Sometimes, with certain people – people I meet in passing, sometimes, but also those I know in realer ways – I get this sensation of an unrealized potential story between them and me, some possibility, some potential for friendship or the beginning of lust or love, some particular intimacy that, for secret and complicated reasons, never comes into being, withering away into the realm of discarded possibilities like a branch of smoke slowly twisting to invisibility in the breezy sky.
When I went to the House on the Rock for the first time, the girl who was behind the ticket counter asked for my ID. I handed her my driver’s license. She held it almost in her lap and looked at it. She sat in a wheelchair. She had dark brown hair, a little shorter than shoulder length, brown eyes – large eyes – pale skin, with features that were pronounced in an elegant, almost classical way.
“Ohio, huh,” she said.
“Yeah,” I said.
“That’s a long way from here.”
I laughed a non-connotative social chuckle: purely functional, not derived from any mirth. “Yep that’s true.”
She printed my ticket, gave it to me, and I went away to wait for my friend to get his. But I felt then, and still feel now when I think about it, that there was some sort of subvocal invitation floating between us after she said “That’s a long way from here.” An invitation or initiation, and if I had just said something that was inflected at all with my personality, the outermost wall of intimacy would’ve been broken down, and a story would’ve begun.
(Or also, obviously, maybe not: but such is the nature of these premonitions that they can’t be followed up upon, only speculated about after they’ve fossilized outside of the realm of possibility.)
When I was working at Best Buy in Boulder, we’d often have to call another store in the area to see if they had a product a customer was looking for. The store I called most often was the Longmont location, and the person I spoke to most often was a customer representative there named K. Because I was usually still standing with the customer when I talked to her, I kept my tone on phone light and bantering, the same benign and playful tone we employees always used when addressing each other around customers, a kind of performative jocular patter.
I spoke to K like this so many times that eventually we remembered each other’s names, and even had very brief, non-work-related exchanges. Around Christmas she even wished me a Merry Christmas.
I went to the Longmont store a few times, and always wondered if I should look for K, and maybe turn these fragments of interaction into something more permanent, like a flirtation. But I never did and, as far as I know, never even saw her in the store.
I had a coworker once: a friend, she had a partner, but there was an obvious attraction between us. Our flirtations were a known artifact of the store’s culture, a perennial subject of lighthearted well-meaning gossip.
Eventually it got to the point where if we got off at the same time I’d walk home with her since we both lived in the same direction. I’d sling my backpack over the handle of her bike and push it along as we walked.
We usually worked ad set on Sundays, which meant we left at noon. One Sunday, she invited me up to her apartment for a beer when we got to her place. I said sure.
When we entered her apartment, her boyfriend was home. He was wearing athletic shorts and a green tank top, sitting on their napped brown sofa with his feet on a low glass coffee table. He had rubber slip-on sandals on and was playing Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. The table’s glass surface was cloudy, smeared. There was a bong and a half-empty bottle of Powerade by his feet.
“Hey!” she said to him, brightly and quickly, reacting to her surprise with normalcy.
“Hey,” he said, looking at us glumly over his shoulder.
She introduced me. “He works in computers. This is my boyfriend M.”
“Hey man,” I said.
He waved and said “Hey” again, then turned back and unpaused his game.
“I told him I’d give him a few beers,” she said to M. I walked over and stood behind the couch while she went to the fridge. I watched M play San Andreas and offered up a fewe scraps of lighthearted commentary. He was driving around a monster truck, customized all green. I told him I thought it looked cool with the green paint job.
“Yeah, it’s my favorite color,” he explained and we both laughed for . She came back over with a couple of beers she’d pulled from the fridge. I took them and then walked to the door. She walked close behind me like I was being escorted from the premises for some infraction.
“Well, thanks again,” I said. “Nothing wrong with a Sunday afternoon beer, right?”
“Right!” she said, laughing weakly at this non-joke. I left and walked the rest of the way home, the two beers – Left Hand Milk Stouts – sweating one in each hand.
She sent me a text later that day:
I just want you to know that I love my M and nothing is going to change that, but if we had met at a different time, well, things could’ve been interesting…
Sometime later, also with her: there was the last time we walked home together. I was moving in a couple of days and this was the last shift we had together. As usual we took the sidewalk up 30th and I was walking her bike along. It was an early summer evening, with the heat from the unmitgated sunshine still in the air but sensibly dissipating. The early moon in the mild blue sky looked cool to the touch, like a stone lifted out of a riverbed.
We got to her apartment complex and stood in the parking lot, talking. It was the kind of circumspect but electric talking that both parties know is walking around the outskirts of something significant, seductive, maybe dangerous or ill-advised. I was still holding onto her bike. A car pulled in and we watched in park at the other end of the lot. A little breeze kicked up, coolish, and the trees nearby moved in it. Our talk stopped as if carried off by the breeze along with a few weak leaves.
“Well, aren’t you going to kiss me?” she asked quietly.
“I don’t know,” I said.