As a writer I was told not to use clichés. Time and time again professors covered my typed essays in red ink, circling phrases that were JUST NOT ORIGINAL ENOUGH! But life, I argued like a true rebel, is full of clichés. For example, I’d continue smugly, pacing like a Pulitzer price winner, I wasn’t expecting to live in South Jersey, where the smell of cow dung circles the air like a perfume named Ay Fo. But here I am…in your class…learning, creating and, succeeding, if I do say so myself. So you see, Professor, life is indeed full of surprises. I’d raise my chin, spin on my heel, and call for a duel of clichés. En garde!
Once those combative words exited my lips my graduate school professor, his face red with fury, questioned my prolific antics. It was as if I had taken a dagger, sharpened it with stones, heated it within a heap of coals, and plunged the weapon right into his heart – or worse, through the pages of a Norman Mailer novel. After all, “life is full of surprises” is the cliché of all clichés, which is why I was accused of using a tired, old wench and excused from class.
No matter what my professor said I wasn’t giving up on the hag, or any other clichés. As long as an entire page isn’t indent to indent with them the writing can still be solid. Besides, clichés serve a purpose in our every day lives. They unite men and their penises, women and their vaginas and every heartbroken citizen of the world. I’ve heard them all while wiping cheeks stained with mascara and tears. Those expressed with a hint of determination and a dash of bitterness like, “there are plenty of fish in the sea,” and the always profound, “shit happens.” There are others that soothe, providing a sense of perspective and a positive spin on love and loss, like, “It is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.” And how about those darn tootin’ clichés that make you want to grab ‘em by the neck due to their illogical idealism because, apparently, “everything happens for a reason.”
Oh, how many they are!
Still, “life is full of surprises,” is my favorite. It continues to impress me, proving its validity at every opportunity. Why not long ago my childhood friend Chloe received her unexpected surprise: her boyfriend informed her that after only a year his psycho ex-girlfriend/baby’s momma would relocate from the Sunshine State back to the Empire State. Luckily, not all of life’s surprises come in the form of a slap. My cousin Maya is engaged to the father of her children after a nine-year courtship . He popped the question when she least expected it – at the point in their relationship when she had convinced herself it would never happen.
As for me, my surprises have been plentiful – some fantastic, some pure torture. Receiving random emails from past boyfriends; running into men whose contact information I deleted from my cell phone; realizing I had six-degrees of separation with an ex and a new beau: these are all unexpected scenarios that I’ve lived through. But there is one event that I replay in my mind almost daily. It is a moment I remember as it reminds me of yet another infamous cliché: things happen when you least expect them.
There I was waiting for the Rowan Camden shuttle bus to take off and bring me to Rowan University’s main campus in Glassboro. The shuttle doors flapped shut and the driver turned around, exposing his pale skin and silver hair. His thin lips moved slowly as he counted the number of students beginning from the back of the shuttle bus to the front. He finally arrived at my seat but his gaze continued on, shifting to the young man sitting in the seat in front of me to my right.
He was dark-skinned and about 6 feet tall. His hair perfectly curled and styled. The bright stud that hung from his ear shimmered as the sun peeked through the clouds, setting its rays on the stone through the glass window. He sat there, defined brows crossed and forehead furrowed, dialing a number on his cell phone. I looked away, though I was surprisingly curious. He wasn’t my type…but there was something about him.
The shuttle took off and I watched the green of trees blur before encountering a traffic jam on Route 42. “Fuck!” My eyes strayed from car bumpers and black asphalt and set themselves on the young man again. I found his cursing disturbing. I’m not the Patron Saint of Curse Words but his ‘fuck’ was filled with intolerance and aggression – two things I hardly find appealing.
He shut his cell phone, turned his body, and faced me. “Excuse me. Is there usually this much traffic?”
I peered into his brown eyes for a few seconds before replying, “I don’t know. This is the first time I take the shuttle.”
He curled his fingers around the seat in front of him. His broad shoulders tensed as he stretched his neck to get a better view of the road ahead. “I don’t know if I have the patience to deal with this,” he said to himself.
