The thing I find most interesting about time is the way it changes strangers. For instance, when I met my best friend Abby, she was just a girl waiting for post-grad orientation. A collection of us grew at the stairs while waiting for the speaker to open the doors. Abby was there in a blue windbreaker jacket and a pair of sneakers, and sunglasses pushed back like a headband for her wavy blonde hair. In that moment, she was no one to me. In fact, I distinctly remember avoiding sitting next to her as I was preoccupied by another ridiculously interesting blonde who I’d been chatting with for the last few minutes and who I thought would be my signature London friend. The latter blonde turned out to be a bust, while Abby is now my soulmate, my Facebook wife, and the platonic love of my life. I can’t imagine life without her, and yet when we met, she was a stranger. She was just another one of the indistinguishable seven billion sharing my air. When I think about myself in that moment, I go back to my seat on the stairs, I go back to moment when she walked up, and I look at her again, I look at her with eyes from four years later, and I think, Jesus, how did I not realize in that instant how important she would be to me? I look at her, standing slightly over me with the orientation schedule booklet and a somewhat uncertain, lost expression on her face until we reassured her she’d found the right room, and wish I could have known instantly all the amazing moments we would share from then on. I wish I could have jumped up right there and told her that we would love each other endlessly.
When it comes to boys, I travel back in time the same way sometimes. I ask different questions though. Occasionally, I see the moment we met and I think, how I did I not realize he would break my heart, or how did I not realize he was a sociopath, narcissist, *insert fatal personality flaw here*? But often, I go back to that moment and I just try to see them as they were before. I see them again as a stranger and I try to reconcile that distance to intimacy we have later. Like with my friend Levi, I initially met him in an English class during undergrad. The professor always mocked him, teased him, called him out for his heckling and asinine answers. He sat two rows over from me. He always slouched in his desk. He wore god awful shorts. For an entire semester, he was just this strange fellow, who I thought was an idiot. I would have completely forgot about him had he not messaged me on Facebook a year later. He recognized me from class and asked if I wanted to get pizza at a local bar by campus. We hung out a lot during my senior year. He kept in touch when I moved to London. And when I moved back, he was the only friend I still knew in town. We were together for about a year and half, not official or anything. But we were together enough people called us boyfriend and girlfriend. Another year and a half later, we’ve managed to stay friends. And every time I think back to sitting in Professor Epley’s class, I look at Levi, with his poor posture and sarcastic smile. I look at him, knowing that I fell in love with him, that he broke my heart, and I wonder if I ever could have fathomed where the next six years would take us. I look at this idiotic stranger and I think, how could I have ever known I’d fall for such a fool and that he’d still mean so much to me as my friend. Sometimes, I go back to those moments and I regret. I wish I could leave some boys as strangers. I never feel that way with Levi, even despite how things went.
But this week, I’ve been traveling back to another stranger, a new stranger, a new travel. I’ve been going back to two years ago, when I was still with Levi. I was always meeting people through him, particularly clients or more often his coworkers at a PR and marketing firm. It was a small business, owned by a group of creative 30somethings and they were between offices, and the current one at the time was across the parking lot from the local dive bar they as well as Levi and myself always went to, which made it the afterhours pre-game spot. The respective office desks would be abandoned for beer in the front conference room and by the foosball table. I was getting pretty good at the game. I played with Levi and his coworkers all the time. I didn’t think much of meeting the new freelance web designer one night. He was cute, but very quiet, and thus, in that rambunctious crowd, easily forgettable. I beat him viciously in a game of foosball, shook his hand like I did every opponent. Then Levi and I went out the bar and later went to bed like we did most nights. I maybe said five words to the freelancer. I vaguely remember when Levi mentioned he got hired full time. I noticed him appearing more in the periphery at work events and get-togethers that I accompanied Levi to. But he was still a stranger, he was no one special to me.
So lately I’ve been going back to those moments where he was a stranger. I pay more attention now to when Levi introduces us, to the sound of when I hear his name for the first time. Rowan. I watch him shift awkwardly to the edges of conference room until someone suggests he plays me while I wait for Levi’s boss and roommate Scottie to finish his beer. He handles defeat with good grace. And I recall thinking he looked good. He had a strong chin, dappled with stubble and a slightly bushy head full of brown hair. He wasn’t jaw dropping like a model or anything, but there was something pleasant about the way he looked. He was just out of college. I was somewhat surprised that he was so young, which meant he had to be really good for the company to pick him up. But more than anything, I was surprised that I found him attractive. I do remember that thought, brief as I pushed it off, reminding myself that though not officially, I was technically with Levi. Of course, after we met, we never really interacted after that. So it didn’t matter that I thought he was cute. Or at least, I thought it didn’t.
Two years ago, Rowan was a stranger that I barely acknowledged. And when I go back those moments when he’s a stranger, I’m in awe. I look at him from across the foosball table as our men fight and kick for control of the small red ball, and I think, how did I not see him coming?
Rowan. Rowan Dawes, the stranger who would become so intimate.
Time had always impressed me with its power. It moves us like a force all its own without the aggression of motion and action. We tumble with time almost without ever seeing it dragging us along. There’s so much of it that disappears into the cracks of our memory that it seems more like teleportation, or like altogether different lives that we jump into, one after another, searching for one that fits properly, or maybe that’s just relationships. But what’s always fascinated me about time, is how it lets us fall in love with strangers, how it turns random people into anchors in our stories. And the beauty is that we never get to know who it’s going to be. We never know until it’s almost too late to stop it. But who would ever want to stop from falling in love?