Friday, September 20, 2013

Traces of Intimacy

        The metaphor was almost too much to bear. I was boarding a bus to my new home, my new life. Hugging my mom and waving good-bye, I got onto the bus, one way to Philadelphia. I sat down in the only seat on the first floor of the bus where I could be alone, hoping to lose myself in the symbolism of it all, removed from the reality of a bus full of actual people. I thought of my mom and how much she loves me. I have been alive for 21 years and had made leaving home a sort of pastime of mine. For college, jobs, trips. I was always leaving, always going. But this time it was different because I was literally boarding the bus to the inevitability of adulthood, moving on with little reason to come back. My mom was crying when I left her. The depth of my mom's love for me is overwhelming, and sometimes, surprising. Tears slowly dripped from my eyes to my lap thinking about it all. The open seat next to me was a comforting bit of space. After a few minutes, I wondered why weren't moving, impatient to complete the metaphor. But then she came back. She, a tall, slender, beautiful girl of about my age, returned from the bus station with bus station snack foods cradled in her arms to reclaim her seat, the seat next to mine.
         She was dressed for comfort. She had on sweatpants and a hoody over a tank top. Even in her dressed down state, it was clear that she was beautiful. She approached me, and said "Sorry," with a genuinely apologetic smile and a slight head tilt. I stood up from the outside seat and let her pass to the window seat she relinquished to retrieve her breakfast, which consisted of a bag of Fritos, a chocolate covered, creme filled donut, and a bottle of Pepsi. Her presence next to me changed everything. I could no longer indulge my feelings or succumb to my metaphor, I was forced to wrestle with the reality of being in that place and time, next to her, on this bus, waiting to depart. She sat down and began to eat, while I reclaimed my seat and began fidgeting with my phone as an escape from the unsettling awareness of her next to me.
        As soon as the journey started, I became more comfortable with her by my side. Or rather, it felt to me, oddly, that we became more comfortable with each other and our forced closeness. Even despite this new, unspoken, trust between us, I remained facing out toward the aisle of the bus, with my body directed away from her in an attempt to distance myself from her, to regain some semblance of solitude. Eventually, it became physically uncomfortable to sit at an angle, so I turned back to sit straight, coming back to her. As I situated myself, our arms touched. I felt the warm cotton of her sleeves against my bare skin. I tensed up, and pulled my arm away from her instinctively, feeling a mix of worry and shame. She seemed much more poised about it, but she moved away just as quickly. We apologized in unison, and met eyes for the first time since leaving the bus station. I looked away quickly, as if I had seen something I was not intended to have seen. Her beauty and sincerity made me feel shameful. She, too, looked away quickly, steering her gaze out the window at the passing scene. Even though our eyes locked for that solitary moment, I realized that I didn't know exactly what she looked like. I wanted to really see her. So every now and again, I would steal a glance at her, taking in her profile as she continued to face out toward the window.
        The journey was a little more than halfway over and we still hadn't spoken once, save for the apologies. Her arm would press itself into my arm a few more times, her shoulder would nudge into mine, her leg would settle up against mine, and every time I would react with the same shame and fear as the first time we touched. I moved away, adjusted how I was sitting, in an attempt to prevent our bodies colliding again. I was fearful of disturbing her personal space. Then, she adjusted herself in her chair so she could fall asleep. In doing so, she pushed her arm and shoulder  hard into mine. This is the only time our bodies came in to contact where one of us was made to absorb the other, to welcome the other into the space of our bodies. I stood my ground, allowing her to rest her arm against mine, allowing her to touch me. She eventually fell asleep, never moving her arm from where it was, and I never moved away from her. It was in that moment, that I had a felt the way one does when exploring the body of a new lover for the first time. The feeling that I had when I was able to trace the contours of my first love. The feeling of going home with someone from a party and climbing on top of them, becoming entangled in one another until the moment comes when the sun breaks, and reality, life, steals you both away from each other. This encounter on the first floor of a Megabus en route to Philadelphia, this unspoken trust, is intimacy. This particular moment, I thought, may have been the most intimate I had ever experienced. She expressed her trust in me, allowing me to be with her, touch her. I was curious, excited, shameful, and afraid, as I was the first time I stood naked before another person, who stood before me mirroring my nudity, anticipating the eventual merger of our bodies, the pleas to come closer, the dissolution of the boundaries between us. And then, upon returning to the natural order of things, into one's own body, an overwhelming sense of relief, comfort, and security.
      I still do not know exactly what she looked like. I don't know her name, why she was traveling, or even if she shared my thoughts about our bodies and us. However, I do know that in that moment that she pushed her arm into mine we became more than strangers, we became connected in some way. Our relationship was void of speech, but not of communication, as we spoke in the most natural, deep, and connected way people know. We allowed the intuition of our bodies to dictate the conversation. Most likely, I will never see her again. But, her body will always be imprinted into mine, mine in hers, because when two people are intimate, when two becomes one, there will always be a trace of that person on your body, within your body, and you, on and within their body.