Yesterday, the man at the bus stop across the street from my house turned his head away as we pulled out of the driveway. I was perplexed. For months now, this ritual: I back out of my driveway, pull alongside the curb next to him, he waves, I wave back, and then I head down the street on my way. But yesterday, I’m alongside the curb and he has turned away, looking down toward the highway where the cars and trucks speed past.
I think about this periodically throughout the day. His turning away seems intentional, but it is hard to imagine why. Is there a response he is expecting to elicit from me? Have I done something to offend? What are the dictates of etiquette for such an odd type of interaction, over time?
I wake with my son curled up against me. There is dried blood on his cheek from a nosebleed in the night. I paw at his face with a tissue while he squirms. He throws his arm around my neck then and mashes his nose into my face. I bring my hand to my cheek after he gets up to see whether he has left traces of blood, but there is nothing.
This morning, the bus stop man is out there and he waves and I wave back and it’s like old times again. I drive off with the windows down, let the cool air in.
The construction on the new bridge has closed the old bridge, causing a kind of quiet chaos. I sit in barely moving traffic, seething.
As we inch along, I see a man walking on the sidewalk, the wing of a black crow tattooed across the right side of his face.
We drive past the river and then up around the library. My boy says: “I see the waterfall where we sometimes used to go.”
Tensions are running high. Horns honk. A white van pulls off the road and on to the sidewalk. We crawl past boarded up storefronts. As I pass the van, I see its driver resting his forehead on the steering wheel.
It is not only the bridge that is closed, but several streets around it as well. The downtown is a disaster. Cars lined up in all directions. There are no signs showing detour routes; on the bridge, just a man in an orange vest angrily pointing.
My son unprompted says: “Do you know why I was whispering put me down? Because I was imagining I was in a rocket that was already in space.”
I don’t stay the course. I keep thinking I can find an alternate route. At every decision point, it seems, I make the wrong turn. I hit dead ends. One way streets in the wrong direction.
I verbalize my frustration. This makes my son cry. I turn around to see fat tears rolling down his cheeks.
I’m sorry, I tell him: “I’m so, so sorry.”
I drive for more than an hour in a seemingly endless loop within a single mile radius of my house. I imagine abandoning the task altogether – parking the car, walking him home, spending the morning watching cartoons with him, the faded blue blanket wrapped around us.
“Is it a school day or a home day?” he would ask, and I would tell him, “Let’s pretend it’s a camping day,” and we’d eat popcorn and drink hot chocolate, float marshmallows in it.
I’m in my gym clothes for my first appointment of the morning, but the bridge nonsense makes me miss it and my schedule is thrown off. I’ve brought my work clothes with me, but have nowhere to change into them and little time before the next meeting. I surreptitiously pull on my tights in the front seat of my car, parked on a side street beneath a dogwood tree.
I step out of the car fully dressed and the sense of accomplishment I feel is disproportionate to the task, but after the earlier frustrations, I decide to allow myself a few moments of smug self-satisfaction.
The day plods along with its banalities. I make phone calls. I write things down. I make piles of papers, move them from one side of my desk to another. Outside, on the street, a man and a woman argue in front of the restaurant.
“You are not listening,” he says, “why don’t you listen to me?”
She says: “Why are you always saying the same thing?”
“Because you don’t listen,” he says. “Please,” he says.
“Oh, I’ll listen,” she says, “I will when you have something to say.”
The last meeting of the day requires a walk in the sun and I am grateful for it, despite the wind. At the skating rink, kids with their skateboards show off for each other, throw their bodies around, reckless. I feel the familiar ache in my knees as if the suggestion of such movement alone triggers pain. The day has been a wearying one.
I hear the cooing of birds and scan the nearby tree branches, searching, but I don’t see them. I stop on the sidewalk, stand still for a moment, listening. I look in the direction of the sound but still, I can’t seem to locate them.
I close my eyes. Feel the wind, the sun on my face. I take a deep breath, hold it for as long as I can bear it, then exhale.