I don't believe in coincidences. Whatever you file amazing, potentially life-altering happenstances under-fate, predestination, God-I filed one yesterday. Still too fresh and incredible to share, but not unlike the one other time this has happened in my life.
His name was Matthew. You remember him. The one you grew up with in elementary school who had the eye tick everyone made fun of. He existed in a constant nervous social bubble, causing him to repeatedly stroke his thighs with his moist hands. His head seemed too large for his body, his neck too loose, like a bobble head with bad hair, but no one thing identified him as someone with a condition for which the teasing became taboo. He was just Matthew. He drank glue and ate snot and that was just him. He held a small, forgettable slot in my fifth grade memories until he moved away.
Nine years passed. I moved twelve hundred miles away to attend college. Fresh back from Europe and internalizing the enormity of the planet, its boundaries and people, I moved through a Randall's supermarket checkout late one night.
"Hey, I think I know you," the checker said. His arm stalled, whatever item I'd bought dangling forgotten over the scanner.
In an instant I knew. Not the kind of metamorposis most boys undergo-deeper voice, matured face that would render someone from the past unrecognizable. Dressed in a blue supermarket apron, he was the same boy on growth pills.
"Did you grow up in Denver?" he asked.
"Yeah, I did. You're Matthew." Genius, given his name tag, but I knew so much more about him. I remembered him sitting on the parallel bars at recess because no one invited him to play wall kick-ball. He'd sit alone at a study carol in the library instead of the seven steps littered with pillows where everyone else accumulated to read. He stuttered when he spoke up in class.
I smiled, a genuine release stemming from the incredible odds and the unbridled enthusiasm reflected from him. The vast, tiny world closed in on that express lane.
He remembered my name. First and last. His eyes, his smile, lit up like he'd stumbled upon some family reunion complete with fireworks.
"This is incredible! How are you? What are you doing here?"
"I go to school here."
A Greek blond, leading a brigade of impatient customers behind me in line, snapped her gum and shoved her Zimas closer to the scanner. Matthew glanced at her, felt the rush of the moment. His words shot out rapid-fire.
"Give me your number. We can catch up sometime when I'm not swamped."
I scrawled my name and seven genuine digits across a corner he'd ripped from a paper in his apron. Something about it spelled relief for him, no longer a passing moment never to be recaptured.
His shoulders relaxed, his speech returned to casual. He uttered those three words girls loathe. "I'll call you." This time they were a comfort. What could he and I possibly have to talk about? How I never once went over to those parallel bars? How I'd never borrow a pencil or wish for one of my own back from him because I was afraid of some unknown funk residue? Did I ever once show him a shred of human decency in my own child-like way?
I bid him good-bye and left, fresh with an OMG story to tell my roommates and a lingering sense of awe at the distance and time. I tried to find meaning, because there are no coincidences.
The next night, alone in my dorm room, the phone rang. I listened to the insistent bell vibrate seven, eight rounds that night, certain it was him, but unable to understand why I wouldn't pick it up. Rings born of the same excitement we'd both been guilty of. Curiosity. A desperate need to connect. Instead, I tackled a creative writing assignment I'd been putting off. As bad as this poem is, it came fully formed that night, later published in a class anthology:
He was the one
Who would make you laugh
When he did something wrong
Laugh, at his expense.
He was the one
The boys would shove
The girls would ignore and giggle at
The one no one wanted.
He was the one
I saw last week at a store
A thousand miles away and nine years ago
He was the one I giggled at.
He and I recognized each other
And pretended a long lost friendship had been reclaimed
He and I are near again
Much as we were back then.
He was the one who found my number
And called hours after the encounter
I still have not called him
Because they would think I was like him.
Not a proud moment, the poem or my deplorable inertness, but I did take something away from it. From that night on, I was determined that every student who set foot in my classroom would never feel what Matthew must have. On recess duty, I'd head up a kickball game with a special invite or make sure I had pressing business I needed some special hands for. An attonement, too late for Matthew.
This yesterday encounter, incredible on its own, but a complete echo of Matthew came full circle. There are no coincidences. Only fleeting pockets of meaning.
Its up to us file them.