I ran into myself today. She was waiting for the bus, wearing a floral print baby doll dress, a black ribbon choker necklace, and clunky black shoes. She had a pixie haircut, deep purple lipstick, and had just recently turned twenty. Black leather bag slung over one shoulder, she was reading the bus schedule posted next to the shelter.
I pulled over and popped on my hazards. I slammed the door and walked towards her. “Hey!” I called out.
She looked over and seemed annoyed and not at all surprised. “Hey yourself,” she said, glancing at my white sneakers. “Or myself. Whatever.”
She smelled like clove cigarettes.
“What are you doing here?” I said, jamming my car keys in the back pocket of my jeans. “You’re not supposed to be here.” I had left my sunglasses in the car and was now squinting at her.
“Well I’m here.” Me at twenty was snarky. She was also chewing gum.
“But you don’t live in San Francisco yet.” I lived in Boston in my twenties.
She scowled. “I’m visiting.”
“Wouldn’t you like to know.”
Of course I did know, once I thought about it. “Philippe,” I said finally, shaking my head.
Philippe was a French exchange student I had met earlier that year, in Boston when I was nineteen. He and I worked at the same Tex-Mex restaurant until he moved to San Francisco on a whim, at least it had seemed that way at the time. Of course it wasn’t a whim. His French girlfriend was in San Francisco and he moved here to reunite with her.
This me standing in front of me didn’t know this yet. She had had dinner with Philippe last night. They kissed in the car and he told her he loved her. Then he went across town to fuck his girlfriend but I didn’t find this out until tomorrow.
“He’s not worth it,” I said to my younger self.
“Maybe not,” she said, shrugging. At this point, she was already regretting flying out here for a long weekend to visit Philippe from La Caverna. Tomorrow he will call her, sobbing, saying he’s still in love with Anne-Marie, Anne-Margaritte, Anne-Something. I won’t cry because I won’t be shocked. This was never a real thing. I just wanted to hop on a plane and chase after something.
“Do you need a ride somewhere?” I asked her.
“I guess you know that I do.”
We got in the car and she held up my New Yorker magazine that she had found on the seat. “Really?” she said and laughed. “Is this what you’re into?”
“What we’re into,” I said, putting on my sunglasses, suddenly self-conscious.
“Whatever,” she said reaching in her bag for a slip of paper. “Ninth and Judah. I’m going to Ninth and Judah.”
Grace’s apartment. Holy shit.
“I forgot Grace lived there,” I said. Grace was my best friend for fifteen years. “Have you met her roommates yet?”
“Nope, first time.”
“You’re in for a real treat,” I said sarcastically. Grace lived with two supreme slobs who played video games all day. One of them peed in a Snapple bottle in his room instead of walking eight feet down the hall to the bathroom.
“It’s annoying,” she said, propping up her foot on the dashboard and wiping the corner of her mouth where her dark lipstick had accumulated. “How you know everything.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, honking at the car in front of me. The driver was distracted and the light had turned green. “It must be really annoying.”
“You must remember this, yeah?” she said.
“Remember what?” I said, turning on Lincoln Drive.
“Running into your older self?”
“Yeah,” I said, shaking my head. “I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. Wondering when it was that I ran into you. Or me. Whatever. It’s weird being on the other side now.”
We drove in silence. I glanced over at her occasionally but she was staring out the window. Her haircut showed off her neck, long and freckled, and her choker was held together by a gold clasp wrapped in scotch tape. I loved that necklace and wore it months after it had broken, peeling off the tape at night and attaching a new piece in the morning.
Younger me scratched her thigh aggressively. I was still having eczema breakouts, hadn’t yet sorted that out with the shea butter and the avoiding wheat. I opened my mouth but decided against saying anything. She’ll figure it out.
I thought about Grace. How we were still close at that point, before her mental health veered into a dark pit. Now, as a forty year old, I hadn’t spoken to her in nearly ten years. She called when my mom died. She was married to a banker and living in Westchester. She had recently spent three months in a locked ward following a miscarriage.
Our mom died. I looked at younger me, and blinked back tears.
“I think it’s that faded pink one on the right,” she said, after glancing at her paper with the address.
I pulled into the driveway.
“Thanks,” she said, looking at me. It startled me how unremarkable she seemed to think all of this was. Later, she’ll tell Grace and the slobs, and they’ll gasp and convince her it was a remarkable coincidence, running into her future self. They’ll think it’s crazy she didn’t ask me a single question about my life, our lives.
She slammed the door and rang the bell of the four-story apartment building. She was bouncy, even in her clunky shoes. As I started to drive off, I watched her and Grace embrace. As I caught a glimpse of Grace’s smile, a lump formed in my throat. Before she fell apart, years later, before her shadow took over, her smile was radiant. It could have saved the world.