If there ever were evidence of gods worming their way through the mortal world, he would be a compelling corroboration. Gold hair, wavy and long, tucked into a bun at the nape of his neck. I wanted to reach over, past the student sitting between us, and hold it in the palm of my hand. How long did it take you to grow? I imagined myself saying. Did you know that when I look at you everything and nothing rests at the tip of my tongue?
Instead I sat in my seat, my fingers interlaced on my lap, and listened to him introduce himself. When class ended, I strode out in a burst of terror, having spent the whole time imagining what I would do. A successful tactic, I’m afraid, was beyond my scope of power.
As I write now, a tinge of regret rests in the hollow of my chest. But it’s nothing I’m not used to already. Maybe next class I’ll have something worthy to say. Until then, practice. Practice makes nervous—I mean, perfect.
You’re beautiful. I thought somebody should tell you.
Thank you. You’re beautiful too.
It needs some work. Luckily, I never seem short of time.
I try not to liken the subway to a massive coffin. But the way it groans when it runs and rests, the way the windows flicker artificial light and shadow, lends itself to gothic imaginings. I think the atmosphere seeps its way into the passengers’ skin. Or at least it seeps into mine.
I saw a woman rocking a crying child. She was a baby, really, her cheeks mottled red and her face moist with tears and snot. Yet another victim of the subway system.
I wanted to take the baby from her mother, or guardian, or sister, and soothe her. It’s not your fault you feel this way, I would say, looking her in the eyes. It’s the wretched underground. Soon you’ll be able to walk and skip and run, climb up into the trees and chart your course from above.
Maybe I would kiss her tender temple or let her rest her head on my chest. You’re only at the very beginning of being human. You won’t remember this turbulent time, but it will remember you. It will shape you into somebody else. Let it.
Something about the open display of produce sections encourages people to speak up. Next to the carrots and squash, unbound by confining plastic, I think fellow customers feel untethered to social norms or preexisting anxieties, and can unleash what’s been brewing within them for much too long.
As I watched an altercation between a customer and a produce clerk, I felt a catharsis unparalleled by any tragedy’s story arc. Admittedly, I wasn’t listening too much to its actual substance, although I think any Walmart would be hard pressed to have okra. I resisted the urge to pull out my phone, record it, and show the combatants what they just lived.
I would usher them close, one on either side of me, and tap play. Look how deeply you live in this moment, I would say. Look at how your eyebrows mirror one another, how your gesticulations echo off one another, how your raised voices overlap to create one and many noises. Is this not the human condition? To constantly connect with one another, for better or worse?
I often wish living could undergo the same editing as writing. But I fear they would become too similar.
Christmas is one of the last significant markers of the year. I think this is why melancholy creeps into the corners of festivities, lurks in the shadows of a lighted Christmas tree, hides in the folds of discarded wrapping paper.
Do you feel it too? I wanted to ask my family as we sat around the dining room table. Do you feel the end of the fruits of our labor? How many hours did we spend looking for gifts for one another, planning and cooking a meal? It should measure up as an accomplishment. So why does it feel like I’m losing something?
Instead, I cut into the prime rib, complimented my mother’s baked potatoes. I contemplated taking the conversation a different route, something more hopeful and praising. Something like:
As much as Christmas is about receiving gifts, is it not more about giving? Is it not special that we decide to dedicate time out of our days imagining what somebody else would enjoy? Maybe the best part about Christmas is realizing somebody cared enough about you to think of you.
The conversation moved too quickly around the table, and I lost the opportunity to speak my mind. For once, I was content with my thoughts being my own.
Winter has enormous potential to bring people together, but it’s much easier to see how it pulls us apart. I sat in Central Park today, freezing on a metal bench, and watched the sparse joggers in light winter gear, a guitarist bundled up in layers and layers, his fingers too numb to navigate the frigid steel strings. The gaping silence was usually bursting with clashing and complimentary energy at the height of summer.
I think we can take notes from emperor penguins. When faced with buffeting subzero winds, they rally together, tucked into one another like the petals of a blooming flower. What do they honk to one another, as they wait for their partners to return from hunting? How well do they know each other by the end of the ordeal?
I imagined myself standing on top of the metal bench, a megaphone in hand. Let’s band together in this bitter cold! Let’s lend each other our warmth, and when our noses stop running and our teeth stop chattering, we can listen to each other’s stories. Let’s be like the penguins!
But by that time, I was alone in my corner of the park. I stood up and walked back home.
I’m still working out how to be a penguin, in my own way.
How come you never say anything? I imagine somebody (anybody, everybody) asking me. All you do is sit and listen. Quite frankly, it’s unnerving.
I would hand them my journal, flip to the last day we met. This is what I wanted to say to you, then and then. Could this be our conversation? Stilted, delayed. I need time to think of the best answer, the wittiest phrase.
Yes of course, they say in my head. You’re wonderfully unique, so I’ll accommodate the strange way you navigate the world.
I shake my head, erasing the response I’ve created for my imaginary somebody. Instead, they say:
No. That isn’t conversation. What is conversation without spontaneity, without fumbling and fear? What is the full trade off in scripted interaction? Less mistakes, less embarrassment, sure. But also, less pure joy, less inside jokes and winding tangents bordering on philosophical. Living isn’t something you prepare. It’s something you experience.
I’ll admit, I’m equal parts excited and frightened at what I’ve made the imaginary somebody say. But I’m willing to set aside my journal, at least for a day. It’ll be there when I need it.
For now, I’m going to try and experience something.