I am up early this morning – finally, after weeks of interruptions to my routine. My knees ache, so that “running” has become an even more generous term for what I do. It is still dark. My time is short, but I wait as long as I can before leaving the house, hoping for light. When I can’t delay a minute more, I step out into the darkness, braced for the cold, head down toward the stadium. In the darkness, the bushes and shrubs take on a silvery sheen. The honeysuckle vine – so lush and full months ago – clings limply to its fence, its leaves gray and ashen. There are still low mounds of snow in a few places where even the full afternoon sun does not reach.
On the front lawn of a house near the stadium, a few forgotten Christmas decorations still stand. A row of plastic candy canes, leaning. A deflated Santa, face down on the dry grass.
A friend of mine fell on the pavement last week, limped her way home, her forehead bleeding. I bring her flowers. This has become – the choosing, delivering of flowers – a kind of default response that I have now, to the complicated traumas of my friends. To suggest the promise of spring, I choose tulips and hyacinths, ask them at the store to wrap them all in brightly-colored tissue, tie it with curling ribbon. I stand on the front porch with my offering, as she makes her way to the door.
As I am leaving, she points out the blood on the porch – the wine-dark splattered pattern it has left on the wood. On my walk this morning when I see stains on the sidewalk, I maneuver quickly around them even stepping down into the street when I have to.
Over the weekend, I take a long walk with my friend J. along the tree-lined boulevard in the afternoon sun. The path is muddy in places, and we can see the footprints of our fellow travelers. Treads of sneakers and boots. Dogs’ paws. The jarring imprint of those running shoes that are not shoes at all, but like gloves for the feet, that leave the bare human print in the cold mud.
We talk about the man she is dating, although she is hesitant to call it that. “It doesn’t seem like that’s quite the right term,” she says. He lives far away now, and she lowers her voice when she tells me that she met up with him at a hotel a few nights ago. There is another man who is constantly calling her, texting her, telling her how much he wants to see her. “I am not interested,” she says. But, this – the hotel man, who drinks too much and has made it clear that he is not looking for attachments – of this, she says, “I can’t get enough.”
J. tells me about this story that she hears on the radio. About a man who meets a woman at a convention on the west coast. He speaks of the immediate and deep connection he feels to her. With all the improbability of fairy tale, it turns out that they live in the same apartment building in New York. When the return home, they spend months in the bliss of early love. They are inseparable. Another business trip takes him back west, and she goes with him. She gets sick, though – a cold, and decides to take an earlier flight back home. At the airport, before she boards, she tells him that she thinks they should have children. And that if they are going to have children, they should marry. Yes, he says without hesitation – of course.
On the flight, what she thought was a cold takes a bizarre turn, and she slips into a coma. She is dead by the time the flight lands in New York.
When the man is asked about how this has changed him, if he has become bitter about losing the love of his life, he says no. He says no, no. That before he met her, he didn’t believe that anyone could connect to anyone else so deeply. That his love for her awakened him, made him alive to the world around him. That he did not believe in the idea of a soul, of a life force. But now, everyone he meets, he sees this life in them.
We are approaching the end of the walk, and we are quiet for a minute. Then J. says, “He said that he had met his soulmate.” The word hangs there – strange, archaic. “That even though they only had that short time together, she was with him, and would be, for the rest of his life.”
By the time I get to the track at the stadium, there is a ribbon of pink on the horizon. I am grateful for it, and for the briskness of the morning. As I make my rounds, I watch the light come gradually, until the whole wide sky is illuminated and I head back toward home.
As I turn the corner to my street, I am struck by the view over the highway as if seeing it for the first time. In the distance, the cityscape rises up – the church spire, the office buildings. The red cranes at the construction site. The phrase that leaps to mind unbidden is: “all of this is reaching.” I am not certain, even what I mean by it but as I approach my driveway, I can feel the cold air fill my lungs, can feel my chest expand with it. And the buildings – the spires and the rooftops – they are still, immobile of course, but for a moment, it seems possible to believe that even they too, are yearning – reaching, imperceptibly – to the sky.