Strangers in the night, exchanging glances
wondering in the night, what were the chances
– Frank Sinatra, “Strangers in the Night “
His name doesn’t matter. It mattered to me, but makes no difference to my story, so I’ll omit the details. We began as strangers in the night, but he took me by the hand and pulled me into his life, and for that moment, our stories coincided. For that brief and beautiful encounter, we shared setting, lighting, context, and feeling. In another life, we’d compare notes.
I’d only asked him for directions, but my stranger opened his jacket and offered me all he could. I have nothing to show for what he gave me, but his offering meant everything to me. My stranger taught me that life is comical. We couldn’t promise each other tomorrow, but who ever can? He made me laugh when I could barely smile.
More importantly, my stranger taught me that this is all we have. This one moment, this one wordless surrender, is the pinnacle of humanness. Each moment is the fleeting climax of the moment proceeding it, and it is always now.
When we least expect it, the universe shifts, eroding the flat landscape of everyday life. Seemingly out of nowhere, a stranger materializes. Perhaps they’ve lived a whole life—a life full of colors you’ve never seen and flavors you’ve never tasted—or perhaps they’re not real at all. Perhaps they’re made of dust, a being solidified solely for the purpose of your star-crossed encounter.
He was from New York—a city like my city, only bigger. A city where life is but a whirlwind of noise—clamoring concrete buildings and screaming vertical lights— where survival depends on your ability to cling together, to share cigarettes and pillows with strangers.
My city, like his city, is a nexus of silent strangers, a quiet interchange of bodies with softly expanding lungs and hushed beating hearts, all coursing through the veins of side-streets, screeching like creaky twilight streetcars through pulsing pink moments.
When dawn came, we parted. We didn’t exchange numbers or worry about finding one another again. It was an unspoken agreement our bodies made: if the tides brought us to brush shoulders again, so be it. If not, our moment was perfect and complete, an exchange bracketed by the brief and holy unloneliness allowed for by the proximity to skin. I doubt I’ll ever see him again, but I know I’ll never forget my stranger.
1. a person with whom one has had no personal acquaintance
2. A newcomer in a place or locality: a stranger in town.
3. an outsider:
From “strange,” late 13th century, from elsewhere, foreign, unknown, unfamiliar, from the French “étrange,” meaning foreign, alien, or external. As a form of address to an unknown person, it is recorded from 1817, meaning “one who has stopped visiting.”