Traffic stops and we briefly make eye contact. He leans his head against the school bus’s foggy window, gazing unashamedly at me with eyes that haven’t aged enough to bag. A large wool beanie sits lopsided on his head, threatening to slip down and cover his eyes. Except for the driver, he’s alone. We hold each other’s gaze for a second before I look back out my windshield, but I feel his eyes on me still as traffic slowly inches us apart. For a moment, I see myself through his eyes: grim-faced, slouched behind the steering wheel with coffee in hand, uncombed beard clinging to pale cheeks. He doesn’t know yet that this is not what strangers do. We don’t let our eyes have conversations. The less we peer in to each other’s cars, the less there is to forget of the person we will never see again. That reality sets in when he’s gone; we have disappeared from each other.
Fewer strangers have passed through his vision than my own. The more that do, the less curious they’ll become to him. His eyes will linger less and less until strangers are no more discernable than a rumbling engine, a leaf swirling down from overhead, a honked horn, the patter of rain, the squeak of wipers. Everyone will disappear and become traffic. My face will become one of tens of thousands of nameless faces briefly seen and long gone. And maybe when all of this settles in, and his curiosity subsides, a child will look at him while he’s driving to work and he’ll wonder why he stopped looking at people, and why he seems to forget the features of a stranger’s face while he’s still looking at him. Are his eyes brown? Blue? Is the bridge of his nose straight? Where is he going? How many people love him? And then he’ll wonder how many people he himself loves, and if he loves them enough to make up for all the people not looking at them.
As I turn right off the road and the bumper-to-bumper traffic disappears behind me, I am certain that my eyes are getting smaller. They are growing old. I can feel their certainty, the knowledge that they know what they are looking at, like the whole world is a sentence they have read and reread. How else could it be that I don’t know whether or not the Cascade Mountains are out today, sitting to the east where they sit every day? And now Seattle appears on the other side of Lake Union, a brief glance cast its way, as if memorized, before I stare back at the road. These are places I know, filled with places I’ll never know. There is too much world.
The drive home is dark. Lights shine along Seattle’s hills, illuminating all the homes where everyone no one knows eats, sleeps, listens, and loves. The boy on the bus is carrying his memories around somewhere on these hills.
I will call my parents when I’m inside my house, another light on a hill, and I’ll listen to the voices that welcomed me into the world telling me about their days. What they saw, what they are thinking, what they are feeling. We will give each other windows into our worlds. I’ll tell them about my uncertainties, and how much I wish I could have dinner with them that night. My eyes won’t be able to wander their faces, and my arms won’t be able to wrap around them and all the memories they hold inside, and no amount of “I love you” will be enough to fill our ears. Each of them are too much to know, too much to memorize. I’ll never know enough. We’ll hang up our phones and disappear from each other, like we do after every call, and I’ll wonder if I gave them enough this time should one of us disappear entirely, pulled apart by life’s muchness, and these words were the last things left.