"There was a muffled look
, a microexpression
every time she saw me for the first time. Right before the smile, I had never seen it but I had always felt it right then. It never got to my eyes, but lay quietly on the edge of my subconcious, close enough for me to feel it, but never really get a hold on it. It was like she was maybe seeing a person from her dreams, like a familiarity that shouldn't exist, like the guy you see on the street who looks like dad just for a second, like "how did you get here
"I guess its only important now, now that I haven't seen her in so long. So long, like it feels like five years. Maybe six. I don't know, we never saw each other much. I've known her since we were kids. I never loved her then, we were too young for that, she was there and I was there and that was that. We used to sit in the back of my dad's truck. It was a Ford with a camper top covering the back. He put a foam pad, an old foam matress down on the bed, and we used to lie in the back whenever we went anywhere. We'd lie and roll with the turns, jump with the bumps, total freedom. We'd lie down on cool nights in coats and stare at the top of the camper. It was speckled like a Pollock, black on white.
"We'd talk, we were kids, and I don't remember, but she was the one person I would talk to then. I always felt like she knew things I would never know, that she was from a different world than me, she knew things that I would never know. She knew girl things that I was incredibly interested in, but she wouldn't tell me those things. Those are secrets boys never learn. But I didn't really want to know those things from her, I never really wanted to marry her, or whatever token gestures we did to show that sort of affection. I didn't love her then. But I could talk to her. We talked about the wind, and how it was made, and what we would do if there was a tornado. And how much bellyflops hurt. And what toy we wanted. But at that age, it all seemed so much more lofty, I reached plateaus of conversation with her that I long for now.
"We would sit in the back of the truck and talk about volcanos and how she was going to take pictures at the olympics for a newspaper like USA Today. She would walk around with an instamatic and photograph me jumping. She told me she was going to take pictures of everyone she knew. She was going to give them to the newspapers and they would take them.
"When puberty came, she shot up, being a little older than me and a girl, we grew apart, even though I would like to say that I kept up with her a lot longer than other boys did. But she and I separated, and through my 'pivotal' teen years, I rarely talked to her; so much of that age is about you and now, only when you emerge on the other side does the world start to come back into perspective. When it did she was already gone, off to a far place, in some school. I tried to call her, but I only got through once, and she didn't answer and I hung up anyways, unsure of what I wanted. I didn't develop her into a goddess like I did with other girls who I wanted to talk to, she stayed the same as she had when we were young, that girl that could always keep up with me.
"When I finally did find her she was in Washington, working for the Post, just like she said she would, taking photos. Looking back now, I guess I admire her courage, honesty, and all that crap, she did what she wanted to do in life, but really I didn't care about that and I don't now either. I didn't really talk to her long on the phone. I told her, 'Oh, DC, that's funny because I was going up there next month to meet some friends.' Of course, there were no friends except her, I missed her, wanted to see her, wanted to talk to her again. She said 'Oh yeah? Come and see me then, we can have dinner or something like that.' And I was off to DC next month for a weekend. I didn't really care then, but it was a pretty stupid thing to do in my situation, I had little money and I had to fly there and get a hotel which basically broke my budget. I don't think I ever have told her that.
"When I did get there, I called her right away. I had no business do to, and no one else to see, I told myself at the time I would get to see all the landmarks and the museums, blah. I told her I had gotten into town, did she want to do something. She tried to push me off until the next night, but I wanted to see her sooner, so I lied again and told her I was going out with my friends the next night. I ended up meeting her that afternoon at a fairly nice restaurant in the city. When I saw her, she was dressed well, better than me, she had her head down looking towards the jacket that she was holding. She looked up and saw me, that face, then a smile. A broad smile. She had become quite a beautiful woman. Her eyes told me she was happy to see me here, as I was, and I immediately felt completely justified in my irresponsible trip. I would make the voyage again under any other circumstances just for those eyes.
"We didn't stop talking from that point up until the point we parted. There was none of that 'how are you doing these days' and 'what are you up to' crap. I knew she was working at the Post, the rest of her history I deduced from our conversation. She dove in right where we had left off eight years ago. Love, politics, human nature, men, art, no subject was off limits and no subject was far-fetched. It was never productive and no stopping point was reached. Every utterance led to new turns, it was absolutely beautiful, unrecreatable.
"It was early when we finished eating, neither of us wanted to stop, and she had an apartment in what I later learned was a fairly exclusive part of the city. She asked me if I had ever taken the subway. I had gotten to and from my hotel via a cab, and hadn't a clue as to the subway system. She led me down the stairs to the station, got me a ticket and tried to explain the system, then dragged me through the station to a train towards her place. After we sat down on the train, the conversation started again uninterrupted. I felt myself go back to those times in the back of the truck when we travelled where ever it was my parents wanted to go talking about anything we thought of. It was the same way now. We talked on and missed the stop, she told me we would just ride it a little further then get on a train going back. We rode it to the end of the the line, got off and turned around, missed the stop again. She and I both realized we didn't want to leave the subway. We rode three or four more trains through the underground tubes that evening, finally disembarking at her apartment when the trains were about to close for the day. I went up to her place, and we talked on, finishing very late in the night, when I caught a cab back to the hotel.
"She was a perfect drug, but I abstained from her the next day, and wasted time at the museums, then headed home. It happened again about a year later. Pretty much the same situation, we hadn't talked much on the phone, and I called her up and asked her if she was busy, if I could come up and see her (I dropped the visiting friends line). When I got there, we ended up on the subway again, screeching from one end of the town to the other, out into the suburbs and back through the center of the city. The entire time, we sat in backward facing seats, leaning with the train as it rolled through stations, talking about everything. This trip I spent the next day with her going through the particular places she had access to, seeing governmental areas and people she could get me to with her press pass. It still felt like she was atmospheres from me in so many ways, although those awkward years apart had padded both of us in layers of adulthood, not much had changed.
"I saw her a few more times after this, but then next time I called up her office, they explained she had gone freelance. Her home phone was disconnected. I was bewildered, thinking I had lost her for a second time. I talked to a coworker friend of hers, who explained the situation in more detail, she was overseas, doing odd jobs or something. She said she was never easy to get a hold of, but she would make a note to tell her I had called the next time she talked to her.
"I didn't really think about it (but I thought about her all the time) until several months later she called me. She said she had gotten the message, but calling international was hard and expensive, so she was going to wait until she got somewhere cheaper. I asked her if she thought she was ever going to come back to DC so I could visit her again, she said she would, when she got 'these photos done.' I didn't know which photos she was talking about, but they sounded pretty important, so I said goodbye and let her go.
"She didn't call and about a year later, I put in another call to her friend at the Post, who said she also hadn't talked to her. She hadn't heard any news, but she said that its not uncommon for someone to not call for a year or more. I imagined she must have a giant sack of exposed film by now, waiting to be taken back. More time passed, no calls, so I called her mother, who said she had talked to her a month ago, which quieted my worries that she had be consumed by some angry native or something. I asked the mother to tell her I called if she ever talked to her again. I felt that any more would be inappropriate, but I really missed her. I knew she missed me, or I thought I knew. She still really opaque to me.
"Finally she called. She sounded different. She said she had been sick and down on her luck, had run through her cash. I have heard this story numerous times from many loser buddies, but from her I believed it. She went into details that while completely unimportant, made me feel that I was a close friend to her. She said she was coming back home, home being Washington, staying with a few friends for a while. I made quick plans to see her, she sounded comforted, I felt comforted.
"And when I saw her, that face she made, right before the smile. It was still there. I knew I loved her then, just when I saw her. We rode the subway that day.