Apparently, I expend all my writing energy now on ranty, neurotic e-mails to men I'm interested in. So here's another relic, this one from mid-winter — Jan. 9, 2009 — and a brief blip of romantic idealism jutting from the depths of the cynicism that seems to pervade my views on love lately. Reading over it again makes me smile. My long commute often leaves me breathless. Chicago transit's miraculous BlackBerry bus tracker, wrong as often as it's right, has made me more paranoid and frenetic than I ever was relying on "schedules" — and when the word "DUE" shows up beneath the number of the next bus, I take a deep breath and haul it. This morning, I ran at breakneck speed an entire block with my 10-pound handbag, scarf, gloves, hat and full-length mummy coat — and collapsed into my seat just as the bus lurched through the fresh green light across Western Avenue. And tonight, as I descended from the Metra platform, walking calmly toward my stop, I saw an express bus approaching. Only when the stars align in a certain way do I catch an express without waiting. So I took off running again — through a puddle of slush and a very red light, with a half-full cup of tea in one hand and a pair of dress shoes clenched precariously between my arm and purse. (Cinderella is so much more graceful tearing down those long palace steps to catch her ride…and I'm never faced with the threat of my bus turning into a pumpkin.)
Through the weight of my down-filled coat, I had no idea when my heels fell to the ground, left to be prized by some transient drag queen with a penchant for patent and peep-toes. Breathless again and with one foot already in the bus, two near-breathless men approached behind me. One had the shoes in hand and got in line behind me. "You dropped these. He got 'em," he panted, pointing to a guy close behind him. A guy who beamed as I hurriedly thanked him; I shared brief but meaningful eye contact with my Prince Charming, who had run after me to ensure I'd never have to go barefoot a day in my life. But then he vanished into the Blue Line station; I turned to board my express bus home. I cling to the idea that one day, more will come of a chance encounter like that. (Brief but meaningful eye contact in Astoria a few years ago turned into a drawn-out, meaningless exercise in phone tag and awkward conversations with a dim-witted construction worker, so that's…not what I'm going for.) The man who saved my shoes wore a green beanie. And that's usually all I remember from those little brushes with my heroes. Because they have to go save someone else's shoes and live their own lives. And really, they aren't my heroes at all. They're men with a conscience and a good heart who would do that for anyone.
The night my last boyfriend and I met, we talked about the movies we liked; my inclination is toward the über-idealistic romantic comedy. Happy ending, perfect resolution. I love to see everything wrap up nicely on screen, to escape awful reality and feel for a fleeting moment that perfection can occur in a tiny bubble between two people despite all the other shit. (He, on the other hand, leaned toward films like Closer and The Last Kiss.) Yet in the end, it was him trying to convince me that there was no need to be so cynical about it all. But I'm just realistic. Sure, I'll allow myself to get wistful for a few moments as the credits roll, but I no longer sigh and twirl my hair, sitting back and waiting for my Prince Charming. Because the fairy tale isn't real. I have let myself get swept up in the fantasy — the promise of a happy ending after looking for so long — and look where that's gotten me. Last December, I broke a man's heart (though he was in no way blameless) because I couldn't see reality until it was too late to stop the madness. And now I'm back on my own, my newly cautious eye still somehow twitching with a sort of sex-crazed hunger. I make mistakes with little remorse; I let the villains back into my life because it feels good. But when the day is over, I sleep alone. I'm not Cinderella, and despite the risk of losing a pair of my favorite footwear, I happily take care of myself.
Someday, my prince will come, but he won't wear a crown. No man will ever roam the French countryside seeking me out, the one perfect woman who magically fits that dainty size 10. My fairy tale will be fractured. And understanding that, I breathe a little easier.