November 13, 2011

Several engineers at my office stood looking out the windows.  Someone said there was a bald eagle in a tree across the street.  The shape had a white top and a dark bottom—one could well imagine the regal brow and streamlined body.  But we weren’t one-hundred percent sure.  I took the first pot shot, suggesting the white shape was only a plastic bag.

I went to lunch at a familiar deli.  As I rounded the corner from the drink station, I was shocked.  There was Jamie.

I never meant to be infatuated with Jamie.  It just happened.  I don’t suppose anyone ever intends to fall into unrequited love.  It’s one of the stupid things humans do.  I’ve been on both sides—either an object of love I could not requite, or an unacknowledged suitor.  It happens with more frequency than I care to admit.

Jamie was particularly troublesome.  We worked together.  We started to become friends.  I justified my too-strong attachment in my usual ways—I don’t make many friends; we’ve got a lot in common; he reminds me a lot of myself.  A few months later he left our office to start a new career on the other side of town—he didn’t seem to want to be friends any more; we ceased to have much in common.  Somehow I couldn’t remember who I was apart from my attachment.

So I went a little crazy.  I read books aloud to stop my mind from shredding itself.  It went to see a shrink.  I started a blog.  I went to Paris.

And there he sat in my deli having lunch two years later.  Well, maybe.  He wasn’t looking at me.  It was a man of his shape and size.  Something of his posture and demeanor suggested my former associate.  My passing glance took in a wife and child who resembled the pictures I remembered.

My body thought I’d been attacked.  My legs flashed with a fiery pain; my stomach clinched; I stopped breathing.  I moved swiftly to get out of his field of vision.

I sat in another section of the restaurant, inhaled my food, and left.  I couldn’t risk any kind of contact with Jamie—I was too embarrassed by all the feelings that never should have existed.

That afternoon, someone in the office with binoculars said that our eagle was indeed just a plastic bag caught on a bird’s nest.

It didn’t matter if it was an eagle or a bag.  Just thinking of an eagle had inspired us with a sense of wonder and awe.

It didn’t matter whether it was Jamie or not in the restaurant.  Or whether our friendship was all in my mind.  The heart can react just as strongly to what it believes as what it knows.

Jamie doesn’t factor into my life any more.  To be honest with myself, he never really did in the first place.  He was like a plastic bag on a tree branch, the feigned outline of an eagle—an emotional decoy that fooled a foolish heart.

I’d like to say I won’t fall into the same trap again.  But I can’t make any guarantees.  In the meantime, I’ve been able to reconnect with the things that define me—and to look forward with hope again.


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