I can’t deny that I was enjoying myself relaxing on the park bench while watching my small son run around in the playground area. The day was warm, and it was my favorite time of afternoon when the light had a golden hue to it and time smacked of relaxation.
And then I saw him.
He came around the main play structure, chasing after a very small girl—his daughter, I surmised. At first, I thought he was this person I used to know, and that’s why I sat up and paid closer attention—taking care, of course, not to be obvious. It took a long time of watching him to assure myself he wasn’t the person I used to know. This was good, because if I knew him, I’d have to possibly get up and go say hi, and I’d be flustered, and not know what to say, and generally make an ass of myself, as I always used to do around him.
But the resemblance was uncanny. Same coloring, same build, same country of origin, even, since I could hear his accent from where I sat. I watched as he called to an older child, a boy, who had a name typical of his home country. The mother of the children wasn’t in view, and I allowed myself to wonder if he’d gotten himself into a situation and not married her, or had divorced early perhaps. What kind of woman had trapped him? Because he was the kind of skittish guy that had to be trapped.
Yes, fine, it wasn’t the same guy, but close enough!
The fact remained this man was like an addictive drug, just as the person I used to know had been my heroin. The way he carried himself, the way he spoke, even the way he looked off in the distance seemed dear. Even now I’m at a loss as to how the two could be so similar. I adjusted my staring and made sure I turned my head toward my son many times—both because I had to as a responsible mother, but also because this man was alert—just as the person I used to know was always alert—and his eyes (oh, his eyes!) darted around the playground often.
Then his wife came into view. My mouth dropped open and I sat up, thankful that my dark sunglasses allowed observation without detection. That was his wife? This was what he’d married and procreated with? Wait, he’d slept with that? He’d shunned me when I’d known him! And now he’d turned to this potato sack? I hoped she was a friend, or a relative, and not his wife, but then she reached over affectionately pulled down the bill of his hat (oh, how I wanted to tug the bill of his hat!), and smiled at him in a way that belied intimacy. His reaction wasn’t satisfactory—not if I’d been her—but then hey. She’d scored and married him.
The two were so mismatched that it was laughable. I felt hideously mean for thinking this, I still do, but there it is. Look, I’ll be plain—I never thought much of myself, never had a very big helping of self-esteem, and it certainly took a dive after knowing the man I used to know. But God, I wasn’t that bad. Not everyone is a beauty queen, but his wife was clearly living a different lifestyle than he was. No one is perfect, but she had stopped caring.
His eyes continued to dart around the playground. Watchful, aware. The two boys my son was playing with kicked each other down and their father told them they were leaving. My son stared forlornly after them, and I decided now was a good time to go. Otherwise, I couldn’t trust myself not to get up and get closer to the guy under the guise of seeing what my son was up to. I couldn’t trust myself not to drool, or make some other unseemly sign from my bench. He’d see it. I could be assured of that. His head turned in my direction when I got up as it was.
It wasn’t until we were in the car and driving away with this man well out of sight that it hit me: he’d been glancing at me, too. His watchful eyes hadn’t darted to other areas of the playground. He’d seen me from afar. Maybe I resembled some woman he’d known before. Maybe he really loved his potato sack, but he couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to be with someone who looked human, and whose ideals matched his own. I was that person! Of course I was. I’d always been. Now, we’d both married other people and invested in them--and there are no regrets with my husband, none at all--and we’d had kids. We’d committed to other things in life, to the joy of our own children. It was time to forget all the nonsense of the past and look forward to the lives we’d built.
But damn it if his notice of me today wasn't like water in dry cracks. I could have had him. It would have just taken a twist of quantum physics to put us in a different time and space, and possibly a different man entirely. I was okay with that. I could have had him.