I'll Be Seeing You

I notice people, strangers. Sitting across from them on the train. Passing them on the street. Standing in line with them at Starbucks.

Most of them don’t notice me back. They’re lost in their own world, thinking about what they’ve got to do, where they’ve got to go. I think about these people. I wonder what they do at night. Do they go home to an empty apartment, curled up on their couch in front of The Real Housewives of Wherever? Or do they meet some friends at a bar? Do they still live with mom and dad, still saving up for the big move? Or maybe they’re living with their fiancée while they plan their spring wedding?

Maybe they’re new to the city, just moved to Chicago from Dayton or Dallas, their first real job out of college. They left their friends and family to start a new life here. I wonder if some day, soon (too soon!) one of them will be my daughter or one of my sons.

I wonder--- these people I pass on the street, how are their lives going so far? Have the years leading up to this moment been everything they hoped it’d be? What’s going through their minds as they drift off to sleep each night? Are they happy? Or just happy enough, waiting for the day when everything’s bound to fall into place?

crowdI think: there’s a very good chance I will never see the person I passed, again. Our paths crossed this once and will never cross a second time. Of the more than seven billion humans roaming the face of this planet, the story arc of the guy ordering the no foam double-shot latte in front of me will never intersect mine, ever again. The cosmos has other plans for us. These people are the extras and bit players in the movie of my life as I am in theirs.

Then: there are strangers I see repeatedly if I happen to walk the same route. (They aren’t total strangers then, are they?) If I replicate the same routine more than once: make the light at Wacker, stop for coffee under the El at Wells, wait to cross at LaSalle, I’ll pass the “hipster” girl with the bobbed, black hair and thick, black glasses. Or the grey-haired Slavic man, his gaze fixed off in the distance as he speeds along the sidewalk, despite the limp in his left leg.

I’ve sat with a commuter trainload of strangers twice a day, every weekday for almost twenty years now. I’ve never learned their names but I know their faces. I give these people backstories, filling in the blanks.

The couple tucked away in the stairwell, sitting close, speaking in whispers. She’s got a diamond on her left hand but when the train pulls into our first stop she gets up and, with one last squeeze of his hand, says goodbye, leaving him behind. Is she going off to her husband/fiancée while he goes on to his stop and his girlfriend/fiancée/wife?

The well-dressed middle-aged man, quietly studying the owner’s manual for his new rifle. Maybe the nightly news has him paranoid about self-defense. Or maybe he’s kissing up to his boss who’s really into hunting.

Sometimes I don’t need to imagine their backstories when I catch a conversation: “Hey, Dave! Haven’t seen you in a while. What’ve you been up to?” Steve asks, innocently.

“Oh, hi Steve... My wife died, a week ago now, from anorexia. This is my first day back at work,” Dave tells him, unemotional, like he’s reading instructions.

“Um. Oh, um. I’m, uh, sorry to hear that.” Steve’s trying to back out, slowly.

“She had been anorexic for fourteen years or so, you knew that, and that kind of thing takes its toll after a while. Yesterday would’ve been her forty-seventh birthday.”

Or I see them outside the train--- the smartly dressed businesswoman, this time at Trader Joe’s on a Saturday helping her handicapped son from his motorized wheelchair into their minivan. Or the already rail-thin woman I catch at the health club, sweating for an hour on the elliptical.

So, yeah, I’ll be seeing you somewhere. Will you being seeing me?

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