Strangers Like Me

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I climb the steps of a shuttle to take me to the airport. The doors close behind me and off we go. I’m not one to talk to strangers first unless I’m manic, and I was not. Not at all. When a man about my age in a business suit commented “interesting shoes,” I was beyond faking pleasantries; I managed a quiet “these are my Modigliani shoes, but she’s not smiling, so I think they are making me sad.”

“I don’t think that’s what’s making you sad.”

I looked at him and there wasn’t a trace of a patronizing smile across his face; in fact there wasn’t a smile at all.

“Going away or heading home?” I ask. He is just visiting for a few days.

This makes my confession a lot easier. I have something I want to tell someone that I will probably never say again. And he wants to listen instead of talk, so I’m taking advantage of it.

“I had a front row center ticket to Next to Normal. I could have been the main character. Almost. I must have been close to a microphone, because I heard myself crying at a moment when there was dead silence in the theater. And it was projecting. At least that’s what I thought. So I held in my crying when I could, and they turned to sobs, and there were three songs that I am sure I inverse sobbed my way through. Even the hopeful song at the end. When I woke up the next day, my ribcage and insides felt bruised from holding in sobs. I’ve never had that happen to me before. Have you?”

Awkward silence. Or so I thought.

“I will let you know.” I looked at his gray green eyes and they were welling up. “I’m on my way to my mother’s funeral.” He was able to keep the tears just at the rims of his eyes without spilling over. He stood up and cleared his throat as the shuttle doors open.

Reaching into his pocket, he pulls out his business card and extends his hand towards mine; I look at the logo and read the card as he disappears into the crowd. He is a truck driver, and he lives in the town I was born in. We could have made small talk about my hometown, but I’m glad we didn’t.