Extraordinary stories from everyday life on the edge of the world

Stories

the best thing about us is the people we know.
 

Elm Street // Sunday, 3.32pm

I stay as long as I can, trying to be unbothered and even accepting of the grimy whinging children to my right, and the throng of down-at-the-heels men collecting around the bench to my left. As I walked in, there were a group of dirty hippies reflectively playing music together at the entrance to Veterans' Memorial Park, between Merrimack and Central, and an old man in a Grateful Dead tshirt, ensconced in a wheelchair, asked me to come over to him.

"You're a good-looking woman," he said, "and I'm a beautiful man..."

The thrust of these observations was communicated more through his facial expressions than through intelligible words. He did have beautiful eyes, large and clear and grey.

Stefano asked didn't I sometimes get scared about making ends meet, and I said...very glibly, because it was in a moment where all the uncertainties had the glamor of being exciting...of course, I was scared all the time. I've just learned that I'd be scared whether I was out in the world or not.

Though glib, that was true. It still is.

But for the first time in a long time, I have less than enough in both my bank accounts to buy a tank of gas.

There's a point where you're terrified often enough that you get used to it, and it becomes an annoyance rather than a cause of dread. That's where I am now. It's better than dread, since it doesn't make you shake uncontrollably. But it's fundamentally still the same--founded on the fact of being able to do nothing.

I lie on my face and for a few minutes, I feel relief in praying and thanking God for the relief of knowing someone who doesn't struggle the way I do, whose feelings I don't have to spare because they might be suffering the same things as me. I guess that's that mode of worship that in the cliche acronym is known as "adoration." Just I'm glad you are who you are. And it feels good for a few minutes, and I relax inside, and I think I might fall mercifully asleep, because I need to.

And then the kids pass close by me and I heard one of them say "Aw, hell, yeah," and a trace of fear that they're eyeing my person or my belongings wakes me up. They've moved on past, but I see a tiny grey spider moving as if in stop-motion animation across the surface of my Bible. I try to flick it away, and it jumps. Jumping spiders are an alotgether different thing, and I sit up, trying to outsmart this unwelcome adaptation.

Then behind me whizzes the biggest wasp I've ever seen. It hovers within my periphery, and as I wonder whether swatting it would be a mistake, it buzzes closer. I'm the opposite of relaxed and accepting and unbothered, though I've tried very hard, so that by the time both wasp and spider take their business elsewhere, I'm hypersensitive and also feeling rather foolish for my purse, my little pearl earrings, my bright Mexican blanket that I've brought along in an effusion of optimism about lying in the sunshine in the park.

I meant to stay all afternoon; I now compromise on another half hour. I'll leave at four.

I open the book I'm trying to finish, but it's the work of Marilynne Robinson and doesn't lend itself to quick absorption of the frontal lobe. The kids are fighting over a plastic bag. growling and sniveling at each other. A cloud covers the sun, and I smell skunk weed drifting across the park. Directly in front of me, a person of indeterminate sex, wearing cargo pants and long hair, poses like a statue, standing stock still, arm outstretched, knee lunged forward; at length, he or she straightens up and moves with queer methodology across the grass.

A man walks past, and says "Aw, girl" and I look over at him, since I prefer not to ignore comments like these when they're made on purpose. But he's not looking at me; I return to my book. He says something then about a fine booty; this, if he's talking about me, indicates a certain level of delusion, and I am content to ignore it.

The down-at-heels group has grown larger, as have the number of occupants draped over benches in attitudes of repose. One has even occupied the concert stage.

It's been a long time since I've felt so distinctly that I don't belong. And I tried, God knows, to overcome it. These are the people that I identify with, when I'm among the other half--the settled and the solvent--among whom I am somewhat proud to not belong.

I'm realizing that, in fact, I really know very little of these folks that I identify with. They surround me, and I feel like an interloper, like I've arrived at a party that everyone said was cool to crash, but didn't say there would be an implicit dress code. I came here only to be, to do things on my own. Apparently, I'm not of such as these. And I can't blame them.

I get up, I shake out my blanket and put on my shoes in what I hope is an apologetic attitude. As I'm following the pathway out, another down-at-heels man crosses behind me and says "You have a good day, and a good week." I turn around; he has a boxer's mashed-in nose sand the left side of his face is scarred and swollen. "Thanks," I say. He keeps on, in a half mumble half shout, and though I don't hurry, neither do I try to understand. I've nearly escaped when he concludes, after what may have been a compliment or an insult,

"...Don't ever let anyone tell you you're not. You shouldn't  be alone."

I'm sure that if he even knows what he means, he means well.

"Fuck you," I nevertheless think, as I flee, "there's only so much you can do about that."