CHANCE MEETING

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After I plied her with a few cocktails, she was less reticent.  “I remember when I first saw him,” said she, looking at the surf. “It was the autumn of my senior year in high school.  He and his bandmates were setting up equipment in the auditorium”

“It felt odd having strangers in our private stomping grounds.  The theater department was where I spent most of my days.  It helped defray the unbearable drama at home.   If I wasn’t rehearsing, I was hanging out in the fire escape, smoking and commiserating with fellow refugees.

“But that day was different, as many were that particular year.  The end of my high school tour of duty was coming and I really didn’t know what awaited me afterward.  Or what I wanted, for that matter.

“So it was fitting that he appear that afternoon, like a portend of things to come, smelling of strange foreign places and trailing an energy that made my scalp tingle.  I was, as usual, killing time and lung cells in the fire escape away from the prying eyes of the department head, when the door swung open and he walked in.  I jumped, thinking I’d been busted and jumped again when I realized it was him.

“I couldn’t speak to him.  I couldn’t be my normal glib self.  Nor could I look him in the eye.  It was too dangerous, more so for me, because I was afraid of my own reaction if I dared.  In a seconds-long exchange, I recognized him.  I was certain I knew him before, but couldn’t remember from where.

“Of course, I didn’t understand any of this until years later, but in that moment I only felt awkward and desperate to conceal the shouting in my head which I was sure he could hear.  He tried to catch my eye, which I refused to meet, and to engage me in small talk.  I pretended not to hear, but he wasn’t dissuaded.  After several rebuffs, he asked me point-blank why I answered every question with a question.

“What could I say?  It wasn’t as if I could tell him that I felt clawed from within, as if something beyond my control was struggling to be freed.  It was enticing and terrifying, like a really fine rollercoaster, one with a resonant voice that reminded me of the drone of a bagpipe echoing over the moor.

“Maybe it was the romantic in me.  Maybe I had reread Brontë novels one too many times.  But I was curiously torn between wanting to lock myself in a dimly lit room with him, and wanting to get as far away as possible from him.  But since I was only seventeen and the former wasn’t an option, I left before embarrassing myself any further.

“I tried not to think about him during the months that followed, but it was difficult.  A door had opened and I couldn’t close it again, no matter how I tried.  The pursuits which contented me before seemed tedious.  I lost patience with the status quo and began to think in real terms of what my future as an adult might look like.  I realized that prior to our chance meeting, I hadn’t really planned anything and the oversight disturbed me.  My friends and family acted as if nothing had changed.  As much as I wanted to find fault and project my woes onto them, I couldn’t.  The sudden wake-up call had been for me, not them.

“It was during the weeks of these deep reflections that I met him again.  His band was playing at the senior prom and I had grudgingly agreed to go with my then-boyfriend who had, not surprisingly, become unbearably predictable in the interim.  I saw my mysterious friend from across the room and knew I was in serious trouble.  I tried to shrink from view and limit my dancing, but he knew I was there.  During a break, he approached me from behind and took my arm.  His fingers burned my skin.

“’Don’t I know you?’ he asked.

“I turned to him, but looked at the floor.  The heat was clawing at me again.  I nodded briefly and hurried away.  Some acknowledgments require more than assent.  They burn you alive.”

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