With all my responsibilities here, I don't get very far from home these days, but that doesn't mean I don't travel. The other day I set my timer and went for a walk.
I saw an overweight man on a too-small bike, dressed in floral shorts and a tank top. He looked at me darkly as he passed. Did he know it was forty degrees outside? Did he know I was wondering if he might be dangerous? Feeling ashamed, I looked away.
I saw the white faced golden retriever who always stumbles off her stoop to warn us off when we pass. This time the owner came out to apologize. “No, no!” I said, stopping her. “I love that dog! He reminds me of the old dogs who have passed through my life, proud protectors to the end." Then I told her about Jade who protected us until she couldn't walk. No, longer. By the time I walked away, we both had tears in our eyes--me for what was, her for what was to come.
I saw the tallest pine tree in the neighborhood standing against a grey sky, and I heard Sebastian’s voice. “Big tree!” he says and points when he rolls by it in his stroller. Before Sebastian, I passed that tree hundreds of times but never really looked at it. Now I marvel. Big tree!
I saw empty houses, dressed up to create the impression they were still occupied. Shades closed, a telltale light in the window that never goes out. I wonder if they’re foreclosures; I wonder where the occupants went; and I wonder who will come to live in them.
I saw a cool pattern made by pine cones and needles and curly beach grass on the gournd. I studied it for a while until I spotted someone behind the shades watching me. She was looking at me the way I looked at the heavy man on the little bike. I waved and moved along.
I passed the house where a man committed suicide a decade ago. Though I don’t know the family, we heard that he hung himself in the garden shed when his wife filed for divorce. As I passed, I looked at the shed--an innocuous structure like so many in the neibhorhood. Like my own. There was a man raking leaves in the front yard. He smiled and said hello, And then a woman called out to him from the side porch where she was smoking a cigarette. She greeted me, too, though somewhat warily.
I saw a teenaged boy in a Volkswagen who waved and gave me a smile that can only be described as sweet. Repaying the debt, I waved enthusiastically at the next two cars that passed. One waved back--returning my ebullience in kind. The other driver looked as if I’d caught him off guard. Maybe he waved at the next person.
I thought about not taking the wooded path Star loves on the way home. Maybe I’d encounter the man on the bike again. I wondered how loud I’d have to scream to be heard. I took the path anyway, silently apologizing to the man in the floral shorts for my assumptions.
Emerging from the woods, I passed the house where a good friend once lived. Several years before he developed pancreatic cancer, I saw an ambulance approaching his house, and I raced down the street, heart thumping. A moment later, my friend emerged to redirect the ambulance and to reassure me. Wrong address! We both laughed as if it were a great joke. As if it would always be so.
The school bus pulled and a girl who used to stop to talk and pet the dog when she was younger decamped. I remembered the time she came to the door and asked if she could make a chalk hopscotch in front of our house. I went outside and played with her, recovering my old joy in the game. Now fourteen, weighed down with her heavy backpack and the even more burdensome weight of the self in adolescence, she looked down when she passed me and Star. We did not intrude on her private brooding.
I came home and checked my timer: All that in twenty-six minutes and 29 seconds.