Every time I fly on an airplane and drink something out of one of those plastic cups I think of an old college crush from almost 20 years ago.
He had a long-distance girlfriend and so nothing ever happened between us. The closest we ever came to any contact was goth dancing at ManRay in Cambridge, Mass., and occasionally resting our chins on our arms while looking out someone’s apartment window, making up nicknames for the different cab companies based on the font of the writing on their doors.
“Barbie cab” was the old Boston Cab Company because the near-script swirl of the “B” reminded us of the ebullient “Barbie” swirled on the outside of the ubiquitous pink boxes. We’d name the cabs as we saw them, create scads of inside jokes, and let the electricity pass between our touching arm chairs.
We sent handwritten letters with ant stickers back and forth over several summers. I can still picture his handwriting — as neat and perfect as his Pez candy dispenser collection, all in their original packaging, and his CDs in alphabetical order behind spotless glass. The way he kept his music collection was quite different from mine, as half of my CDs had red candle wax accidentally blown across them from late-night listens.
By the time he was single and interested in me I was not into him that way anymore. We went to see The Cure together after he drove all the way from Pennsylvania and there was subtext to the visit because of his singleness but he was always naturally tacit and I over-talked about everything but the thing we probably should have discussed. And one of the worst things I did when I was younger was being friends with young men but doing date-like things with them.
That summer he worked the overnight shift at a plastic cup factory on the part of the assembly line responsible for the rounded plastic lip on the cups you drink out of on an airplane. And from then until now every time I have a drink from a plastic airline cup I think of him and how it was the closest my lips ever came to his. And it’s not a complaint in the least. It makes sense, actually, and is better this way. The friendship we shared during several freezing Boston winters, the fact that he looked like a skinhead in his leather jacket and army boots, and his gentlemanliness were all instrumental in a certain inner warmth during a time that I was very naive and would have been walking alone if not with him, late at night, in a short skirt, after a bad choice of Amaretto sours or similar. He helped keep me safe and made me feel cared for.
So now when I sip from those cups I think of that guy from Drums, Pa., who treated me so respectfully. I was lucky and get to write about this because I forged a true friendship.
Jenn Sutkowski is waxing only mildly nostalgic because the best (and worst) thing about being older is being older. Find her aging but not Miss Havisham-ing (though she may be wearing crystal point necklaces like old times) at www.jennsutkowski.com.
This Full Frontal column was first published in the Newport Mercury.
It's me, Jennifer Bernice (rhymes with "Furnace": it was my Granny's name) Sutkowski
• More details about my writing here.