Theme IV: Chance Encounters, Midnight in Washington Square Park

by Jordan Melendrez

The first night of summer always has an air of magic to it. There’s a feeling of infinity that comes with pleasant weather and late sunsets. The summer solstice of 2014 was just warm enough to survive without a jacket but cool enough to walk at a New York speed without breaking a sweat. Perfect, if you will.

I found myself roaming the city around 11 p.m., with a cross-body bag, a camera, and no particular destination in mind. When approaching Second Avenue and Third Street, a flash of clarity struck:  “Washington Square Park,” I thought to myself. “Midnight in the park is always magical.”

The park was teaming with activity: people sitting on the fountain steps, playing music and skateboarding down the pathways. As I walked toward the arch from the eastern entrance, a man caught my eye. He looked uncomfortable, which made me feel uncomfortable. It wasn’t the way he was dressed; he actually looked like he had just come from a posh dinner, with his button-up shirt, dress pants and kempt hair. Something about the way he looked around seemed uneasy, but not enough to make me reconsider my decision to people-watch at the park.

I found an empty spot on one of the stone benches on the north side of the park, with the glowing, sepulchral arch at my back and the fountain sparkling in front of me. I sat there, people watching for some time before the curious man came over and sat next to me.

“Where is Eighth Street?” he asked me nervously.

He wasn’t intimidating at all, though he probably outweighed me by a solid 75 pounds and was taller by at least five inches.

“It’s just north of the park,” I replied calmly, gesturing in the direction. He didn’t seem reassured, and he looked down at his cellphone with anticipation.

“Are you meeting someone?” I asked, hoping conversing would ease his anxiety. I’m not sure what compelled my sympathy. Instinct, maybe.

He looked up at me with a different countenance than before. It was serious and determined, like he wanted to get something off his chest, to confess some bottled-up emotion. In one easy motion, he reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a small box. He opened it up, and inside sat a diamond ring.

“Oh, you’re here for THE meeting,” I said with emphasis.

Photo by Jordan Melendrez

Photo by Jordan Melendrez

Love is a strange concept, one that I don’t know if anyone can really define or understand. It’s also not my intention to marry any time in the near future, or even within the next decade. But I love a good story, and I was eager to know more about what was unfolding; I had unintentionally become a part of his park proposal.

He described the whole scenario: She was at dinner with two of her friends, and they were finally en route to the park. His lover didn’t know he was here, and he was communicating with her friends about their whereabouts. Then we saw them.

“She’s here,” he said, getting up tensely and ducking into the shadows of the park. Two women and a man walked through the arch toward the fountain, and when they reached the edge, the man and one woman peeled off, leaving the other woman alone. My benchmate swiftly made his way over to her, and though I could not hear their conversation from the bench, I took out my camera, waiting for the big moment. It didn’t take long.

He dropped to one knee, and she immediately put her hands to her mouth, possibly in an effort to suppress her tears. He stood up and they kissed. At this point all eyes in the park were on them. He hugged her, lifting her off her feet and setting her back down.

“She said yes!” he exclaimed, and the park cheered and clapped.

As I reviewed the shots, I contemplated whether or not I should tell the couple about the photos I had. By the time I looked up, they were out of sight, leaving me with just a few shreds of evidence of what had occurred. It almost felt as though it never happened.

Despite my curiosity about their backstory, I’ll probably never know whether that couple remains married forever, files for divorce or even walked down the aisle in the first place. But whenever I’m in the park at night, I always hope I’ll encounter them to find out.

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