dear woman standing at the corner, pushing your hair behind your ear
i noticed you today. i was walking the short stretch of sidewalk from getting a coffee first thing in the morning to the post box, and you were standing there at the corner, waiting to cross. you were standing there, wearing rolled up pants the color the indigo and a shirt that had some kind of pattern on it, either pink elephants or splotchy flowers, but i couldn’t quite make out which one. you hair was long, and kept falling in front of your face, strands sticking to lip gloss, and so you stopped, and lifted your hand up and tugged at the hair, tucking it behind your ear, even though it didn’t stay there.
you looked the smallest bit lost. not in location, but in space, or maybe it was time. the kind of lost where, for those seconds, you forgot you’re standing there waiting for the light to turn to green, because you got tangled up in the worlds inside, thoughts like road maps and streets, expected routes and unfamiliar detours.
maybe an important relationship just ended or was lost, i thought. the way nothing fits together right anymore, and so anywhere you go, something is disjointed or missing, that sense of always trying to locate what can’t be found, because it doesn’t live here anymore. maybe that is the lost. and then for a reason i could not know, you had the quickest flash of a smile, to no one or nothing in particular. and i thought, maybe you are just beginning to fall in love. and you thought of them, and your face told the world something you assumed private. and how this too is a kind of lost, because directions your thought were clear now are open to interpretation and possibility. and you think of them, and it washes over you like incense at religious service, decanter swaying in devout directions, and your mind starts tracing the outline of hard curve of their jawbone under your hand, and so you smile, and you don’t realize the light has changed colors, until people are walking past you, crossing over from one side to the other.
this all happened so fast. it wasn’t like i stopped in my tracks, and was staring at you for a long length of time. but once i saw you, i kept wondering about all the things. wondering where you had come from, where you were going. wondered if your brother had just gone in for heart surgery, or if you had just decided yesterday to pursue becoming a tattoo artist, or if you sang songs to yourself or cursed under your breath when at the laundromat, fighting with machines and folding clothes into piles that then get tumbled together on the way back home.
i thought all these things, and how we are, all of us, these bodies of lived experiences, flesh and unfathomable origins, misunderstanding and remarkable expressions of intelligence and creativity, this gathering of all we have known and seen, all the stories breathing in our dna and lining the neural pathway in the brain and returning to us like the heat in summer, surprising us with their immediacy and foreign familiarity, even all these years later. and how, we just don’t know then, what another is going through or has just learned or walked away from. how this morning, right there, the sidewalk and street was filled with people, and all of us are just here, living our lives. how there were people who had just suffered the most crippling kind of losses. and those who just learned they got the job. someone just made a grocery list and is heading out to buy what is needed for dinner, and someone just looked down and saw the pink plus sign on the pregnancy test. and inside, people are making deals and managing setbacks, cutting their child’s hair and watering house plants and having sex and throwing away bills because there isn’t money to pay them and seeing them sitting on the counter everyday feels like being watched. people are in ambulances and in ecstasy and in the routine, forgetting what day it is and not sure how they got to this intersection because they’ve passed by so many times it all blurs into sameness. and you are there too, standing at the corner, pink splotches a pattern on your blouse, lost or found for reasons i may imagine but will never know. and dear god, in that moment, you were beautiful.
when I first moved to this city, so many years ago now, i remember sitting on the front stoop of our building, in the swelter of july, drinking a beer, waiting for him to come home. i remember walking to the blue line every morning, passing what became familiar faces, and how i had to walk down the stairs, underground, where it was dark and concrete and metal. i remember how the ice cream truck started its rounds around those few blocks late at night, right around eleven o’clock, and the kids who played in the street, and how we all ate corn on the cob that one night, the butter spicy with chili powder. and i remember thinking how beautiful it was that so much life was always happening here. the kind of rough edged beauty that would fill me, that i feasted on like food, that sometimes physically hurt, this kind of sore muscle ache in my chest. just for the pure aliveness of it, how i got to be here, in all this living, take up my own space in something so vast and intimate.
and just last night we were lying there, on the wood floor, in the complete dark, while she played the guitar, which made me want to crawl inside sound. and rain poured outside and then stopped, just cracks in the sky and the glow of light that followed. and then it was late, pulling back the curtain, and looking down at the distance from the apartment window to the ground, where you could hear some kind of party happening, echoed and muffled but you knew if you were there, up close, the sound would roar in your ears and people were probably pressed close. and i had the same thought, how lucky i am to be in this city, all this living, all these stories, these broken and willing people.
and in that moment, i just loved us, all of us, for being here, for trying, for choosing, for fumbling, for showing up. because it is what we have. because maybe it’s what we are here to do. i’m here too, i thought. here, in the living. here, after so much has happened and so much takes place in even one day, that i’m often stunned by its force, the persistent movement that does not wait for readiness and just keeps working its way toward light. i’m here. and i did not know what anything would be or feel like in the morning, if my day would include the list of projects and tasks written on a notepad or if something unexpected might come, changing everything. but in that moment, i did not need to know anything. it was enough, to be here. to feel the heat and humidity and the way cooler air came rushing in with the rain. to feel the vibrations when the music was played, seeing in the dark, strong arms and curve of hipbone. it was enough. it was its own world, complete.
and then this morning, i saw you there, standing at the corner, brushing hair behind your ear, and maybe i’m only imagining it now, that there were tiny gold hoops. and maybe what i saw or thought i saw was just projection onto you. i do not mean in any way to intrude. i do not know you and i probably never will, and likely won’t even see you again. but what i am saying is, i am glad you are here, that for whatever reason we are here at the same time, sharing the living of things. here, in this world, the one we both inhabit, savage and startlingly kind.