Underground


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2 min
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57
Finalist
Jury

I live in Philadelphia with my husband and my cat. We're all birders  [+]

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It had been nearly fourteen years, but there you were on my morning commute. On your way to work like nothing had happened. Both of us on our ways to work as if nothing had happened.

You looked good. Older, sure, hair starting to thin. But I could see the remnants of your tan, summer, teenage self, even now: your long limbs still slender under work clothes, the same dark eyes.

I’d never seen you in a suit before. We were children then, not enough a part of each other’s families to tag along to weddings or funerals, or even to church. It made you look—please forgive me—a little nerdy, and in that instant I could imagine the last decade working out for you the way it had for many of us: college to job, job to job, job to the grocery store and home to make dinner and deal with the bills and the broken sink and the entropy. 

Did you have kids? I couldn’t decide.

You left before Mark Zuckerberg was a household name, which is to say we’d never made any lasting internet connection. You never had a Facebook account, or at least not one I could find. But your younger sister did, and over the years I’ve glanced at it occasionally, hoping to see photos of you.

I’ve thought of you, sure. Of those long limbs sticking out of a trash bag that time I picked you up in a rainstorm, those dark eyes grinning as you used the quarter vacuum at the town carwash (why you loved that thing, I still don’t know), or a dozen other scenarios, too ordinary to mention, except they’d happened to the both of us when you were more than just a face I thought I recognized on the subway.

The subway moved underground through the center of the city. You didn’t look up. I wanted to text someone but there was no one to text. None of my current friends had ever met you. This was happening to me alone, and when I walked out of the car onto the platform, I was leaving you behind again.

I think this to myself and it surprises me. Again? You’d done the leaving. But I had too: I’d gone college to job, boyfriend to boyfriend to husband. I’d dealt with the dinners and the bills and the broken sink. I’d moved on, like one does, and was on my way to work, wearing clothes that hid my summer self, staring at a stranger with my own dark eyes.

It wasn’t you after all. It couldn’t have been. You weren’t older, with thinning hair. You were twenty forever. I’d moved on and you were dead.

57

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