On Parks, Benches, and Time

His chest glowed with the good kind of sweat, skin bathed in the faint pink of my string lights. It rose and fell with the deep breaths coming in and out of his parted lips. I could feel the rough scruff on his jaw against my forehead, and if I’d looked up I would’ve seen him blinking hard and fast, hand in his hair like he was about to rip it out.

He shook his head a little and said, “I wonder if I would’ve talked to you if it weren’t for the headphones.”

And I thought of it for a second.

Four months ago, the first thing he ever said to me was, “Nice headphones.” We were sitting on the same bench, in the same park, at the same time. I’d come to the park because my class had been canceled and I was already on campus in any case. My class had been canceled because my professor’s vet was suddenly available, and her newly-rescued puppy urgently needed to get tested for Parvo.

I was wearing the headphones because, a year and a half before, I had gone to the library to study for my first college exam, and took my earbuds with me, because I focused better when I listened to classical piano pieces. I spent the entire day — my birthday, in fact — reading and writing about art history, and left in a daze, mildly late for a dinner I’d scheduled with my closest friends. In my haste, I forgot the earbuds, and when I came back the next morning, they were tragically gone. 

So because I lost the earbuds, I went to Best Buy, and saw a dozen different headphone models, and was too self-conscious to ask an employee for suggestions. I ended up buying the model I did for its lime green edges, because even then I appreciated how graciously New York City allowed me to wear bright colors out in its streets. 

And really, what had brought me to New York to begin with? My reading a blog post that ranked my future University number three of something; some admissions officer’s good mood when reading my application; a last-minute campus tour that got me to thinking, yes, this could be home. It was all so terrifyingly random, the million forks in the road so arbitrary.

I didn’t know his full story. Maybe he’d come to find himself in that park because he liked the way the sounds of the fountain and jazz music blended together on fall afternoons. Maybe he sat on that bench because it rested in the shade of an elm tree, which had been his grandfather’s favorite, and he always missed his grandfather terribly around this time of year. Maybe he looked over to me because I laughed at a text sent by a friend, and maybe he struck up conversation because it’d been too long since he’d last gotten laid, and his ex had just announced her engagement, and though he was really so over her, it still made him feel like he needed to do something.

I thought, thank god for Parvo testing, and for earbud thieves, and for colorful cities, and for whatever minutia lined him toward the same fickle path as mine — same bench, same park, same time. Of course, I couldn’t tell him that. He would’ve called me sappy, and laughed, and kissed the tip of my nose, and he wouldn’t have been wrong exactly. 

What I did was graze my fingertips lightly along the tendon in his neck, and say, “Just glad you did.” 

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