Anya, the rebound


anyaThe year after September 11th, I was ruined for flying.  I mean, I’ve always put up a tough, nihilistic front, but at the end of the day death terrifies me. Despite making some choices that may lead you to think otherwise, my plan has always been to live forever. So for that long year, as I was crisscrossing the country trying to sell my friends web-startup to investors, I rented cars. And took the Greyhound. And occasionally hitchhiked. And whenever circumstances allowed, I took the train.

I met Anya on a long train ride, Chicago to Los Angeles. The first night we bonded over microwaved cheeseburgers in the dining car and spent the rest of the trip together, charting life courses and stealing quick cigarette breaks out the window.

“You know, I’m actually grateful that you’re married.” I told her.

She smiled. “Yeah? Why’s that?”

“We still got 47 more hours of travel time, not counting delays, and that’d be plenty of time for me to get hung up on you. But it’s easier not to if you’re off-limits.”

“But it’s not out of the question, is it?” She said, knowingly.

“It never is.”

Anya was in law school at Chicago. Her husband, Henry, was in med school at UCLA. They were a real pair of overachievers – in love since their first day at Yale.  They even made their post-grad, long-distance relationship work, despite Anya’s lifelong fear of flying.  He flew back east every three weeks and they’d chat on the phone some two hours every day, which must have been tough considering how much schoolwork they both had.

“Henry hasn’t answered the phone in two weeks, so I’m going out west to find him,” Anya confessed, halfway through the trip.

Jesus, I thought. “I’m sure he’s OK. He’s probably just stressed about school.”

“That’s what everyone keeps telling me—to calm down,” she said.

I thought about it.  “Yeah, then it’s probably bullshit.”

She gave me this shocked look, but I continued on.

“I mean, if everyone in your life, including some stranger on the train, is trying to convince you of something which you know in your heart is false, then yeah, that sounds like bullshit.”

She considered this for a minute, then looked at her reflection in the window and said, “Yeah, you’re probably right.”

That night, we had a four-hour layover in San Antonio to switch trains. I have this tradition, where if I’m flush and stuck at some train station for a couple hours, I’ll go out and buy a handle of whiskey for the first pack of bums I can find. It’s a nervous superstition thing my grandfather told me about.  Always brought him good luck. As for me, geez, not really.  But I still try to do it.

Well, it took me forever to find a liquor store and then another forever to find any bums at all. I didn’t get back to the train until it was just about ready to pull out. Anya found me immediately, whitefaced with worry.

“Where’ve you been, Knox?”

“Oh, I just got myself lost for a minute. Old habit.”

“Henry called. He flunked out of school. He’s been on a bender for weeks.”

Jesus, I thought. “Well, at least you know he’s going to be OK.”

“Yeah,” She said.

That night, I became the second person to ever sleep with Anya, Henry being the first. Anya told me she just wanted to feel something other than the shame of marrying a man who was such a failure that he couldn’t even admit his collapse to her.  And sex was the only remedy we could come up with.

When we hit LA, she introduced to me Henry, who’d come to pick her up at Union Station. He didn’t look defeated at all, shaking my hand with a firm grip.

“Anya’s told me all about you,” he said. “Thanks for looking after her.”

I looked at her, standing there, beaming at her young husband, then looked at him and said, “It was no trouble at all. You guys are gonna be just fine.”

Sometimes, the best thing you can do for anybody is let them get away with a lie.

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