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Why I’m Still Cool
A couple years ago I was walking around downtown, pretending I had something important to do there, when really I was just wasting another dateless Saturday. Boredom does strange things to a person, and combined with loneliness (if it is possible to be lonely in a city as big as Baltimore) they can wreak havoc on your sanity. I had become one of those people I always swore I’d never be: the type that lives to read cheesy, cliché romance novels while eating Cheez-its and watching “Judge Judy” with a spoiled, overfed dog at my feet. Whether I realized it or not, I needed something to revive whatever coolness was left in me.
I definitely did not expect, however, for my salvation to come in human form. Shuffling along the sidewalk, dressed in sweats and sneakers, was HIM. I almost didn’t recognize him. He never wore sweats back when we were together. He always dressed so trendy and so preppy that some people thought he was gay. And there he was, looking like a perfect bum. But I’m sure I looked just as unkempt, with my hair unbrushed, no make-up on, and wearing slippers—the big, fuzzy, pink kind.
I was about to walk right up to him when I realized I couldn’t let him see me like this. He wouldn’t know who I was. I imagined what it would be like:
“Hey, stranger,” I would say.
“Hey...! What happened to you?” he would reply. “Are you okay?” Then he would ask if I was dying of a chronic illness or something.
So much about my life had changed too. I never went out on Friday nights anymore. I was more like one of those weird old ladies who have too many pets and no friends. What if he hadn’t changed as much as I had? If he could see my apartment now he’d think I was some kind of freak. I couldn’t let him see me. I ducked behind a parking meter. I peeked out a few minutes later to see if he was gone yet. The coast looked clear enough. I stepped out cautiously and started home (“Judge Judy” was coming on soon) looking over my shoulder to make sure he was really gone.
“Ow!” I tripped over someone and landed facedown on the sidewalk. I sat up about to curse out whoever just tripped me. “You mutha—” I stopped. It was HIM. He grinned. That all too familiar goofy, boyish grin that used to make me weak at the knees.
“Sorry,” he said. He looked a little closer. “Sara? Is that you?”
“Hey, Tommy,” I said, my face turning red.
We picked ourselves up and he immediately hugged me.
“Wow! I can’t believe it’s you!” As he hugged me I found he’d grown something of a beer belly. “And you look so good!” Wow. So he’s still good at lying, I thought.
“You do too,” I said. Might as well return the favor, since we’re not being honest here.
He stopped hugging me, put his hands on my shoulders, and looked into my face. “What you been up to these last, what is it? Five years?”
“Yeah. It feels like ten, though. I finished school, and I’ve been working. Writing. Editing for a small newspaper. How bout you?”
“Oh, I quit college—too stuffy for me. The droning professors and hard tests. There wasn’t enough action there. So I went home for a few months till my parents kicked me out and made me get a job. I’m in waste management.”
I couldn’t contain myself. “You’re a garbage man???”
“Yeah.” He didn’t sound the least bit ashamed. “It’s smelly work, but you get used to it after a while.” I wondered what that smell was.
We stood there for a moment in awkward silence. Then he asked what I’d hoped for years he would ask when we met again.
“Hey, you wanna go out for burgers or something?”
But instead of the ecstatic “YES!” I’d rehearsed:
“No...uh, I can’t today. I have to go to work...And I’m working late all this week.”
“On a Saturday you have to work?” he asked earnestly.
“Yep. I’m a pretty hard-core writer. Sorry. Look me up some time.” I turned to walk away with as much dignity as possible in my pink fuzzy slippers.
“Hey, can I get your number or something?” he called after me.
“Sorry, I gotta go!” I hollered back.
So much for my romantic reunion. Later that day as I curled up on the couch with my box of Cheez-its, I felt better about myself. HE had devolved into a loser, while my fat dog and I were still cool.