In Providence: Falling in Love on Thayer Street

If you love someone, it’s romantic to say that you’d stand outside in the cold for them, but when put to the test, he really was willing to freeze.

“The thing you have to understand about this woman is that she’s only hot. She only ever gets hot. You touch her skin and you can feel it. Like she’s burning up all the time. Constant fever. She was always like that. When she was younger, her mother thought it was because she was a teenager and the hormones and all that, but she’s still that way. You cannot hug her without feeling that heat. It’s always there.”

That heat was what allowed her to stand outside on Thayer Street all winter back in the ’90s when standing around was about all you could do.

“She’d go up there at nine in the morning and she’d go home at midnight or 1am. Ask her if I’m lying. The first time I saw her, I walked by her on the way to dropping my sister off at her job, because she worked at the consignment store, and when I walked back, she was still there, and I don’t know why, but the second time is when she caught my eye. She was smoking a cigarette and she had this little jacket on and — you always wore the wildest ****, nothing matched, all different colors and whatnot, but when I tell you, this woman — she was a girl then, and I was a kid– She was so beautiful. You saw it. It didn’t matter what she had on. You saw it.”

He started volunteering to drop his sister off at work more often, and sure enough, each time he did, she was there. Standing in the same spot. One or two friends around her, more if it was a Friday or Saturday. Smoking and talking about things he could only ever catch in passing. It didn’t matter how cold it was, she would be there. One night, he saw her standing out in the middle of a snowstorm, seemingly unaware of the blizzard forming around her. He was too nervous to stop and say “Hello.”

“It was my sister who ratted me out. She knew I had a crush on this girl, and one night, we’re walking back to my car, and my sister goes, ‘My brother likes you.’ Like that. Like how sisters do. I wanted to go jump into traffic, that’s how embarrassed I was. But she waves me over, and my sister is pushing me, so I go. She asks me my name and I tell her, and we get to talking, and her friends are there. They’re going, ‘He’s cute. He’s blushing. Look how cute he is blushing.’ That only made me blush more. But she gave me her number.”

The first time he called, there was no answer. The second time, somebody picked up and told him he had the wrong number. He went by Thayer Street again to see if maybe he had written it down wrong, but when he got to her usual spot, she wasn’t there.

“Her friend — one of her friends — was there, and he told me she took off, because the guy she had been dating was making threats against her, being a ****, and her friend didn’t know where she was. He told me the number she gave me was right, but it was a landline to the place she had with her ex, because they were still living together even though they were broken up. It was probably the ex who picked up when I called. That number was all I had to go on. Man, I was– When I tell you I was sad, like I was sad.”

As sad as he was, he was also determined that if she ever came back, he’d know about it. That’s why even after his sister quit her job at the consignment store to go work at the newly opened Providence Place Mall, he kept driving by Thayer to see if she’d returned. Time and again, the spot was empty. Her disappearance seemed to herald the disappearance of other businesses up and down Thayer, but he kept driving by hoping to see her in her light coat and mixed colors.

“I gave up probably after a year or two, but I didn’t forget her. I just felt like a **** driving down Thayer all the time when I didn’t need to.”

Then, one night, he’s back on Thayer. This time grabbing food from East Side Pockets. The line is long, and he’s at the end of it, irritated because he’s starving.

“From behind me I hear, ‘Hey!’ I turn and look. There she is.”

She’d moved back a month earlier after living in all kinds of arrangements all over New England. On futons. In guest rooms. In garages. Bunk beds. With relatives. Friends. Acquaintances. Jerks and saints. They’d only ever spoken once, but this time it was her seeing him as she was walking by only quickly glancing in the window to see the face of a guy who couldn’t even look at her without blushing.

“When I tell you I gave her the biggest hug. I think we hugged for a whole minute, and that’s when I thought, ‘Man, she’s hot.’ Like, for real, hot. That’s when I realized how come she could wear that little jacket even when it was subzero out.”

While he was waiting to get food, she was on her way to meet friends at a bar, but those plans quickly changed once they started talking.

“It was like seeing an old friend you never got to have that friendship with, you know? We got interrupted, but it didn’t matter, because it was meant to be what it was meant to be. We hung out the whole night, then the night after that. I told her all the time, ‘I lost you once, I’m not going to lose you again.’”

In fact, that’s what he told her the day he proposed to her. They were having dinner at a restaurant on Thayer Street when he showed her the ring.

“Where else was I going to ask her? I couldn’t do it outside. It was 30 degrees out. She wouldn’t have cared, but my teeth would have been chattering.”

If you live in Providence, you’re used to making a connection only to find out that the state has whisked someone away the same way it welcomes so many in. It’s the same for businesses and sentimental landmarks and streets where you grew up standing on corners with your friends from morning ‘til night.

“The place where I first saw her is all different now, but I’ll tell you, she’s still the same. Every time I see her, I still see her like I did that first time, and she still makes fun of me for blushing, and I tease her about how she’s too hot to hug, but then I hug her anyway, because I can’t help it. We got a great love story. How many people do you know got a love story like that?”

And while it’s a sign of old age and longstanding Rhode Island citizenry to refer to what used to be, sometimes you can’t help falling in love with whatever took its place.