Harry changed my life. I was nineteen and stupid, mad at the world. I’d told myself I’d change the world one day, just by existing. But no one sought me out of the crowd, and most barely remembered my name. Every time I realized I told someone I saw everyday my name for the third time, another little bubble of rage welled up inside me.
When I slammed to a stop on the side of the street that day I didn’t bother taking the keys out of the ignition. I didn’t bother locking the equipment box with the best piece of writing ever written; what I thought of people, the world. They could take a hike. They were all ignorant morons who couldn’t be bothered to see the world even when it fell on their head like the lucky shot of seagull shit.
I just left the whole stinking lot on the street, my faded red yard sale helmet swinging a sultry beat on the handlebars of my sickly orange motor bike. I stalked through the sticky heat toward the coffee shop, my battered low heel boots tapping sharply with each step. Barely anyone glanced up from their straight, even strides down the street, staring at the sidewalk. Those who did just had an expression of irritation on their face at my diagonal disruption of their predestined traffic pattern. I didn’t give a damn, but the looks fueled my anger. Everything fueled my anger those days.
Sweat covered a sheen over my whole body. I didn’t care that it probably shown through my button up shirt, the dark green camisole underneath. My black denim coat was slung over my elbow, and the black miniskirt over my jeans, was covered in silver studs and a chain belt. I perched my sunglasses on top of my messily piled hair and shoved open the glass door with the irritating dingle bell that announced my presence.
It wouldn’t be good to strangle an inanimate object. Instead I inhale the spicy scent of piles and piles of exotically spiced cookies, muffins, scones, and pastries. The bitter tinge of coffee over the air only enhances the good affects of sugar pastries. A good metaphor to the world. Bitter overtones on too pretty too shiny people.
Out of the corner of my eye I see a flash of tie dye pants. I turn to look more closely, and I see they’re flowing sweatpants with a slit cut almost up to the hem of the lycra short shorts worn under them. The person they’re attached to is a slim guy with short hair and soft angular features. His thin gray tank top didn’t hide smooth collarbones that reminded me of a dancer’s chest.
As I ordered, I noticed he wore the kind of shoes with individual toes, the ones that look pretty ridiculous on everyone. There was a slightly flirtatious green scarf knotted loosely around his neck, and he was talking to a woman standing beside him. They were both a little older than I was, I think. His voice was musical, cheerful, and he was smiling.
I walked by him to get to a seat at the window, and the energy around him was infectious. A quietly humming enthusiasm, I think. It seemed to emanate from him in waves. His chocolate brown eyes scanned the street outside the window, not meeting mine but giving me a glimpse into his life as I imagined it.
He was pride. He stood tall, though he wasn’t tall. He was shorter than I, and slimmer. His presence was the kind you remember as tall and boisterous. His chin was tipped back with a kind of warning. Like he’d seen things so bad, and he was still standing taller than before. There was a dare in his stance. Delicate vulnerability covered with a layer of challenge. He was the kind of man who could take anything you threw at him.
I noticed he wore eyeliner, and probably a touch of shadow. His short hair had a streak of dark blue in it, another dare. A silent fuck you to a culture who’d screwed him over. I wondered how he could be so cheerful and seemingly carefree with this woman he talked to when the stress of his life seemed to hum under the surface of his enthusiasm. I wondered how he could survive.
He carried a beat up green denim bag with brass buckles, and there was a thin strip of leather around his neck, holding a mother of pearl flower. The makeup, the way he moved and gestured, the sound of his voice, every instance of it practically screamed at me that he was gay, but I wouldn’t let myself assume. I refused myself that ignorant indulgence.
Whatever he’d survived, I thought I would have liked to know. I would have liked to know him.
I was nearly finished with my pastries when the woman bade her friend goodbye, and left the shop. The guy turned towards me, and the window bar I was sitting at. He smiled when he saw me, and caught my eye. He hiked himself onto a bench one down from me, and set his bag on the counter next to him. He glanced up and smiled again, extending his hand for me to shake.
His voice sounded like a warm breeze of refreshing personality. When I shook his hand, the warmth of his palm radiated up my arm. The bone deep cold I hadn’t noticed melted away. I smile back at him, feeling as if I’d forgotten how.
“Zandra.” I said softly.
I’d forgotten how much people long to be touched, to have any kind of physical connection to another person. It felt good, remembering that. He asked me if I was new around here. I asked him whether he lived in the area, and whether he liked it. He told me that it was a neighborhood, and that people worked together. That he loved hearing the stories of people. He asked me what my story was. We talked for maybe five minutes, and new life breathed into the stale shell of myself.
When the ride he was waiting for pulled up alongside the road out front, he turned to me smiling, and he said he hoped we’d meet again. When he stepped down from the stool, he bent to pick something up. He handed it to me, a shiny new penny face up.
“Good luck.” he said, and was gone.
I had to rethink everything. Everything I thought I knew about people, and how they treated each other.
I chose an apartment on that street to stay for a while, see what might happen. I went to that coffee shop nearly every morning. I volunteered for a teen shelter, got a job at a local restaurant. I was happy for the first time in a very long time. It was a beautiful place, and the people were better here somehow. Better than in any place I’d ever been before.
During our five minute conversation, it was never the place to ask whether he was gay or bi. We barely talked beyond mundane talk of the weather and the neighborhood’s stories, its people. I sometimes thought I saw him on the street, walking in his own world created by his life, the tough place tinged with the wholehearted enthusiasm and delicate feelings, and the beat of his earbuds. Sometimes when I imagined his latest choice of pants, I couldn’t help but laugh, and admire anyone who could wear them in the city that turned into my home. Not a perfect place, but certainly enough for me then. Once I saw in my mind the man standing in the doorway of another apartment building, kissing another man. It answered my curiosity well enough I think, because later I thought I saw him kissing a woman he’d just given roses to.
Harry changed my life. I’d been a sick at heart girl, he helped me grow. He surprised me. I still don’t know what I might have done that day if I hadn’t met him. If he hadn’t stopped the boiling fury inside me. That day had felt like an end to me. When I met him, the kind of end changed. Now it has just the end of an era of hate, anger, and bad luck.
I never did talk to him again, and I never found out if any of what I thought I saw in his eyes the first time was true. But it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter who Harry was, who he is, or whether I would even like him if I met him again. He helped me get my life back. He helped me put away the shit I wrote in despair so I could move on.
He made me want to see if more people could surprise me like he had. And they did. For the last ten years since I met Harry, people have surprised me every minute with what they think and say, and how they reach out to each other. I learned how to see people surprising me that day.
I hope that every person who needs him, will meet their Harry. The Harry Ideal. The person who surprises them out of their own darkness.
I’m glad, so glad, that I met Harry.