who I was. “Hey, didn’t I meet you at Peachtree Tavern over the summer?”
“Yes,” I said, adding a dry chuckle to make myself seem more nonchalant than I was. Mostly, I was just relieved that he hadn’t found my outburst creepy.
“How are you?”
We attempted to summarize the last few months of our lives to one another — using phrases like “so busy” and “swamped with work” and “too much to do” more times than necessary. It is difficult to come up with organic conversation when the circumstances that cause you to run into someone seem so inorganic —after all, this was someone I hadn’t seen in a long time, someone I didn’t really know in the first place.
Right as Summer Guy began to launch into a story about his latest job interview — which, he assured me, had been dreadful — the TSA officer in charge of our line came over to us with a disdainful look and hand gesture that indicated we needed to cut this conversation short.
“Hey, I have to catch my flight, but let’s get coffee sometime, okay?” He started walking towards the metal detector when he froze and turned around — like a sudden realization had stopped him, like last time.
He started to fumble through his pockets, pulling out his cell phone, and laughed as he handed it to me. “And let me actually get your number this time.”