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Editor's Note

Your [Proverbial] Ex… on a Train!

You step onto the train with a magazine in hand, slowly snaking through the crowded aisle, when suddenly you can’t believe your eyes. Can it be? Really? But yes, it is! It’s him/her, fast asleep in a seat. And all alone! You approach cautiously thinking Should I stop? but keep walking, positioning yourself diagonally just a few rows behind, so he/she is still within your scope. From where you sit there’s only the side of his/her face and his/her dark hair, cropped short like your favorite opposite-sex movie star in that movie you wanted to see. There’s a sliver of his/her thigh, the hint of black shoe. All in all, he/she looks good, great—sexy, even!, making you slightly heavy in the heart.

You consider waking him/her up with a tap on the shoulder, a pleasant Hey! But then what? Is Hey! enough? Is Hey! ever enough? Sure, you could rouse yourself for an ebullient Oh wow! How are you? but you’d have to be loud enough to wake him/her in the first place, and chances are your first words will go unregistered, as he/she rubs his/her eyes, attempting to erase the image of you, like a bad dream.

Should you survive the waking-up and make it past the hellos without doubling over from the knot in your gut, and should your incorrigible tongue not suddenly suffer a fit of post-traumatic paralysis, then you might inquire as to how he’s/she’s doing. In a genial, steady tone, ask him/her about work, children, parents and spouse, in precisely that order. If you have experience in the dramatic arts, summon your inner thespian and feign deep delight at the news of your ex’s spouse’s latest good fortune. Improvise as needed, adding lines like, It would be great to meet him/her sometime! or I’ve heard great things about him/her!, while still maintaining a casually detached demeanor to avoid the implication that you’re actually looking forward to some new future with him/her and their spouse.

If you miraculously manage to make it past even this stage of the conversation, however, and he/she has not screamed out for the nearest railway employee to rescue him/her from the clutches of your sad company, he/she might logically volley the question How are you? back in your direction. Here, the realization of two facts is of utmost importance. First, that this is the pivotal point of the conversation, a conversation that, whether you like it or not, you’ve anticipated as much as any other conversation in your life, ever. Secondly, regardless of whether you view your actual life as a ringing success or a colossal failure, succeeding at this particular conversation—i.e., planting some lasting, positive impression of you in your ex’s eyes—is completely within your grasp.

If your life is good and you’ve earned your medical, law or business degree, if you’ve just been drafted by your favorite professional sports team, are about to be shipped off to fight some new, noble war, or if your own fit, attractive spouse and you have just cashed in a winning Powerball ticket, then by all means rain this information upon him/her. Be polite and do it softly, like a gentle drizzle that never overwhelms, but still leaves him/her drenched by the end.

If, however, your life to date has been an unflattering scrap-heap of bad judgment and social mishaps, then circumvent this potential pitfall with a loud cough and jerk of the body. Feign some sudden train turbulence that only a standing passenger would notice, but which is obviously major enough to warrant altering the conversational track, before quickly turning to how unbearably hot, cold or mild the weather has been lately. Maintain a self-assured, smiling, what-can-you-do? style grin as you continue your diversion tactics by asking about once-common friends, whom he/she might have kept in touch with. Though by now your interest will be flagging, hold tight to your smile and continue marking time. Victory means survival, and survival requires stoicism.

So if you do happen to make it here to the other side of the conversation, if you do receive the ultimate honor—a kiss on the cheek or a sincere, It really was good to see you, then, upon crossing this mythical threshold and pushing aside the curtain you might come to realize that this moment, along with all the ones strung together in anticipation of this moment, was never really a moment at all, but a ghostly apparition projected within your mind’s ether. Though ever since that last time together, you’ve referenced this impending reunion in epic terms, on the level of other monumental meetings—Pacino and Deniro, Elton John and Billy Joel, Mussolini and Hitler, having actually reached this point, you stand corrected.

Now that you’re living it, you realize how little it matters whether you wake him/her or not. Should you even mount the best case scenario courage to take her/his hand and plant the most potent, unrequited love-effused kiss upon his/her lips, you might add but a ripple to your once-shared legacy—a brief hello, followed by a quick goodbye, barely on par with those Page-Plant reunions, from which nothing new or memorable ever arose. That your history was left with more blank pages at the end is a living, breathing fact that enjoys its comic books, its long strolls and its part-time job at Barnes & Noble.

That’s life! your over-exuberant high school English teacher used to say. There’s no such thing as premature endings, only bad guesses of how stories will end. So what now? you wonder, looking down at your shoes, your bag, the magazine still in your hand…

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