travelogue: rochester, ny

We spend most of the day driving. The long, gray roadways. The cold winds are fierce. By late afternoon, it is dark. Snow swirls in the headlights. 

This time last year, the sky was so clear. The stars so bright. When we arrived in Geneseo, I looked up the names of the constellations and wrote them down. But there are no stars tonight and a year later, few things remain the same. 

We sleep cocooned in pitch darkness. The lights here are distant and we are high up, far from the noise of the street. The silence. The enveloping dark. 

In the morning, the sky is spread with clouds. There is a light on in an office building across the way. I see file cabinets and stacks of paper. 

Mostly, I see rooftops, snow-covered. A parking lot, empty but for one white van in the corner. A radio tower in the distance, its red light piercing gray sky. A scattering of yellow street lights. 

I take the elevator down to the fourth floor. The treadmills overlook the pool, empty now, bathed in blue light. I leave the mute television screen on the bicycle as I ride. Someone has won a race. There is a fire burning somewhere. Somewhere else, people are gathering to pray. 

This year, we are steeped in the ends of things. There is no longer a house in which to gather. We are perhaps a bit unmoored, although we will likely not speak of it. So much of our lives lived in these silences. All the fears and the sadness that we wrestle with alone.

My son plays on the floor of our hotel room while I wait for the watery coffee to drip into its paper cup. There is the dull hum of the heating fan. The shower running. 

We stop at a favorite bookstore on the way in. It is warm, sprawling. In the back corner, there is a table of maps. I run my fingers over the displays, but I am distracted, so I don’t linger. My son finds me. He is carrying a small stack of books, holds them up for me to see. I take his hand and we make our way to the checkout. 

In the cafe next door, we order soup and sandwiches and watch as clusters of people come and go, carrying their bags and boxes. At the next table, a man and woman eat their meal in silence. She stares at a point just beyond his head. I feel sadness for them and then am ashamed of my sadness. I know nothing of their lives.

As they stand to leave, she picks up her own tray and then his and says: “I’ll take this to the trash.” They walk out into the icy night. 

We go downstairs to the restaurant for breakfast and are mistaken for someone else. Welcome back, the young woman chirps at us, her hair pulled high on her head. Where are the others today?

“It’s just us,” I say, playing along. There is no reason to get into it. 

I have a dull ache at the base of my skull and the skin around my eyes feels tender, swollen, as if I had spent the evening weeping. 

In the bathroom mirror, in the unforgiving light, I do not recognize my own face. There is a yellow cast to my skin, a sunken hollow in my left cheek. A dimple in my chin I had not noticed before. 

What happens to the selves we used to be? Each year that passes, how we shed our skins. Who are we now, and what will we become? 

In the hotel pool, Christmas music plays on an endless loop. We splash around, my son and me, let the cool water carry us. We are alone. My son sings songs he has learned in school.

At one end of the cavernous room, there is a wall of glass and through it, we can see snow on the ground. In the sky, there is a band of bright light where the sun tries to break through the layers of smeary clouds.

My son wraps his arms around my neck, his legs around my waist. I walk the length of the pool like this with him. He is still singing, softly now, his mouth near my ear. There are water droplets clinging to his cheek.

Later, perhaps the sky will clear. But for now we take all the light that is given.