Jordan straightened his back, trying to work out the kinks that had developed after years of sitting hunched over his phone. The subway seat helped somewhat, if only because it spared him from having to stand, but the curve of the hard plastic was hardly conducive to better posture. He knew he needed to stop spending so much time zeroed in on the screen that might as well have been attached to his fingers – Jordan’s mother had sent him that message many times, sometimes through that very screen – but he never found it as easy to do as she made it seem.
The subway doors opened and Jordan looked up to watch the new passengers board the car. A teenage girl listening to eggplant-colored Beats stepped inside and sat opposite him. She glanced around the car and paused, ever so briefly, as she noticed Jordan’s neatly manicured, maroon-polished nails before closing her eyes and returning her focus to her music. Jordan rolled his eyes; he usually enjoyed seeing people’s reactions to a well-dressed, dark-skinned man with a full beard and painted nails but he wasn’t in the mood today.
Jordan’s phone vibrated briefly and a familiar white number one formed in a red circle above the email icon. A thoughtful expression came over his face as he skimmed over the message. His lips pursed slightly as he processed the words, doing his best to take them in without jumping to react the way he usually did. He gazed at the subway ceiling for a moment, allowing the words to marinate. He tapped out a deliberate reply, scanned it quickly for typos and clicked “Send.”
Amy’s emails usually had that effect on him. Her background was a striking contrast from his – different coast, different sex, different skin color, just to name a few – which meant that she often brought a perspective he had not considered on his own. He appreciated the way her opinions pushed him outside of his comfort zone, even though he sometimes struggled to understand where she was coming from. His admiration for her passion sometimes bordered on envy, though he would never admit it. He knew there was no use in doing so; he had long found envy to be a fruitless endeavor that hurt no one but himself. Plus, he knew that Amy’s intensity came from an underlying determination that he never had to develop.
Jordan leaned his head back against the wall, careful not to disturb his black fedora, and closed his eyes. Sleep had been hard to come by lately; he could thank his upstairs neighbors, their two-year-old and Daylight Savings Time for much of that. He knew that one alternative was to get to bed earlier in the evening, especially since his unintended wake up call from above was just as reliable as any alarm clock, but he always found himself wired late in the evening. There were probably other actions he could take to make it easier to relax – turning the television off, cutting out his late afternoon coffee runs or having his phone surgically removed from his hands, for instance – but old habits were hard to break.
The toddler upstairs was nothing, however, compared to the way Jordan’s nerves frayed whenever he thought about his upcoming travel plans. He felt silly admitting it; he was nearing his thirtieth birthday and he still felt overcome with fear whenever he pictured the idea of being away from home for so long. He had worked diligently to cultivate his relationships and routines and he was reticent to let them slide, even if the relocation was temporary. He had made arrangements to sublet his apartment and for someone to look after his cat. He had set up the movers to ship over the larger of his belongings and he had already studied the maps of the neighborhood where he would be staying. Even after the countless speeches he had given himself about how social media could keep him in contact with his family, with Eric and even with Amy, he still felt a doubt that often bordered on paralysis.
Eighteen months was a long time to be gone.