I want to thank you.
Not because you’re the reason my first ex and I broke up, or because you distracted me from whatever annoying thought I was having at whatever particular moment. No.
I want to thank you for sitting across from me on the 7-train during that cold February afternoon, for looking at me, and for smiling.
There are days I face a colossal loneliness, so deep and soul crushing that I barely understand how to live. The world feels hollow, the sun doesn’t glow and the wind strips bare the trees I cling to.
When you smiled at me on that crowded New York subway car, from Flushing to Grand Central Station, some great electrical energy set my body on fire in a way I can only now call beautiful. We would later take the same train from Grand Central to Times Square, you standing in the car directly behind mine, we at each end, and we’d smile at each other through the tiny windows as we sped toward the behemoth of Times Square. All I could think is how I’d lose you there, you walking away and disappearing, all these great moments gone like wisps of smoke that fade, and all I’d have left is this memory.
Somehow, by great cosmic chance, we had made our way to the same tracks waiting for the 1-train. Tragically I was going downtown, and you were going uptown, away from me.
I never yelled hello across the platform, or joyfully tried to give you my number, hoping maybe we could get coffee and find something meaningful to talk about, leading to a lifetime of joy, happiness and smiles. No, I let you go instead, drifting off through the city like a snowflake on that wintry day, one glowing face among millions, knowing you’d be gone for good, and that is that.
Some shows never go on. Some things are meant to disappear.
Still, all these years later I remember that smile.
I doubt I’ll ever forget it, wrapped around my brain like a snake that is curled too tightly,
Gone as you are, I know deep down that smile burns far more brightly, heated in its significance and symbolism. You gave me something far greater than your name in that smile.
You showed me the whimsical, fantastical belief that in a wild, crowded city in which everyone is frenetically shuffling around, that someone could smile in a way that says more than just “I hope you’re having a good day.” It was the smile that says “You’re cute and there might be something nice about you.” The smile that says “You could have value in my life.”
You see, we’re all looking for that smile—the “there is something profoundly special about you. You could have value in my life,” smile. We are looking to know that maybe, if only for a second, we’re valuable to a total stranger. Even more, we’d all like to believe that in this crazy, spinning world, we could crash into our soulmate, connect and tumble helplessly into love, bonded in a lifetime of joy, burning forever together. That is something sacred for dreamers to cherish.
There’s magic in this sentiment, a dream that anyone—found at some random, incalculable and brilliantly radiant moment—could be the love of your life. They burst in, incredibly bright and extremely beautiful, full of light, radiating all their energy, and it is meant for you and you alone.
There are no words to describe this. It is the paramount of magic. Even our most magnificent dreams pale in comparison to the glory of true, spectacular love.
At the burning center of it all, maybe it starts with just smiling at someone you find pretty and hoping they’ll smile back, and in the chaotic mess of the world, that will be the start of something beautiful. It can happen at any moment in your life, be it on your way to work, or bumping into someone at the grocery store with a simple “I’m sorry.”
Just never let them slip away into the air of the wide, wide world, far away from you, gone forever.
Author: Nathaniel Culbertson
Editor: Catherine Monkman