Peggy had sisters and more to the point, more padding at either end of her middle-girl-itis than I. And while Peggy and I are the same age and shared other commonalities beyond living across the hall from one other in the mid nineteen sixties, there were differences. Chief among them, our levels of shyness; hers much greater than mine. Back then she shrank to the point of nearly disappearing into the shadow of all that sibling padding. Quite the feat, given her height.
My family moved away from that building (and neighborhood) Peggy's family and mine shared in 1969. Peggy and her siblings left my reality some time later. In 1974 Peggy and I met again when we she enrolled in the high school I was attending (having skipped a grade, I was a year ahead). While I'd chosen this high school to be as far away from my older brother and his high school experience as possible, Peggy'd followed both her older siblings to this school. The shyness I remembered from our early grade school experiences was still in full effect, for both of us. Neither went out of our way to re-kindle. We were friendly when we met in the halls but didn't become friends. She continued to shrink in the shadow of her siblings and I muddled along trying to escape any connection to or resemblance of my familial relationships.
Fast forward to 2011: Peggy and I hadn't seen or spoken since our occasionally meeting in the high school halls. I had met one or the other of Peggy's older siblings once or twice over the years with all of us making the usual, "good to see you noises" and promises to say, "hi" to our respective parents and siblings. About a year ago, I started seeing a woman on one of my commuter routes who reminded me of Peggy. At some point I decided that it was Peggy but made no move to speak to her.
Then in August she saw me sitting in a seat, across the aisle of the commuter train car. Her bespectacled eyes lifted in recognition and she stage whispered, "Debbie?!" I smiled and nodded a greeting.
Peggy smiled back, took out her cell phone, made a call, and then began to pepper me with questions about my brothers, mother, and the like, all prompted by her older sister. That's who she'd called. When the passenger in the seat next to Peggy exited I moved to take that seat. Peggy appeared uncomfortable with the change but I wasn't going to conduct this
Finally, Peggy hung up from her older sister and began to talk at me about her brothers, mother, sisters, her dad's death, and the other's respective lives. There was scant opportunity for me to say anything about my life or to ask after her own. She didn't volunteer anything except that she was on her way to church, why she happened to be on this train, at this time. (Which, by the way, not the same commuter route I'd seen her on previously.)
Nearing the end of our ride together she hunted down a piece of paper, scribbled a number on it, offered it to me saying, "you can call me if you want." She seemed surprised when I offered mine own piece of paper with my number scribbled on it in return. I stuck her piece of paper in my messenger bag, bid her adieu, and got off the train.
The entire exchange felt weird the rest of the evening and well into the next day and the days beyond.
For several days, I went back and forth about calling her. There was weirdness. There was something just . . . off. But then, I took a deep breath and decided to take the plunge. I thought we'd have lunch and take a stab at a really conversation. Maybe we'd find we'd developed more commonalities in the thirty some years since our youthful exchanges. Maybe, while clearly very different women now, we could break through those barriers and forge some kind of friendship.
But it was moot. For, after deciding to call, I dug around in my bag to retrieve the piece of paper with her scribbled on number only to discover it gone. Missing. Lost. Likely bundled up and trashed with stray receipts, gum wrappers, and other like debris that litters the bottom of messenger bags after a few days.
I presumed she hadn't married or otherwise changed her last name. I presumed that I probably could find her and her number if so motivated. But, I wasn't. And neither apparently was she. For weeks (months, really) have passed and she hasn't called me either.
Now I wonder whatever shall we do, however shall we act if we happen to meet again, face-to-face on a commuter train on the way home to the reality of our respective lives, further and further away from our respective pasts?