Distance Between Strangers

I miss you.


The last time I rode in an Uber with you, we were silent. It was a pool, so there was a stranger additional to the driver, who was also a stranger. You and I, we were used to being driven by a stranger at this point, but we weren’t yet used to sitting next to one. We, all four of us, rode in silence until the stop, choosing collectively to remain stranger than necessary. The last time I rode in an Uber with you I thought about how the new transport system is worse, more impersonal, than the old transport system. Now you ride closer together physically but mentally further apart because increased physical proximity increases the propensity to use miniaturized electronics, which in turn increases emotional distance. On a bus or subway, you’d still be surrounded by strangers, and you’d still be silent or on your phone. But in that case it’s expected of you to be anti-social.


You and I, we were used to being driven by a stranger at this point, but we weren’t yet used to sitting next to one.

When we ate our two McDonald’s brand apple pies, I realized that sweetness and convenience does not equal fullness and wholesomeness.


The second-to-last time I rode in an Uber with you, we were en route to a concert for a band I’m not familiar with because my aunt and uncle gifted me their tickets when they couldn’t go. We were drunk and boisterous, and though maybe acting connected, the connection was nothing more than a substance-fueled happenstance that couldn’t have been more than substance-deep. When we enthusiastically conversed with our Uber driver, this ride’s only stranger, about the sharing economy’s potential to help the everyman, give everyone employment, I wholeheartedly agreed. And when the conversation shifted to the concert’s unknown price and unknown performers, I dreamed just as wholeheartedly of a society of the consumer, by the consumer, for the consumer. Everyone would produce art and sell it, in exchange for other art, and more importantly, this concert would be free and I could go to these types of things more often. We arrived as soon as you checked your red and white watch to see if we would arrive on time; we did.


The next time I see you, I want to sit in a Starbucks with you. I want to sip my Oprah co-branded Chai tea latte while you slurp yours. I want to see you mix it the way you do, a sugar and a half with an inch of cream, stirred with your cigarette’s filter. You say it makes the cigarette taste like tea. I don’t believe you, but then again I’ve never tried it, so it remains unproven, untested. The next time I see you, I will be comforted by close physical proximity and emotional distance. The next time I see you, I want it to be in public. That way maybe even though I’ll miss you, despite your closeness, I’ll be comforted by the temporary lack of loneliness surrounding yourself with people effortlessly affords.


During the concert, I discovered the productive power of unused potential. Because the music was loud, we didn’t talk. Although, looking back, we hadn’t talked, not really, for quite awhile. The nothing signal was overwhelmed by total noise. So I filled the silence reflected in the noise myself, with a shadow conversation with you.


“I like this music,” I imagined you saying. “Thank you for inviting me. I love you.”


Or, in another iteration: “I don’t like this music. I don’t like you. This is over.” I hurt myself imagining you saying hurtful things, and I took particular offense to how I imagined you would equate the concert’s music to my own tastes, in the subtext of what you didn’t say. I didn’t know the concert’s music before inviting you.


Both options seemed better than the clamoring voices of untold silence.


During the concert, I chose to look at the shadows the musicians projected behind them instead of the musicians, and I like to think I listened to the echoes their voices cast instead of the voices themselves. This way, I could project the scenes as imagined and ideal, keeping the sounds and images out of my reality and thus safeguarding their unborn perfection. After something exists, it would seem, it has problems unique to its existence. At one point one of them stopped the show and asked the audience to choose between two options. The musician immediately picked up a mic and said, “You know, I actually can’t hear any of you.” Many voices clamoring into existence simultaneously, out of the realm of comprehension. Too many signals crossed equals pure noise, static interference.


I look forward to projecting our failed relationship onto nostalgia’s rosy screen.


The second-to-last time I rode in an Uber with you, you told me you participated in a performance art piece in which everyone drank each other’s bathwater, as an objective show of trust and love. I didn’t appreciate you exposing such personal stories in front of a stranger, but you continued despite my silent objections. It was really quite beautiful, you said, not in those words exactly. Strangers mixing their bathwater into tea, sharing it, drinking each others’. You need to trust someone an awful lot to drink their bathwater, and to have that level of trust and intimacy with a stranger is powerful. Strangers, hugging each other and crying, in a public art gallery.


I looked back on this story during our final Uber ride, high and hungry, on a quest from the concert to a McDonalds to order apple pies. Silently surrounded by strangers, I was jealous of the people who drank your bathwater before knowing you, and even moreso of whoever gave you theirs to drink.

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