At the gas station, the seed of a romance is sown. As I pull in, I witness across the island at the adjacent pumps, a conversation. I hear the woman – blond, low-cut shirt, despite the winter cold, her parka hanging open, alongside a Jeep Cherokee – “I dropped out. I was out of there.” Him, Subaru station wagon, gray hooded Patriots sweatshirt, sweatpants, work boots: “What year were you?”
She tells him the year and he tells her his. “Oh,” she says, “so I’m older than you.” She has finished pumping, replaces the nozzle, is tightening the cap on her tank.
“You don’t look it,” he says, “you don’t look it at all.”
There is talk of an upcoming party given by a friend they have determined that they know in common. “Oh, you’ll be there?” she asks. He says he might.
“Then, maybe I’ll see you around,” she says, as she steps up into the driver’s seat of her jeep.
“Maybe you will.”
As she pulls away, he is still pumping, and I wonder whether they will, in fact, meet up at the party or how else they might run into each other should they wish to continue this conversation. Might she show up at the gas station, at the same time, next week? Did she catch his license plate as she pulled away? Does he know how to find her phone number from a friend who works at the high school office? I find myself concerned that they didn’t make more of a plan. I am hoping that they will re-connect at the party. Yes, I think, as I get back into my car, re-set the mileage counter to zero. Good, there is the party. They will see each other there.
Over the weekend, I drive downtown, past the tents in Burnside Park. They are covered now with colorful tarps. The sudden snow has blanketed the handmade signs and banners that had been tied and draped along the fence encircling the park. Now, all that is visible are the brightly-colored tops of the tents rising up from the snow – monuments to rage and resilience.
My own political ambitions were short-lived and ill-considered. On a bright cold day in the fall of 2000, M. and I bundled ourselves in scarves and hats and made our way downtown, to the river, with a stack of Nader flyers, and stood braced against the wind in the plaza in front of the tall office buildings. People laughed at us as they passed by. Some snorted. The wind was fierce and made our eyes water. We were not out there for very long. We had barely distributed half our flyers, when we convinced ourselves there were other things we could do, at another time, to support the cause. We threw the flyers in the back of M.’s car and drove off to find lunch. I am not proud of this.
Then a few years later, I filed papers to be a delegate to the 2004 convention. I had begun collecting signatures. I ran into one of the party leaders at a bar downtown and told him I was going to be on the ballot. When he asked me for whom, I told him Howard Dean and he shook his head at me, “Are you an idiot?” he said. He was laughing, but he had turned away from me. “Howard Dean. Well, that’s the stupidest thing I’ve heard all day.”
Over lunch the other day, my friend K. tells me of her new romance. The long weekend afternoons they spend in bed, lounging. After, we walk down the street, through the slush, for coffee. She leans in and whispers details. We are giddy like cheerleaders.
We sit at the counter at the coffee shop and she says, “At this point in our lives, there are some things that are just so easy. You don’t have to do a lot of explaining.”
I think she is still talking about sex. I let her go on: “Like we can just be direct about things. I want you to do this. Please stop doing that. But that. Yes, you should definitely do more of that.” Her cheeks color a little as she speaks. She twists a section of her hair.
“It’s good, you know. It’s really good. A little scary. But good.”
This morning, all the snow has melted, it’s bright and mild. An uncommon day. I eat cheese at my desk, watch the trucks roll past my window, consider the piles and stacks of paper all around me. I work through my email inbox. I listen in on a conference call. I watch the minutes pass and think about how they all pile up – the hours, the days, one on top of the last. I think about the daydreams of high school, college, even. The imagined life I would lead at this time, at forty. It is not that different, really, from what I dreamed it might be. My house, my family, my work, my friends. The way we spend time together – eating, drinking, talking about writing and art and love. How my days follow the broad strokes of what I thought they might – hoped they might. How I didn’t anticipate the sadness in the lives of others, in my own. The longing. That anxiety of being too ambitious. Or not ambitious enough.
One evening after work, I sit opposite a man who is considering a run for public office. He buys me a glass of wine to ask for my assistance. There is a clock outside the window, and I can see that it is barely after five, but it is winter, so it is dark, so dark. He hasn’t spoken to many people about his plans yet. He leans across the table, says: “It frightens me to want anything this badly.“
His eyes are glossy and I wonder if he is about to cry.
“But that is good, isn’t it? To want it – that hunger. You need that, don’t you?” I ask.
He leans back in his chair. Looks around him like he expects someone to walk in. “I’m afraid I won’t know how to go on, you know, if I lose.”
I nod slowly, hold his gaze. I know exactly what he needs me to say, and so I take a deep breath and say it: “Well then, I guess that means that you have no choice but to win.”