I keep walking into traffic, black cabs honking at me, giant red double-decker buses looming up in my face at the last minute, my friend yanking back my arm, “Look out!” I cannot get the hang of checking for cars in the right direction, even with LOOK LEFT and LOOK RIGHT helpfully painted on the roadway. It’s not obliviousness, but misplaced instinct—last week was Puerto Vallarta in the off-season, every taxi drifting slowly by, calling out to me in hope that I was tired of walking, ready to go to Nuevo Vallarta to a club or a casino or even the airport (150 pesos!) instead of walking and browsing through the old city, the local part of town.
The week before was Canada, where just standing on the curb indecisively leads to sudden braking. Half the time I ended up crossing without really needing to, feeling obligated to the stopped line of cars.
Here the City goes about its business, the pedestrians are on their own lookout. The street signs are bolted to the sides of buildings, or painted on. In the county town where I sleep, the names of closes and courts and lanes and ways are on signs at knee level, easy to spot now that I remember where to look.
I don’t know where to look when my friend’s children get home from school. They’re at the whiny, I-want-it age, the age where they’ve started noticing what their friends are wearing without comprehending how a household budget works. I write my mother, Were we that ungrateful? Did we have to be asked five times to empty the dishwasher? I’m sure we were, we did, we’re getting old now and we don’t remember storming up the stairs with “I hate you!” bitter in our mouths. Now we ride the train and raise our eyebrows at the teenage girls with piercing voices.
My friend has no support system, only barely out of “I hate you!” with her own parents after twenty-five years of bed-sits and keeping the house cold to save, still paying off the debts from two partners ago, still in therapy from the last partner, still replacing the things she gave up to move for the twenty-third time. I remind myself of these things when I notice that she does not want her children. I try to remember to shut the door so that someone creeping to the bathroom in the night won’t hear “mistake” and “doing my time.”
I would feel the same.
As my coach says, “None of the plans you’ve ever talked about have a little person running around in them.” And maybe I’d be more driven if they did, if dinner for all of us depending on turning out words every day. Maybe I would have my friend’s MBA, her fast-paced job, her five CV pages of skill set. Instead I have late mornings, afternoon tea, squeezing out a few paragraphs before the bus home, the wayward days of the artist alone.
Do you secretly wish you'd worn that condom?