The postal courier smells like hard liquor at noon. She stands outside a hair salon down the street waiting for a signature, her coat changed from the windbreaker of fall to the puffed parka of winter.
Outside another hair salon two blocks away, the pavement remains stained with blood. The lack of rain hasn’t washed it away, and several soiled tissues remained by the curb for a week. I happen to walk past at precisely the time when an old woman stoops low, one hand holding her cane, the other scooping up the bloody fragments into a plastic bag.
A child stands at the corner of our flat, punctuated by another eyeglass shop. She screams as I walk past with the dog, points and runs behind familiar legs. Her parents laugh and take her shy hand as they walk on.
The bouncer takes a rest from his expressionless face to share a cigarette break with two other men. They exhale smoke gracefully above our heads, whether to be polite or glance up at the starless sky I cannot say, laughing occasionally in foreign tongues. We sway gradually into the night, the streets growing louder with each bar exit.
I’m reminded of lazy, rainy hours spent folded on the floor as a little girl, toys scattered over the wood grain. Uncountable moments of afternoons led all the contents of those clear boxes to mingle into piles of cheap plastic, wood, and polyester fabric. The carefully separated dolls, miniature furniture, and legos lay mixed into one diverse and confusing menagerie.
Past lives were spent commuting from one container to the next, scarcely five minutes outside, a series of opaque cubes to house career and home and play. Furious overworking just to stay on top of each daunting job. Time off spent forever stimulated by words, sounds, images—catered by me to comfort me. Podcasts on architecture, storytelling, and confessions. Articles of incredible beauty and fascination, contemporary projects and relevant culture. A cocoon of my own making, to keep myself inspired, to distract from thinking too heavily on the present, to dampen the dreamy yearnings that threatened the safety net of daily existence.
A continuation of the familiar. A necessary style of living. A common ground. A life known only of suburbs and country roads, nothing inherently negative about either. I never was a city girl—its stimulation creates emotional waves, throwing me off-balance, consuming my thoughts with weather systems of empathy and apathy.
Yet here we are, housed in the city. Walking as a foreigner, incognito, though one glance at my bone structure and a local would know. To turn and fold into the old origami of media comfort would be foolish. I don’t want to be a modern vampire of the city, waking to my old life, each day the same but for the consumption of books, movies, and web addresses. So I gather these fragments, reminiscent of snatches of a song you might know if you could hear more, but the car speeds up and the summer haze distorts the sound as it passes. There is room to look around, to spend much time on foot, walking into situations inconvenient and challenging, bizarre and good-humored. There is relief in letting the pieces mix without needing to make sense. A menagerie I don’t need to organize to understand. To return them to their boxes would be missing the point entirely.