To the Woman Who Stared at Me at Exit 38

I think maybe you were once very pretty. You are, still, in a tired way. But like a sunflower in fall, it is clear that you have seen better days. I look at you because I like looking at the cars that I pass. They seem like self-contained worlds to me. You look as if you understand that.

At first, I’m flattered that you are staring at me. I do look good with facial hair, highway wind whipping through my closely cropped hair, and black shades on. But you hold your stare for too long. I make eye contact with you and hope we will share a moment. I hope you will wave or turn away and laugh with your friends. But you don’t. You keep your eyes on me, and as much as I try to look away, I can’t.

Your eyes are empty. That’s the best way to describe them. And I’m terribly scared of them. I’m scared of them because they don’t seem self-aware. In fact, they seem the opposite of it. They are empty. They are shells. And they warn me that most people have souls that look similar.

The woman who waves or laughs is no more self-aware than you are. She is simply better at acting. She knows that a well-placed laugh can make it seem like she doesn’t take herself too seriously. She knows that a well-timed wave goes well with her personal aesthetic.

The scary thing about your eyes is that they show that you have given up. As I try to cut away every opinion, every action, every thought that is not my own, you realize that it is not an achievable goal. You have given into the cookie cutter. You have allowed it to rule your sunflower face. Nothing in the world can make you more or less than you are now because you will be gone by winter.

An Evening Promenade, or, “You a bitch?”

“You a bitch?”

This is Ohio University. This is where I live.

They are standing on the corner of a street when I see them. I am hunched over from the heaviness of my backpack. I am supremely self-conscious of the fact that I am the only one uptown with a backpack. But I just finished an assignment at the library, and I like taking the crowded way home just for the possible opportunity of running into someone I know. This night, I don’t. Instead, I run into them.

In my memory, he is wearing a black Ed Hardy t-shirt. But I think I put that on him retroactively. It’s part of his stereotype. When he comes into my line of sight, he is pumping his fists in the air, yelling at his buddy who just passed me, girl in hand: “Brady! Get some!” It is deep and staccato.

I’m not close enough to see her, but I imagine the girl standing next to him (Ed Hardy man) rolls her eyes. She is clearly intoxicated, stumbling as she stands still and hanging onto his arm for balance. She is wearing a dress that is the perfect mix of alluring and modest. I like her. There is something optimistic about her.

When I walk home at night, I try to keep my head down. It’s easier that way. But my curiosity often gets the better of me, and most of the time, I walk around looking like an old-fashioned sprinkler, spinning my head from side to side so that I can see everything that is going on around me. And so as I walk behind this couple, I can’t help but look at them.

I lag behind, not wanting to awkwardly pass them. We cross a street together. We start heading down the hill.

“But she’s my best friend!”

“Fuck that!” the boy answers throwing his hands up in the air. He’s short, probably not much taller than me, but more muscular.

They stand still and argue for a moment. I slow my pace even more. They have a brief discussion about an Olivia whom the girl absolutely adores and whom the boy accuses of being controlling. The boy grabs her hand, and they start walking again. Their voices bounce from decibel to decibel. They cross the street. The girl pulls her hand away every once in a while, but the boy always forcefully takes it back.

We pass house after house. Many people see them. No one says anything. This is Ohio University. This is where they live. This is not unusual.

When they turn down a side street, I decide to follow. I don’t know what I’m thinking. He’s drunk and in a violent mood. He’s bigger than me. If I speak up, I’m probably going to get beat up. I keep waiting for things to escalate, though. I hide behind mailboxes, willing the girl to say “No” or “Stop” or something that would be a call to action.

They turn into Palmer Place, the site of some of the university’s dirtiest laundry. Broken lawn chairs are scattered around the patios. Empty beer cans are everywhere.

I want to say something to them. I want to ask the girl if she’s alright. I want to tell her that she doesn’t have to go home with him. I want to call the police. My phone is dead, but I’m not sure this warrants an emergency call anyway. But there is a crime, here, certainly. Someone is hurting someone else. I’m not sure what it is, exactly. It might just be a boy living out his role in patriarchy, but it’s hard to tell.

I kick at leaves as I pass them, putting my head down for real this time. I am approaching a party. Five large men sit on a patio. They make lewd remarks to two women who go to a side yard to have a private conference.

“Hey man, I like your backpack!” says one of the men to me.


“You a bitch or something?” All of the men laugh. This is Ohio University. This is where I live.

A Scene to the Girl Who Rides the Bus with Me as I’m Coming Home from Work

To the girl who rides the bus with me as I’m coming home from work:

You are very beautiful. I feel like I shouldn’t lead with that. But if I ever talked to you, that’s what I would say. It might go south because you might be a super independent woman who doesn’t need the affirmation of a man to make you feel loved and you might overcompensate by refusing compliments. It would be a risk I was willing to make.

I would tell you to smile more. Or I would try to make you smile. I want to see what you look like with joy on.

I would ask you about the books you are reading. I love books. That’s something you should know about me.

I would explain to you that this is not something I normally do. The last time I talked to a random girl whom I found attractive was never. You wouldn’t believe me. That’s cool. I would revel in the idea that you think I’m a player.

I would be a good conversationalist. The sincere kind. I would flirt, but I wouldn’t do that thing where I put you down just so you think I’m an asshole and so therefore desirable. I would ask questions. And hopefully I could coax more than one-word responses from you.

I would tell you about this movie I just watched – TiMER – in which the main conflict is that everyone has these timers that go off when you meet your “one.” I would ask you your opinion. You would tell me that the “one” is bullshit. And I would mostly agree. But then I would argue that “the one” is mostly a tautology. Successful partnerships last forever so of course those people believe in “the one.” For them, it’s effectively true. You would scoff at my theorizing. I would wrinkle my nose and ask “What?”

I would ask if you have a boyfriend. You would say yes. I would ask if you smoked pot. You would say no. I would say, “That explains it.” You would ask, “That explains what?”

I would laugh a little and then tell you my theory about how there are two types of people in the world: those who smoke pot and those who don’t. I don’t want to date those who smoke pot and the ones who don’t smoke pot don’t want to date me. You would say, “I never said I didn’t want to date you.”

I would laugh again until you figured out I had tricked you. You would smile and look away. I would be glad that you smiled.