Wednesday, November 18, 2009


She scribbles in a leather-bound journal, and I like to think I know just what she’s trying to say.

She’s young—perhaps not yet eighteen—and blonde, and what’s probably a great body is covered with baggy clothes. Kind of punky, oversized black pants. Chains. T-shirt advertising a band nobody ever heard of. Thick-framed nerd glasses with lenses than distort her eyes. Ugly-pretty. Like, if this were a sit-com, everyone would make fun of her as an outcast. And then, in the last scene, she’d get a makeover and everyone would mistake her for a super-model. The snooty guy would suddenly fall in love with her, but she would go for the cute but dorky guy who’d always had a crush.

I bet she’s writing about angst. How much she hates the plebians sharing this train car, how no one understands her, how she can’t wait to get away from her family. She’s dreaming of college. She’s ready to ditch her lame high school crowd and meet some mature adults.

Or else, she’s writing poetry. Overwrought poetry full of images of pain. The journal’s leather binding is dyed a rich purple. Her favorite aunt—the only one who understands her—probably gave it to her last Christmas. She eschews the commercialism of the holiday, but she loved this one gift.

I wish I could tell her that everything will be all right, that she will get a little older and life will get a lot better. I imagine we have a lot in common. When the train stops, people start shuffling around. I end up a little closer to her, but she has her back to me. The train starts up again.

She snaps the journal shut and reaches into her pocket. It’s her cell phone. “Yeah, I’m on my way,” she says in a voice far more mature than the one I imagined for her. “Had some great ideas for the website. No, no, I wrote it all down. What? No, I’ll tell you when I get there. God, I hate public transportation. This crazy old dyke was leering at me the whole ride.” She laughs at something I can’t hear. “Yeah, I don’t think so. Anyway, she’s gone now. See you in five.”

The phone goes back in her pocket and she opens the journal again. It’s not poetry. It's computer code. She’s a programmer. The train lurches and she steps back into me. She isn’t the type to apologize for that. It’s a crowded train, after all. But she does turn to see what she’s hit, and the moment my eyes catch hers, before I can say something clever about the human condition, she turns away, squeezes between two men to get closer to the door.

I realize that I am the crazy old dyke, although I am completely sane, and only twenty-eight, and only experimented with girls a couple of times in college. She gets off at the next stop. A guy my age tries to stare me down as I watch her depart. He’s starting to lose his hair, but he thinks he’s hiding that fact with a baseball cap. Probably, he played varsity football in high school, but wasn’t good enough for a college scholarship. Probably he went to his dad’s alma mater, joined the same fraternity, knocked a girl up, paid for her abortion. Now he works in a cubicle. Drinks beer afterward with the guys from his office. Lives for Monday night football.

He smiles at me. I turn away.