I will leave you all behind, and then where will you be? I will enter this here growth of weeds and disappear forever. -zz packer
I go walking. It takes the first forty minutes for me to remember that I like my own company. I haven't been alone in so long.
At the bank, the man standing in line in front of me waves me ahead of him. At first I am touched by his kindness, then worried that in truth he was avoiding the teller with a shawl wrapped over her head. He chats heartily with the other teller as she counts out his cash; perhaps they are old friends. I deposit my check and leave, purposefully winding through the display of christmas trees on the sidewalk, inhaling.
One mile to the park. A man stares at me at the intersection, says hello with an eager, unintelligible smile. I say good morning and step onto the grass. This is where people bring all of their leaves-- black garbage bags stuffed and swollen, lining the paths. I wonder whose job it is to open them.
It is a miracle that in this over-populated city I am alone in this park. Or at least that I am alone in this section of this park, which is enough for me. It is enough that my eyes pass over mounds of grass and sparsely planted trees and that I see no one, not even the squirrels, and today I do not miss them.
I pass close to the trees and then of course I walk downhill to the water. The river runs high, not angry but anxious, waiting to see if it will storm. I press my hands into the cold metal railing and lean out as far as my body will follow me, feet rising off the sidewalk. Thick layers of broken glass cover the bank's pebbles, greens and blues and browns clanking rhythmically against the large concrete barrier extending from the bank up to my feet. I lock eyes with the seagull standing on a wet rock beneath me. It looks away, regally, and moments later takes flight. I watch as it loops under a pack of its squealing counterparts, ready to catch whatever is dropped in the fray.
An aging man has joined me at the railing, perhaps a body's length away from me. We both watch the water, the sky, the bridge shaking as a train rumbles over it, an airplane flying away. I do not resent his company, nor encourage it. So many times have I thought I was sharing silent companionship with an unknown man, some depth of understanding, only to have him say something about my ass and what he wants to do with it as I walk away. I do not want to make assumptions.
I pass back under the trees. Someone has left seed for the pigeons. Hundreds of them, perhaps, beaks snapping at the dirt, so absorbed in feasting that few even register my footsteps as I pass by. I am grateful; I am, not entirely but to enough of an extent, scared of birds. Not birds themselves, perhaps, but their movements: Unpredictable, dirty wings thwacking. Earlier I watched as a sparrow was grabbed by the wind, caught and twisted and nearly thrown against my cheek.
I walk to the pharmacy. I tell the man I am from Pennsylvania; he asks if I'm Amish. No, I say. But I get asked that a lot. How many children do I have? he asks, nodding at the bottle of baby lotion on the counter. None, actually. I just have sensitive skin. Then he tells me that on account of my childbearing age I should get a flu shot that doesn't contain mercury. I do not tell him that I have never had a flu shot in my life, that I do not intend to. Instead I say Huh, I wasn't aware that traditional flu shots did contain mercury. He nods his head emphatically.
I am cold, finally, and not at all hungry though it has been hours since that bowl of oatmeal I microwaved this morning. I walk another mile to the apartment and take my boots off inside the door. I open the bottle of baby lotion and rub it over and over again into the backs of my dry hands, and give thanks for still being alone.