The Starbucks barista smiles at me with dark green eyes. His nametag reads Luke. There is something about our morning exchange that leaves me feeling unsettled. These moments, fleeting, provide momentary glimpses of past events. And then I remember.
A Chance Meeting:
I arrive at the airport. I am nearly drunk. I was on my third glass of wine when he called to tell me to book a flight to Bangkok. I packed so fast I couldn’t remember what I even had in my suitcase next to me. I was excited. Excited to see Thailand. Excited to see him? At that point I can’t be certain, things were strained. It’s a sad moment when you realize things aren’t meant to be. I can remember it vividly in our case;
I was walking on the beach, alone. It was cold that morning but I still put my feet in the ocean’s small tide. I looked below me as the water and sand buried my toes. There it was. The most beautiful seashell. I knelt down to grab it and my first thought was to give it to him. I’d tell him that I had been thinking of him and of our love when I chanced upon this. And that’s when I realized he would never spot a beautiful seashell. Nor would he ever think to gift it to me. I wept as I walked back, careful to avoid strangers’ glances. When I came home I wrote to him;
I found love in the sand today, small, beautiful, perfect. I immediately wanted to give it to you. But after some time I decided that it’s mine.
Because I give everything to you.
So just this one time I’m keeping something for myself.
And so I am in line for Thai Airlines, tipsily smiling at the clerk in the blue blazer. I hand him my passport and he retrieves my itinerary. I find myself amidst Asians in a boarding gate. I have always loved Asians, their language, their food, their smiles. I’m wearing a tight dress with brown boots and I see a man staring at me. I avoid his gaze and call my mom to tell her I’m flying to Thailand tonight. She isn’t surprised but sighs and asks me to be careful and to say hi to him. He’s flying from Tokyo to meet me. I haven’t seen him in a month, not since we spent that week together in Madrid.
A man, the only white man, is wearing a striped button down shirt and jeans. He’s cute, early 30’s. I smile at him and walk over. I sit beside him but do not talk. He finally clears his throat and asks why I am going to Thailand. I say, “why not?” This pleases him and he asks if I am a model. I laugh and shake my head no. I can’t tell if he is trying to flatter me or just wondering why I am traveling alone without a backpack or Lonely Planet guidebook. He reaches across the plastic stationary chairs and introduces himself with a firm handshake. “I’m Luke.” I tell him my name. The plane is boarding and I am happy because I do not feel like answering any more questions. I pass him in first class as I walk back to the commoner’s section. He grasps my arm and tells me to come visit if I’m bored. I politely remove my wrist from his grasp and tell him likewise.
The flight isn’t even close to being full and I find myself in an empty row. It’s 9:30 at night and I order a glass of red to keep my buzz going. I’m thinking about him and what it will be like when we see each other. Will we run into open arms, kisses and hugs? Will I look at him and wish I hadn’t come? Maybe everything will be normal again… except it never was normal, how could it be. How has a year gone by? He tells me I am naïve, maybe. I tell him I’m an optimist. I think he’s waiting for me to give up on him. I think I am waiting for that too. I’m still thinking these things when I feel someone standing over me. It’s Luke. He slides into the seat next to me and tells the stewardess to grab two more glasses of wine. I look at the time, it’s 11:30.
His eyes are dark green. He tells me he lives in Bangkok. He was in LA visiting family. I tell him I’ve just moved to LA only a few months ago. He asks me where I’ve moved from and I tell him. He loves Barcelona and wants to visit again. I miss Spain and so I listen to him sing her praises. I am always in awe of what words people use to describe things I feel strongly about. I repeat these words and wonder if I’d ever use them. Sometimes I quietly remember to borrow them for future descriptions, inevitably failing when the next opportunity arises. We drink our wine and discuss the difficulties of living so far from home, wherever that is. He smells good, like Old Spice, and I find myself leaning closer as we exchange favorite authors. He tells me that he’s been living in Thailand for seven years. That’s a long time and I think back to who I was seven years ago, someone different, someone unchanged. And then I ask him if he has a girlfriend there. My head is on his shoulder now and I can feel it tense as he says that he does. She is Thai and has an eleven-year old son. I politely remove my head from his shoulder and he looks sad. He asks me if I have a boyfriend. I hesitate. Why? I tell him yes and then I look at him and tell him no. He stares, puzzled. And I tell him about the seashell. He nods as if he knows, but how can anyone possibly understand unless they are me!? He guesses that he is a business man. I give him affirmation with lowered brows. And suddenly I feel more intimacy, more realness, in this one conversation with a stranger than I have in my relationship for the past four months. We talk until 3am. It’s a seventeen hour flight and so far the time is going by quickly, easy. The cabin lights are dim, creating an almost dreamlike effect as our wine and conversation take hold. Finally I sense we are dangerously approaching a moment when a line will be crossed. I want him to hold me, but I am still another’s and will not be without integrity. I tell him I’m tired, and I am. He understands and excuses himself to walk back to his seat. I sleep.
When I awake we still have many hours before landing. I sip a coffee and try to distract myself with a movie. I journal. I wonder if he’ll come back. But I don’t want to think about Luke now, I want to think about him.
We land and I walk through customs alone. How many times will I go through customs alone? I’m not bothered, simply amused. I decide I prefer to travel alone, it allows me to take things in without distraction. I get to the baggage area and I see Luke up to the left. I stay put. His shirt is now crumpled, un-tucked and his dark brown hair is matted in the back. His luggage comes and I see him pulling it towards me. I pretend not to notice as I search for my suitcase. He hands me a card with his handwritten number on it. He tells me to please be safe and to call him if I need anything. I thank him, take the card and say goodbye. We do not hug but I sense he wants to. I turn around. And he walks back to me. He awkwardly holds me, just for a moment, and tells me “good luck.” As he walks away I wonder if he’ll remember this. And later when he holds me I think of Luke and the seashell…and I know