Back in my twenties, I dated a medical resident.
“I think I have Alzheimers,” he announced one lazy Sunday morning.
“You’re crazy,” I responded as I curled tighter into the corner of his tattered green sofa and grabbed the Style Section of the Times.
“No, seriously, look!” He held out his trembling hand as evidence. “See?”
“I’m pretty sure that has more to do with that triple espresso you’re sucking down. And maybe, like, you should take a break from studying neurology stuff?”
Doctors-in-training always self-diagnose. It’s inevitable. Spend twenty-four hours a day learning about illnesses and disorders and eventually you start thinking you have them, all of them. A headache is no longer a headache, an itch no longer an itch. While I’ve never studied medicine, I’m guilty of a similar indulgence. Officially halfway through the pursuit of an MFA in Creative Writing, I find myself constantly providing alternate endings for real life scenarios.
“Is Philadelphia home?” I say to the guy next to me, the plane rolling toward the gate.
“No, Ithaca. School. You?”
“Home, though I’m just coming back from school stuff in Ireland. What’re you studying?” I ask as I shove my book into my backpack.
“Cornell, nice. Great program, though, I mean, it isn’t Penn.”
He laughs. I grin, noticing the color of his eyes (green), the angle of his jaw (sharp). The collar of his polo is curled under, the top two buttons undone. Just as I eye his watch, athletic and simple, he collects his things and steps into the aisle. But I don’t move fast enough and get left behind, travelers filling the space between us. The distance widens as I settle my backpack on my shoulders, follow the stream of people. And when I reach the jet-way, he is there, waiting.
“So what are you in school for?” He starts walking only once I am even with him.
“MFA in Creative writing. What animals are you interested in?”
“Larger ones, mostly alpaca. Was in Ireland for a conference.”
“You know, I could kill myself for sleeping so much during that flight. It would have been way more fun getting to know you,” I joke as we pass through customs.
“I know, what the heck were you thinking?”
When we reach baggage claim, he glances down at his carry-on suitcase and I look over at the luggage shooting onto the carousel.
“I didn’t check anything,” he says, his voice quiet and hesitant.
We stand there, silent for a few moments. Arrival announcements echo off the tall gray walls. Then he speaks.
“It was really nice meeting you,” he says extending his hand.
“Likewise,” I respond, offering mine back.
I smile, wondering if it would be too forward to reach into my wallet and present a business card. But before I make up my mind, before I muster the courage, he curls his fingers around the handle of his suitcase.
“Safe travels back to Ithaca,” I offer.
“Thanks, and welcome home.”
And with that he tilts his bag onto its wheels and continues on his way, looking back once before disappearing out of view.
Standing at my assigned carousel, luggage dropping onto the belt and passengers impatiently awaiting their bags, I drift off on all of the other ways I could end this sweet little story.