They called her the girl with the big ears, though they didn't call her that to her face. That is, not to her ears. Not exactly. Not intentionally. They were sitting in the cafeteria—one line of ... [+]
You've gotta meet people, my cousin keeps telling me.
I have been meeting people. Not just Kat, but Sarai and Marissa and Priya . . . It hasn't gone much further than meeting people, yet. I've got the apps, the profiles, a list of go-to questions to get things started, the messages that always have to be just so funny, but end up feeling just so . . .
I was nervous. (Don't be too hopeful. Don't be too cynical. Don't worry. That was my cousin's voice living in my head.) So Kat was getting text after text.
On my way
Just got into Fruitvale station
At Lake Merritt
The train was above ground. I still had reception. Kat was seeing my texts, but it wasn't until the doors had just closed on West Oakland station that she got back to me.
Sorry, but I have to cancel. Honestly just not feeling it.
Maybe a little noise escaped my mouth without me meaning to, because the terrier sitting a couple seats behind me gave me a sharp yap. ("Mind your business," his owner shushed him, holding him tight in the bag on her lap. She was cute, I noticed.)
I looked from my phone to the other riders, as if they could see this, too.
It was a light crowd for the weekend, only a dozen or so folks and most of them looking at their own phones, with only a few exceptions.
There was the cute girl with her dog. There were two women chatting quietly with brightly wrapped birthday presents on their laps. The only person standing was a cyclist in a full spandex warrior outfit hovering close to their bike next to the doors. An old man was happily snacking from a big bag of pepperoni on one knee and a bag of shredded mozzarella from the other, occasionally washing it all down with something in a metal bottle and smiling.
Can you believe it? I wanted to ask someone (just not the man with his deconstructed pizza). Dumped, and we haven't even met yet. You've gotta meet people. Except on the train. On the train you've got to mind your business.
I was definitely annoyed. Kat might've told me sooner. Even ten minutes sooner would have saved me the ride between West Oakland and the Embarcadero. But I also respected it. This dating thing was time consuming. You couldn't waste your life on people you weren't clicking with. And wasn't I always complaining about the ghosters who disappeared without letting you know it wasn't working?
I sent her a quick text, basically saying that I understood and that it was for the best since I wasn't actually sure how I'd make a transbay relationship work. No hard feelings.
I wished her luck and I hit send.
She texted me back an ellipsis. An actual dot dot dot.
I caught the flu from my roommate. I'm sick.
But if that's how you feel, we don't need to reschedule.
Oh. Oh! No, no, no! You've gotta meet people. Oh, no. I didn't mean it. I could make a transbay relationship work. I could! Let's meet.
My thumbs went to war over the alphabet and I type-type-typed. I probably would've been able to text a quick PSYCH! Before the train lurched downward below all that concrete and water. Instead I wrote Kat a short story. Victorians have written shorter letters. The message failed to send. I would be blocked by the time I got service again.
I couldn't bear to look at my phone. I thought if I did, I'd do something rash like stick it in my mouth to swallow my words. Nor could I bear to look out the window at the glum, black-tinged reflection you always got underground. So I looked at everyone else.
Could they tell how hopeless I was? Probably not. They were all minding their business. And maybe I shouldn't be looking too closely at that man, or the way bits of shredded cheese had fallen down between his sandaled toes.
I'll never have a meet cute. There's nothing cute about any part of my cruddy life.
Now that we were all a captive audience, a man stood up with his violin, announced his solo act (and appreciation for donations), and set the bow against the strings to fill the train car up with sad sounds. Everyone minded their business so hard that they almost made the violinist disappear from sheer force of will.
All ignored him except for the dog. I could hear him vibrating in the bag and ruffing softly. The girl was whispering at him to calm down, but the sound of the violin had supercharged the little thing. Before I knew what was happening, the dog was out of the bag and running at a full sprint. No one on the train could ignore that. Except the violinist, who kept on playing.
The dog sprinted. Between the violinist's legs and around him, down to one end of the car and to the other. The clacking plastic handle attached to his leash followed him like cans on a wedding limousine. The women raised their birthday gifts above their heads as if there was something wrapped inside the dog might want to get at, and the packages did rattle when they jerked them up, rather distressingly, like they were full of bones.
The dog was fast. He paused only once to give a stern yap to the bicyclist as he passed them—a warning—before setting off again, his mouth open in a toothy, tongue-lolling. His owner chased after him.
"God, I'm so sorry. He just really loves Vivaldi," the girl said.
The violinist smiled and played even louder. His enthusiasm played off the dog's. The owner cursed to herself. The old man laughed and more shredded cheese fell between his toes.
People were cheering. People were yelling. The violinist just played faster. The dog was bounding now, dodging the legs of people filling the aisle trying to stop him.
After a couple of frantic passes, I had the timing right. I made a grab, not for the dog but for the leash handle behind him, and caught it. The dog kept going though. The leash was one of those retractable things. I tried to follow him while I guessed at which button would keep the dog from getting away. From the other side of the train car, the owner was coming toward us.
I found the button. But that was a mistake. As soon as I held it down, the leash stopped extending, but the dog kept dashing. The leash yanked him back and the force lifted him up right off the floor and there he was, airborne, all teeth and tongue and slobber and stiff furry legs looking equal parts ferocious and silly.
The man flinched so hard his bag of pepperoni went flying. The violinist laughed. The bicyclist stepped out of the way. Their bike fell over. The dog's owner tripped on it. She began falling slowly toward me, her curls spreading around her wide-eyed face as time began to stop.
I held out my arms to break her fall. And I swear there was a moment you could almost mistake the falling pepperoni for falling rose petals. Maybe the violinist wasn't playing something sad and out of tune, maybe it was a love song.
When I caught her, she said "Hi."
"Thanks," I said back, and it was the wrong thing to say, but I was just feeling so . . .
The pepperoni pattered down into the shape of a smiley face. It was there for a second, then the dog ate up an eye and a bit of mouth. Then the pepperoni on the ground just looked like pepperoni on the ground. The owner scooped the dog into her arms.
I had the leash, but I ended up holding onto it. We sat together talking for the rest of the ride. Since I was free for the afternoon, we even got off the train together.