Commuters (A Non Love Story)
I met Emily on the second week of third grade. I guess what drew me to her first was her absolute toughness. In any moment of adversity, she’d ball up her fists, rally up her motley group, and disparage the tyrants (which were usually the popular kids in the schoolyard.) And to me, a scrawny, timid, nerdy kid, she was definitely the kind of company I desperately sought. We were good childhood friends. I don’t think I was necessarily in love with her then, just in awe of her, really.
Nowadays, at the ever-confusing age of nineteen, I usually spent my time rummaging around the local DIY-rock scene in my area, going thrift store shopping with my friends for odd, yet eccentric t-shirts, and getting lectured by my parents about the future. Emily, who lived in the same city as I did, had a boyfriend and I’d occasionally see her at shows and house parties. She now considered herself an artist, a poet, more specifically. She had a rather impressive Instagram feed and would occasionally post recordings of her singing original songs onto Facebook. She now kept her hair short and messy and could usually be seen sporting her boyfriend’s old band shirts or an oversized sweater.
We both got accepted into the local university straight out of high school, we were both English majors, but I was certain she was better suited for it than me. We commuted to school together on Fridays because our schedules, out of pure serendipity, lined up. We had been making this commute together for two months now, but the novelty of this twenty-three minute (approximately) commute never wore away for me. I pulled up to her driveway, which was carefully lined with potted plants of assorted varieties of brightly colored flowers. She always waited for me, seated with a book at the window, so there was no need to text her. She quickly skipped down the porch stairs after locking the front door and got into my car.
“Hey,” she sighed as she sat. “Hi, how are you?” I carefully replied, while putting the car in reverse and backing out of the driveway. “Oh, I’m good, just been a busy week. You?” she was looking down at a paper, looked like an essay to me. “Oh me? Yeah, I’m good, I’m good,” I pushed my disheveled hair back. “How do you feel about starting off you analytical essays with a question?” She asked with furrowed eyebrows. I cleared my throat, “Uh, I try to avoid it. I mean, I just don’t really like the inconsistency of it — but I don’t know.” She looked down at the paper, then back up at me. “Oh God — you’re right, you’re so right. This whole paper’s gone to shit. Why did I even — ? God, never mind.” She was always one for dramatics. She was so fun to watch when she felt things that would otherwise be mundane, she always made everything a worst case or best case scenario. One extreme to the next, she’d been this way since we were kids.
“Hey, I like this song,” she reached over to turn it up, the eclectic mix of bracelets on her wrists jingling as she did so. I tried to suppress a grin. “You like Mansions?” I glanced over at her. “I mean, like.. I’ve never listened to them extensively — but I like this song.” She said while bobbing her head to the music. I loved how comfortable she was with everyone. She had no reservations about turning up the radio to a song she liked, dancing in the confines of the car, and singing along, even when she didn’t know all of the words. She would sing along in a melodramatic fashion, even holding up her imaginary microphone to me so I could have my fifteen seconds of fame.
After the song had finished, we spent several minutes of the ride in silence, which I preferred and she avoided. She hated silence, always striking up conversation about anything and everything to mask it. In these minutes she missed things — like the way she hastily pushes her hair behind her ear when she’s thinking of something stressful or the way she gazes outside of the window, wondering about the families that live in each and every house we pass by. When we do conversate, which is most of the time, she twists the ring she wears on her middle finger when she’s trying to remember the very important and very specific details of a memory made this passed weekend.
She rolled the window down, and rested her head there. I loved the way the wind would blow through her hair — like invisible fingers running through it. The way the sun would accentuate the blondness of it, creating a light-infused halo around her. She closed her eyes against the brightness, her lips forming a soft upper-turned curve. The top of her shirt catching the wind and tousling about… She was lovely. In the silence, I could think of all of these things, these seemingly simple gestures — like playing instruments singularly, but put together in the manifestation that was Emily, it made her an orchestra of carefully crafted symphony.
I had a friend tell me once that he couldn’t believe I was so ‘caught up’ on her… that she was so ‘average.’ And sure, she cares a little too much about her image, she enjoys her ever-cliche Starbucks, and she listens to Bon Iver because she thinks it adds to her aesthetic — but it’s what sets her apart that makes her exceptionally unique to me. She can talk politics for hours and she cares so deeply for others, she made me stop on our way to school once to pick up a stray dog so she could deliver it safely to a shelter, causing us to miss lecture, she writes poetry, and it’s actually really good. Her answer to anything is always yes… I just think my friends and I have a weird superiority complex about being different from everyone else — only delving into the obscure, putting us in the pretentious hipster subcategory of human.
As we approached the parking garage for school, she straightened herself up and rolled up the window. She brushed through her hair with her fingers and checked herself in the sun visor mirror. She groaned, “looks like I haven’t slept for days.” She patted underneath her eyes with her ring finger. “You look great, Em,” I shot her a warm smile. I pulled into a parking spot and turned off the car. She gathered her things and turned to me. “As per usual, thanks for not killing us on the way over here, I’m going to meet up with Jess before lecture, want to come?” She already had one foot out of the car.
“No, it’s okay, I think I’ll just wait here for a bit, thanks for including me, though,” I started digging through my backpack for headphones. She got out of the car and told me she’d see me later before shutting the door.
I put my headphones in and listened to some playlist a friend had made for me and sunk back in my seat. I thought about what people would think if they knew how deeply I felt for Emily. But the reality is, I wouldn’t care what they thought because I’d never pursue her. We are perfect just as we are now, and just as we always were as kids. No expectations, no physicality, just love in its most innocent sense. I caught a glimpse of her approaching Jess and I saw a big smile spread across her face as they embraced. As I saw them become smaller and smaller as they made their way onto campus, I smiled to myself. There was something so comforting about being in love with Emily and her being so blissfully unaware of it. At least for now.