Is it a bird, if it cannot fly? If it is stuck to paper and made of paint, but you can see its Potential, does it live? I see faces In maps of far away lands in stucco and cracks on the wall, with emotion, personality, attitude. Our minds look for patterns, and find them, even where they don't belong.
The cold is in my nose. I can no longer use it to breathe. I open my mouth and the cold pours in. It hits the back of my throat, it penetrates my trachea, and explodes into my brain.
I stop, frozen, mid-stride, mid-sidewalk. At first, people flow around me, only cursing the blockage. Soon, others stop, not frozen, just curious. Am I a statue? Am I a joke? An odd ad for the shop I’m stuck in front of? Screens come out of pockets, capturing my humiliation. I go viral. “Don’t touch me, I’m probably contagious,” I do not say with frozen lips and tongue, because it would only add to the bad joke.
It all ends when a gust of small boys or a mischievous wind knocks into me from behind and I go down with a resounding clang onto the pavement. No longer meme-worthy, the screens dissipate. The owner of the blocked shop brings out a portable heater. “What am I paying taxes for,” he grumbles while scraping at my edges. I obligingly melt into the crowd, my inability to breathe the least of his problems.
On the last day of the year, I dreamed of heat. The melting asphalt was soft under my shoes, like walking on an air mattress or a balloon. Something poppable. The thought pricked my brain and I sank, slowly, inch by inch into the black sticky sludge.
Too slow. Fear turned to boredom while every inch took longer than the last.
Like the woolly mammoth in the museum, stuck halfway in the tar pit, eyes wide with panicked confusion, forever asking: How did this happen? and Why doesn’t it ever get significantly worse? I’m always just on the verge of disaster, but never fully committed to the ending.
The pretty girls chatter, painted nails woven with the chain-link. The others hover, waiting for an opening either through death or disfigurement, the method matters not. Boys pose and pout and kick at the ground because, well, because.
You stand somewhere in-between, your head full of algebraic equations, energy and matter and the colors of rainbows. If you don’t hear our laughter does that mean it isn’t happening?
We’re jealous of the way you separate without conflict, the way you suffer neither the in nor the out, unaware of the fear we cling to with our decorated digits.
They speed through daylight obscured while sitting too close. The rings on their fingers don’t match despite earnest dreaming. With mist and shadow they build houses, make children with corresponding eye colors and weave monogrammed hand towels. They breathe a whole life onto a hazy windshield.
An alarm chimes.
Blinking, they move apart, left and right, away from where they were, as the fog lifts all at once. They awake to pain, like a slap in the face, like a flashlight in the eye held by a cop asking, do you know how fast you were going?
You say, I want a dog.
I say, a dog won’t fit inside this house. The rooms are too small, our lives are too big, we are crammed inside, too tight. My shoulders brush the door jambs, your head bumps into the ceiling. We breathe each other’s air, too often, coughing, choking. It would be cruel to force a creature with four legs to share the space already filled by our four legs. I’m stepping on your toes trying to keep out of my own way.
This house is old, it is falling down, down around my ears, the dust is in my hair. The walls slump in defeat. The creaking stairs mutter, this is all going to shit. The floors sag under the weight of trapped emotions, under unvoiced complaints and suppressed rages. The cracks creep, widening every day, absorbing us, our souls coated by shifting sheetrock, pulverized plaster.
A dog would bound and leap and bounce and shake the very foundation. It would take over the one bit of remaining space, the nook under the desk, the place I save for when I need to get away. I would implode at the first bark.
It’s a state of mind. It’s a series of milestones. It’s mostly about endings, about starting and finishing. On my seventh birthday, I told my mom I didn’t want any more. Somehow I knew life couldn’t get any better – that aging meant less of everything my life was then made of: sunlight and fresh air, running without fear of falling, and living without concern of consequences. I want to get that feeling back – to return to the constant now. To find a way free of responsibility. To shed the weight of years of worry. To lose my fear of falling.
The homeless man holds a cardboard sign towards my car while I idle at a red light. I am struck by the artistry of the sign, the layout and penmanship. I want to open the window, I want to tell him how much I admire his work, but I have no cash, and I am not a tease. The light changes to green. As I pass him, our eyes meet, so I give him a worthless smile. But he smiles back, a smile as beautiful as his sign. I think I’m the one who came away richer from the encounter.
What’s the difference between the herd of cows in the slaughter shoot and the herd of frequent flyers boarding a plane? There is none. (This is not a joke.) The chaos of the kindergarten classroom after recess is less stressful than the whiny business-casual crowd elbowing and shoving, me first, I have status! No chivalry here, all are equally more important than any other person there. I need room for my super-important bag, I need room for my super-important laptop with my super-important spreadsheet – don’t you dare lean that seat back, I’ll call the flight attendant and tell on you!
We speak now of the brilliance of the child. The adults charged with his care and instruction are in turn overwhelmed, frustrated, baffled and amused. Is it better to dim the blinding light – shutter – control – contain, or should one let it shine? Release the lambent humor, the distinctive speech, and the radiant thoughts and try to absorb the glow. Potentially suffer the anguish, albeit unintentional, of careless burns. We speak of the long and short consequences, of pain now or pain later. For the well-meaning adults and also for the child whose adulthood is but a few short years away.