Part 12: Sidewalks
I left. Out of the corner of my eye I see the glass of horchata sitting untasted on the table I vacated. The waitress will bring my tacos and she’ll wonder. She’ll walk over with my plate, look around, set it down, and look around some more. Her hand on her hip, she’ll mutter something dirty about me in Spanish as she picks up the wad of bills I left on the table.
I see the horchata on the table and I think of another time when we ordered it together. A pitcher! you said and the waitress thought we were crazy. I didn’t care. I was happy sitting in a flood of sunlight. It was warm outside and my sister was coming to visit the next day and we walked together to your apartment to waste the rest of the afternoon.
Or was that you? I’m having trouble remembering now because there’s an ambulance siren wailing in my ear getting louder and louder but never seeming to pass me by, and there’s the train crashing into the station above my head, and there’s another alarm sounding that I don’t recognize. All three are happening at once and it’s too much and I’m trying to focus on the sidewalk in front of me so I don’t…so I don’t what? I’m not even sure what I’m afraid might happen.
I see a man’s shoes come into my line of sight and look up quickly but we bump into each other anyway. Contrary to what you may be thinking, we don’t know each other and I’ve never seen him in my life. He’s older than I am and we pardon ourselves with a smile. He looks a bit like the first boy I ever had a crush on when he smiles and I remember him: too tall, too sensitive, too much, not enough…but that smile! It would take him places I was sure. I never kept in touch with him, though, and he fell out of my life like so many others. But three years ago I thought I saw him. He was coming out of a methadone clinic in Uptown on a day that looked like October. At least he made it out of the suburbs.
We all did, I guess. Our dreams, the ones we all had in common, were to leave that town, that school, those houses, the same ones our parents worked so hard to get us into. My father’s job managing the store put us there, my sister and me. So many evenings we stayed home alone and I cooked frozen dinners in the microwave for us eat. I was nine? Ten? Eleven? I don’t remember those being hard times. I just remember that he’d kiss our foreheads when he came in late, when we were sitting cross-legged in front of the TV not paying attention to him.
A wonder I didn’t burn down the house. A wonder I made it out at all. And now here I am—out—if that’s what we’re calling it, standing on a sidewalk in a city full of people I don’t know, and some I do know, and some I wish I didn’t, and more I wish I did. I sit down right here against the brick wall with my forehead on my knees because there’s nothing else to do and when I finally look up there’s Graham leaning down to grab my arm and bring me to my feet.