“Well, I really don’t have a choice. I’m from New York…I don’t drive,” I said, stunned at my openness, especially with a potentially angry stranger. Was he even talking to me?
He turned to me again, this time smiling and exposing straight white teeth. “Are you a transfer student?” he asked, curious now.
“No. I’m a grad student in the writing program.”
There I went again, divulging details about my life. Why don’t I just give him a strand of my hair so he can test my DNA?
He glanced back at me, brows raised now. He grabbed his black backpack and slid into the seat next to me. We were face to face and I noticed he had almond-shaped eyes the color of coffee beans. They were gentle yet his demeanor exuded strength. Strong jaw line, high cheekbones, smooth dark-chocolate skin, a perfectly trimmed goatee: he was fine.
“How old are you?” he asked, straightforward and slightly puzzled.
“26,” I said nonchalantly. I was hoping to seem uninterested though the musk of his cologne lingered on the tip of my nose and pulled me back in. He smiled again, like my age had increased my chances at…something. Why do I even care? There’s nothing here, I convinced myself.
“Wow, I thought you were 20, 21 tops. So….where are you living out here?”
“I’ve been commuting to and from New York and only going to my job in Camden,” I paused, watching as he unzipped his backpack and pulled out a legal pad.
“It’s a long story,” I continued, still eyeing him. He ripped a yellow sheet from the pad and tore it in half.
“Today is my first day of class,” I rambled. I always ramble when I am nervous.
“I’m going to give you my number, just in case you need anything,” he said while pulling the cap off a black pen. I nodded, cautious but secretly optimistic that he was interested in getting to know me, even though I looked so raggedy. If he thought I was cute with dark circles and unkempt hair due to the travel, he’d love me dressed up.
Seconds later, he handed me the piece of paper. I stuffed it in my back pocket like we were in junior high passing secret love notes. I didn’t dare open it just yet. I wanted to relish in the sweetness of the moment. I wanted to feel the thrill of having been picked up on a school bus.
“My name is Elijah by the way.”
I looked away immediately, attempting to hide my shock.
The dots connected. I pushed my hand into my back pocket and grabbed the sheet of paper, opening it slowly as if held the instructions on what to do or say next. And there it was – Elijah – written in black ink in his small and slanted handwriting. His phone number and email written below. I turned to face him.
“My name is Sujeiry,” I replied, almost breathless.
“Sujeiry. That’s very pretty,” he murmured with his full lips.
I thanked him, looked at the torn, yellow paper once more before folding its jagged edges. This time I stuffed it safely into my wallet. I had no intention of losing it. Elijah tore another sheet from the binding, handing it to me just as quickly as the first.
“Jot down your information for me?” he asked with eagerness in his eyes. I beamed, exposing the crooked bottom tooth I often hide. I wrote my name, number, and email address in cursive before handing him the paper.
Minutes later, the shuttle bus merged into a lane and found the exit. I peeked at the window, my eyes scanning the entire campus like an eager child arriving at summer camp. The silver-haired driver lifted his cap and hollered, “Rowan Glassboro!” The bus came to a halt before opening its glass doors. Elijah and I remained seated as students gathered in the aisle and made their way, one by one, off the bus. It was our turn. He motioned me to walk in front of him and I nodded, smiling to myself as I grabbed my giant tote filled with books. Once outside Elijah asked if I knew where my class was located on the Rowan campus.
“Bozorth Hall,” I replied, my head cocked to the side, attempting to block the sun.
“Can I walk you to class?” I blushed and motioned him to lead the way. That was all he needed.
And there we were, Elijah and I, walking into the sunset. We walked along the Rowan University campus and continued our conversation, and I felt a glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, Elijah was my ‘E.’ Life is full of surprises, after all, so why not shoot for the moon, wish upon a star, and keep fingers crossed that this could be…something. Yes, this could be something because love begins with a smile, love is blind, and hope springs eternal…
Take that Professor.