We’re both sitting on the train on opposite sides of the aisles. I got a backward-facing seat, he got one looking forward.
Young guy. Beard and a stocking cap. Headphones playing, I’m sure, the coolest of tunes. Jean jacket that somehow looked good on him.
And he and I both blocked out the world with large, old-fashioned Ray Ban knockoff tortoiseshell sunglasses.
I wasn’t wearing a jean jacket or headphones playing the coolest of tunes. I had a jean jacket once. It got ratty and old, wore away around me. So I tossed it.
I had a beard, too. Shaved that one off going on, what? Ten years ago?
He looked cool. Not confident, but with that sort of restless resentment that seems to fit the young. He lounged in his seat while I hunched. He looked like he was in a band. I looked like I was in a stock photo advertising dynamic business solutions.
Bit by bit over the years, my outfit matured. I dropped the jean jacket, got the black pea coat I now wear everywhere. The beard came and went. I haven’t dyed my hair green in 15 years.
I started getting my shoes shined, buying new shirts and pants instead of waiting for birthdays. I received a watch as a gift. I feel naked without it. I gathered collar stays and cuff links, started wearing ties even when working at places that didn’t require them.
The few wisps of gray on my widow’s peak started to become a streak.
And last winter I gave in, got a plaid cap with earflaps that wrap around my head.
I’m young and attractive, I’m told. I’ve got my life ahead of me. And I have the benefits of a little seasoning. I know what wines I like, how to tie a bow tie and how I take my scotch. I have opinions on politics and the proper preparation of steak.
That’s just what we tell ourselves isn’t it? Wisdom and steaks and scotch. I had a slush stain on my shirt from leaning my elbow against a bus window that morning. Most of my ties are dappled with flecks of coffee if you look too hard. I haven’t gotten my shoes shined in months, and it shows. More Jimmy from accounting than James Bond from MI6.
When you’re young, you see slush-stained office workers running for the trains, earflaps whipping in the breeze. You don’t think you’ll be one of them.
But there he was, restless and resentful and oozing a thick aroma of discomfort because he had better places to be. And here I was, a careworn office nerd calculating when I can make time for a dental cleaning.
Then there were the sunglasses.
I don’t romanticize the past. I was depressed and terrified, all the weight of the world but none of the experience to help me deal with it. Traumas that would merit a quick gripe today would knock me aside for months.
Older, grayer, a little chubbier than I want to be and with a slush stain on my elbow, I glanced at the young guy. Through identical lenses, he might have seen me.
He’s got his own traumas ahead, his own scars and terror, his own burnt steaks and knotted bow ties. The man with the same sunglasses has a long way to go before he gets to be me.
We’re both sitting on the train; him facing forward, me looking back.