Monday, January 19, 2009

The kindness of strangers

Today I will once again walk out into the below freezing temperatures of this city. My eyes, stung by the icy breeze, will tear up and I will hastily wipe the tears away before they congeal into salty little icicles on my lashes. Inevitably someone I know will be walking by and will stop to ask – everything okay?

This is not New York.

There was another time when I walked through city streets with tears streaming down my face. These tears were real, not just some weather inspired phenomenon. Someone very dear to me was in the hospital – on his deathbed actually. I walked along holding my cell phone so tightly that my fingers were later white from the strain. I ended the call not even knowing that I was already crying from the terrible news. I cried my heart out, not caring to even put up a fight for presentability and appearances. The streets were full of strangers, all moving on without a second glance, protecting me from questions and feelings I did not have the strength to face, allowing me my moment by the very lack of interest that might make them appear heartless.

If that happened here I would stifle my sobs and postpone my fear and sadness just to avoid the concerned questions. I would risk slipping on the ice and walk quickly to avoid a look of sympathy that would make me break down completely.

I crave the warmth and comfort of anonymity that New York offers.

Sometimes when waiting to cross a street I remember a story JKL told me. She had been standing, waiting to cross the street, and there was a little boy and a dog also waiting to cross. As she watched them engage in a staring contest, the boy barked at the dog! Mrphrhaha. Even now I chortle out loud to think of it. I don’t even know if the story is funny, but JKL’s expressions and the mirth of the moment still bring a chuckle, sometimes even a guffaw, to my lips.

I strain to change my chuckles into sneezes here. I wouldn’t want an acquaintance to think of me as “that girl who laughs for no reason as she walks.” A friend would ask what was so funny. I think explanations kind of kill the joke. New York would let me double up with laughter over seemingly nothing at all if I so pleased.

Well, out I go now. I must remember to school my features into not-my-walking-face. Apparently I look angry or upset when I’m just walking about. I have been asked “what’s wrong?” or been told “smile a little!” even when in a perfectly good mood. Apparently I am supposed to go around like a nutjob grinning at the world all day long. Who knows. I prefer not to invite questions of “what’s wrong” when nothing, in fact, is wrong. So even if my new walking-face invites the flyer-people to think they have found a friend and even if it’s difficult to keep from frowning at the inhumanely cold conditions here I shall de-furrow my brow.

Perhaps when I leave this place I’ll miss the friendly hellos and smiles that I encounter here as I’m walking out to get some milk. Or, of course, I’ll be able to stumble out in pajamas looking an absolute horror to get milk for my cereal and not give a damn.

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