ten million miles
ten million miles
Ambivalent spring descended upon us today. Not in that blue-sky-tulips-pushing-up-euphoria-in-the-air kind of way, but with a shrug and a shuffle, and a resigned tepid warmth.
And in Harvard Square, the layers were shed, our pasty New England flesh revealed, begging for some UV rays. The benches filled up, parents and toddlers and dogs and students and street urchins and musicians. Restless. Grateful for the warmth but wanting something more. And despite the pile of unread books on the floor beside my bed, I couldn’t resist the bookstore’s pull. I went straight for the B’s. James Baldwin. Balm for a troubled soul.
And made a beeline for a café. Where I ordered a double macchiato and read my new book. And looked out the window. And in my heart, silently begged the two strangers beside me to invite me into their conversation. But they got up and left instead, as strangers do, and so I read my book some more. And I looked around at all the eccentric Cambridgites – society’s proud misfits that keep me somehow tied to this cold unfriendly city – and I noticed the man with the headphones and the Kant furtively trying to catch my eye, and then looking away when he did. I’m sure something in my demeanor said, Don’t bother trying to talk to me, I’m a New Englander just like you.
All these alone-people sitting alone in cafés. We hide behind our books and our furrowed brows. We pretend to be deep in thought when all we really want is for someone to say Hi. Or even just to offer a smile, rather than pretending to stare past us when we catch them looking our way. I’m one of them. I do that.
Last weekend at 1369 I did something uncharacteristic. Behind me I overheard two girls talking about how difficult it is to make new friends in Boston… and I did something I never do… I turned around and said “Hi.” I said, “I couldn’t help but overhearing your conversation…”
But I’m not bold enough to this sort of social rebellion on a regular basis. And though I really did kind of want to talk to someone, I was pretty sure that I didn’t want to talk to anyone who wanted to talk to me first. You know how it goes. Because I’m a New England snob too. So I finally put away my book and left. As strangers do.
And I went home and cooked my usual weekend brunch. Fried up some onions and chili, some cumin and coriander, scrambled a couple eggs… Put my new Patty Griffin CD on the stereo (thank you Annie)…And thought about how I came to be here. How I came to be one of these alone-people sitting alone in cafés… And Patty sang to me:
I must have walked ten million miles, wore some shoes that weren’t my style, fell into the rank and file, so just say I was here a while, a fool in search of your sweet smile, ten million miles…
I traced my movements back through the years. How I came to be in the Northeast. How I came to move to the other side of the world. And back again. How I came to find comfort in cities where nobody knows me. How I came to find comfort sitting in cafés behind the safety of my books avoiding the furtive eyes of strangers.
And I wondered who I might have been with different friends. I wondered what it would be like to live a life surrounded by people that give a shit. Does any girl get through school without being bludgeoned by her friends?
And then my roommate came out and slammed the door. Didn’t like my music. Or didn’t like my singing. Or didn’t like me. And this is how my life goes. Why I’ve come to prefer Alone.
Stretched out across my bed, I pull open the window. Try and let Spring in. By now the sky’s gone a fuzzy matte gray. Must be about to rain. Still, spring might be ambivalent but the birds aren’t. Euphoric, they puff up their little chests and dance around. Warble and chirp. A gray squirrel leaps a branch carrying a nut the size of his head. My cat jumps onto the bed with big eyes, ears twitching back and forth. I spot a pair of cardinals – the only bird I know how to identify – red boys and gray-green girls. I don’t remember ever seeing cardinals here before.
Maybe I just wasn’t looking.