The curtains that are my eyelids droop at half-mast. Entangled in all kinds of tired, my pulverized nerves are begging for a white flag of slumber surrender. The gauzy veil of my vision notes tree trunks, mounds of upturned chunks of cement and the more distant façade of lackluster storefronts. But the cacophony coming at me in dizzy intervals mutes the totality of what I see. It is all forgettable, a clump of superfluous mush impervious to my pain.
And then, from the beige of blah, a pinprick of awareness pulses as a man enters my sight. With even shoulders and a thin yet ropy hint of muscle, he holds to him a modest bun of belongings. He approaches the cylinder perimeter of the water fountain, which serves as the uniting vantage point of this business complex. He unrolls his things and even from the distance of the parking lot, I can discern a plastic bag safeguarding one bar of soap. The gentle precision of his movement, unlacing his tattered shoes, scrunching his industrially bright white socks down, and rolling his pant legs to mid calf transfixes me.
He wades into the water, sputtering from an ancient centerpiece with a kind of grace I imagine to be reserved for ablutions. I cannot tear my gaze from him and I hope that should he feel my interest, he will somehow sense that mine is not an admonishing stare. Much to the contrary, I’m slogging through a mush of awe at the sacrosanct manner this man soaps his feet and hands, while simultaneously cursing the ideological infrastructure that has left him without shelter. Apparently immune to the reverie I’m feeling, a man outstretched on a bench less than a few feet from the fountain, is impervious to the life splashing before him. Remaining engrossed in the screen of his phone, the pangs of depersonalization propagated by modern technology surge over me.
There are few convictions I commit to these days. But this man matters to me, of this I am sure. I am also sure, suddenly, that I have seen him before. A flicker of recognition, of him curbside patiently requesting whatever kindness strangers may bestow upon him, catches sparks in my memory. I don’t want to be a stranger, another person averting her attention.
Hot tears burn from behind my eyes as I am caught in a frenzy of urgency to give. With propulsion thrumming through me, I ride the coattails of whatever I’ve got because for what may be the first time in a long time, I want to give it away.
Having corralled a handful of change into my palms, I swing the passenger door open, rushing to catch him before he continues on to his next destination. My feet do not carry me quick enough though, and his steady strides have moved him too far. There is an inexplicable lament of sadness that sloshes over me, side to side, back and forth.
The coins grow balmy in my palm, their metallic scent perfuming my air as I brush a stray curl from my face. A dull gust whispers among the canopy of branches above, wafting down over me, and everybody else tucked comfortably within their crannies of oblivion.
The scene again fades to tasteless mush, a non-specific landscape of what seems to me to be a whole lot of stuff we don’t need. The paucity of intangible trinkets we do need takes on an ironic weight, not unlike a boulder of emptiness. I lug around an unwelcome totem of memory; heinous times marring my insides.
The template in my head picks over theoretical underpinning from another lifetime. As though searching a box of Crayolas for the precise shade, I roll the pastel paradigm tips over the touch pads of my intellect: topaz, sunshine, periwinkle, selected individually or as a trio, it is not beyond me that the ingenuity of principle is nothing without the moral compass to actualize it. As I slog my uncharted course back to my car, I wonder madly for what must be the seventeenth time in as many hours: How do we make the forgettable matter? What will it take humanity to remember our sameness in a society deluded by division? Why is it that we’ve become so immersed in filling voids with manufactured sustenance that the core of connection has become severed?