Brief Encounters

A friend asked me today, “Who was the first man who caught your attention?” My mind immediately went to my first love and the first time we “met,” barely brushing shoulders, our eyes connecting in a way I’ll never forget.

But no, I was wrong. He wasn’t the first man who caught my eye.

I was eighteen years old. I had agreed to go to the rooftop party of a friend of a friend. It was pretty fancy. I remember men dressed in suits and ties, terribly debonair. There were women in dresses that looked awfully expensive, jewelry perfectly selected to match their attire. There were white Christmas lights everywhere. Some guests were sipping champagne; others were discussing the stock market, a recent academic lecture, an art exhibit uptown. I was standing quietly by myself, dressed to fit in with the crowd, resting on the roof’s ledge.

And then I heard him laugh.

It was completely unrefined, so much so that I wasn’t the only one who turned to see where that noise had come from. And as a couple nearby stepped to the side, I saw him. Jeans, a wrinkled white button-down shirt, a newsboy cap, unshaven face, messy hair, a bottle of beer in his hand. And nachos…I think he was chomping on nachos.

I moved in closer behind him. It was strange. I typically avoided people–especially loud ones–but something about him made me wonder what he’d have to say.

I was careful not to let him see me. I guess I wanted to go unnoticed.

He was talking to a woman at least twice his age. He was a writer. He said he felt like it was the best way to live out his fantasies. And to escape a reality that wasn’t always so kind. She was mesmerized. I didn’t blame her.

He talked about his brother, who he feared would always be a better man than he could ever be. And his mom, who somehow still believed in him. He had loved a girl, a few years back, who had left him to backpack around Europe. He had begged her to stay. She went anyway. He never saw her again.

I must have listened to him talk for an hour, standing right behind him, never uttering a sound. I can still remember his voice. And that crazy laugh that made those terribly refined guests roll their eyes.

I loved the sound of it.

I never even got his name that night. Never said hello. Never shook his hand. But as I hit the rooftop exit door, I remember that I turned to look at him. He must have felt my eyes on him because he soon turned my way. We smiled, at the same time, and he stood up–eyebrows scrunched, beer in his hand.

I’ll never forget that moment…me at the door, him ten steps away, us looking at each other but saying nothing. He reached out his hand and took a step forward. And just like that, I turned around, hurried down the stairs, and headed home.

I don’t know why I didn’t stand still that night. Or why I didn’t walk toward him. I guess a part of me wanted to preserve that moment, that very special encounter I knew would only get tarnished by life’s very real day-to-day struggles.

I guess it’s the one fantasy I wanted to keep.

And I have.

So, when life hands you those brief encounters, the ones that hold your gaze without even trying, pay attention. You may not hold onto the man, but hold onto the moment. Because when you least expect it, I promise you that the memory will make your day.

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