A Stranger. A Girl Named Melanie. And a Clock.

I haven’t been following the subway rules. I have been talking to strangers. My Atlanta friends would shrug, my New York City friends would worry and my grandmother would- well, I’d never tell her. Yesterday I was looped into an accidental conversation. I didn’t mean to respond, but I never mastered the art of ignoring people (Kim Beck, how do you do it?). When someone talks, I talk back.

I was just trying to see when the next train was coming, but the guy underneath the clock thought I was looking at him. It was out of a movie. Girl waves to friend, guy in front of friend waves back, girl feels too bad to correct him. Have I painted the picture? Now substitute the friend for a clock.

The guy walked over and I knew he was about to say something crazy. It was the way he was walking. You see, it was really more of a stroll. The kind of stroll a guy does in the club on Friday night after he gets paid and realizes he can buy drinks. Only we were on the subway platform. In the morning. Sober.

“What’s your name?”

“Melanie.”

“Melody? Am I saying that right?”

“Melanie.”

“Mellory?”

Who the hell is named Mellory? “No. Melanie.” Only I would make up a fake name and then correct someone for getting my fake name wrong.

“Hi MelaNIE. What are you doing?”

“Waiting on the train? What are you doing?” Only I would ask someone I didn’t want to talk to (who was obviously waiting on the train too) what they were doing.

“I’m talking to my future wife.”

I laugh. Only I would laugh at someone who wasn’t really funny. Or is that funny? Maybe a little bit.

“Where are you going for work?”

“To babysit.”

“So you’re a babysitter?”

Yes because a babysitter babysits. “Yes.”

“I wish you would babysit me.”

This is when I turn around. I taught for two years which means I’ve heard every teacher and/or caretaker pick up line. I’ll bring you an apple. They make teachers like that? Let me go back to school. I can’t read that well. Will you tutor me? Let’s do some math-you plus me…Those jokes were never funny, but now they’re just really old. I roll my eyes.

“I’m sorry Melanie! I’m being dumb. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay.”

Only I would accept an apology from a stranger who thought I was looking at him instead of a clock. Where is the train anyway?

“So Melanie. Check this out! Look at my phone. I was walking around today in Queens and I met this celebrity.” He pulls out his phone. “You watch The Wire right?”

“No.”

“Okay well he’s from The Wire.” I see him standing next to an old man smiling. I have never seen the actor before in my life, but he looks genuinely happy to be standing next to him.

“Cool!”

“I met two celebrities today.”

“Who else?”

“You.”

I laugh then turn around again because I realize his bad jokes are actually sort of funny and I actually don’t know how to ignore people and this is actually how people go missing on Without a Trace. I’m last seen at the subway stop near home. I never show up to pick the kids up from school. My friends say it is so unlike me to not answer my phone. Oh my gosh where is the train!? Yes! The train. No! He’s getting on too. That’s right. What are we doing? Both waiting for the train. 

“You have a man?”

“Yes.”

“Mannn and I thought today was my lucky day!”

“It still can be, just not with me.”

“I broke up with my girlfriend in 2009.”

“Why?” Robin, stop asking him questions.

“She was jealous.”

“That’s a terrible trait. If you’re jealous in love, you’re jealous in life.” Why am I egging him on? And where did I get that phrase from? It’s like a jingle. A very cryptic jingle.

“Yea and she was abusive. She thought it was cute to put her hands on me. Well, it was cute sometimes, but not when she was-”

“Yea I get it. I’m sure 2014 will bring you something or someone better. You can only go up from abuse.” You can only go up from abuse? That was the worst pep talk I’ve ever given.

The train stops. At Grand Central I poke my head out. I always see how long it takes for the express train to come so I can either switch or stay. I stepped off the train to get a better view. I hear his voice behind me. “Who are you looking for?” The doors close and I see him blur past me. I start cracking up. The kind of laughter that makes strangers wonder if you’re crazy. Only it’s New York City and everyone is crazy. Who was I looking for? I laugh some more. I was looking for the clock.

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