When I was younger, I developed what I imagined to be some sort of obscene fantasy. I would meet the love of my life while traveling via some means of public transportation: on a bus, on a ferry, on a plane, on a train.
The concept of meeting my soul mate while en route to separate, final destinations (presented then with the immediate decision of choosing a final destination together or risking it all and saying goodbye) was romantic. At one point in time, I would seek out situations where I hoped to meet him. I would travel awkwardly, would choose my seat assignments based on whether or not the seat next to me had already been reserved. I would sit on the bus in the seat closest to the window, attentive always of the level of welcome emitted by my body language.
In my lap would rest my sketchbook and fine tipped pen. Quietly streaming through my headphones would be lyrics of love and desperation and hope.
I eventually married a man I met in a bar.
While the piecing together of that sentence seems assumptive on my levels of a lacking earth-shattering love, I cannot deny the magic there. We met and married within two years. I’d always been a planner; on the to-do list of my life, he checked off many of the boxes. Fall in love. Get married. Buy a house. Have children. My life became a series of boxes, and my happiness relied on checking them off. By the age of 23, I had checked off nearly all of my life goals, and when I looked ahead five years, I feared my life growing stale, developing habits and routines that revolved not around striving towards fantasies unlikely to happen, but instead around a life laid out logically in stone.
In time, I realized that I had lived for a very long time based on the shoulds that I grew up believing were mine for the keeping. I did exactly everything that I thought I should do.
On a wintery morning in March, thunder accompanied the falling snow.
On the train into work, sitting a handful of aisles away from but still facing me was a man who I believed - yes, even upon the first time I saw him - to be the love of my life. I had not planned this.
I can say now that I am a bad person for having caused so much pain.
I was married. He was married. Destruction was imminent.
For a year following the first time we saw each other, we discovered a love I believe each of us had imagined since our youths. Time slowed down and seemed to come to a halt. The world changed forever. In the quiet stillness we whispered of our shoulds, and we knew our every kiss to be their contradiction.
In September, our world ended again. It was an end we had discussed while trying both to resist and prepare for. It had been slowly breaking through the surface of our world for months, but with a quick and unalterable jolt of tectonic plates, the world - again - would never be the same.
Underneath the shade of a maple tree, his phone rang between sips of coffee. I heard as his wife asked who I was. He told her I was the woman he fell in love with. I forgot my lungs needed air.
That night, I told my husband.
Ten months after we met, I moved out of the house that checked off one of my series of boxes. Unforgivably, I broke the heart of a man who’d promised exactly that to me: his heart. I moved in with my parents, stacked my childhood bedroom with boxes, and attempted reconstruction, which felt much like pulling, from between my fingers, slivers that extended far past my elbows.
A year after we met, he too moved into an apartment removed from his shoulds.
I wrote him a poem about new beginnings.
In the following weeks - both of us a combination of battered and hurting but hopeful and ready, after a year of waiting, to finally begin us - we began. On some days, rainfall patterned the windows and we feared drowning as the water rose. One other days, we played records and danced barefoot on the hardwood floors. We filled the bathtub and drank wine. We cocooned ourselves into bed. We watched the morning news and sipped coffee. We built shelves for our books and framed a photo of us.
Six months later, the water - though less frequently - still rises. We have learned to better navigate its rapids.
Every morning, we take the train into work together. We board at the stop where he first came into my life, unplanned and world-altering.
I stopped seeing my life as a series of boxes.
Instead, I see it as a spiderweb of train lines and rivers, of a thousand paths connected to one another, leading eventually to Central Station or the Pacific Ocean, from where we can finally choose together any number of destinations across the globe.