When the girls were little, solo walks around the city like this were rare. They still don’t happen very often even though they’re school age and there are now 34 hours a week spent apart from them, but yes, sometimes long solo walks do happen. They’re often not planned and most times are spur of the moment when I run in to do an errand and just decide to keep walking. You know that saying, “taking a walk to clear your head”. I suppose it’s true especially when your thoughts can sometimes suffocate you, but I also notice that when you’re walking briskly through a city that you have a long history with, the neighborhoods and streets move through like scenes from a movie and your thoughts and memories flood in alongside them.
You know how some people from your past pop into your head very randomly? Maybe someone you didn’t even know that well and hadn’t thought about in years and years until you see something that triggers a memory. Like a girl I used to know in art school who was really obsessed with Steely Dan, or that guy in the architecture program who I traveled one summer with up to Quebec City and camped out for 2 weeks along with some other people up in the woods by the Saint Lawrence River in Quebec in late August, 1990. That trip would be the one time in my life I have seen the Northern Lights. There was a stretch of rain during that trip that wouldn’t stop for days and we were all sitting around a fire after the rains finally eased up trying to keep warm. I remember one girl, who I didn’t know at all, say out loud almost as if to herself while staring at the fire, “I’m cold. I’m wet. I’m happy.”
Funny how certain memories and voices stay with you after 24 years. I’ll never forget this Russian woman who was one year ahead of me in art school. We were in the same advanced color theory class together and as we were getting ready to head into class, she looked down at me and my weekly color assignment as I was crouched by my locker and said to me dryly in her thick Russian accent, “we’re not in Rubin’s class anymore”, referring to the first year color theory class we all had to take as freshmen. She had a head full of fiery red curls and was a good 4 inches shorter than me, but damn if she didn’t tower over me during that brief exchange. I still remember her accent and the intonation of her voice when she spoke to me that day. If she intended to knock me down a peg she succeeded.
Sometimes I wonder where these people are and what became of them. Some just pass through your life momentarily and you know you’ll never see them again. Others who you think might stay in your life forever end up moving on as well. But sometimes against all odds you might catch a face that looks familiar as you’re moving through this city on perhaps a walk like this one the other day. I was in a crowded subway about 10 years ago and in my peripheral vision saw someone looking at me a little more intently than is normal for train riders who usually avoid making eye contact with each other. When I looked over, it was a face that looked somewhat familiar, but I couldn’t place it. I wasn’t sure if I knew him or not. He gave me the slightest smile of acknowledgment, but when I didn’t return it the smile quickly disappeared. He left the train when it arrived at the next station. I tried to place that face the entire train ride home, shuffling through people and memories and years. I finally did remember who the man was – I didn’t know him well but we attended some of the same East Village parties back in the day and had some good conversations whenever we saw each other. I’ll never forget how quickly his face changed from that half smile of recognition to a look of doubt that perhaps he made a mistake.
I like when random people come into my thoughts when I have the space and time to let my mind wander. I like when I can sit down on a bench by myself in Washington Square or Tompkins Square Park and think about all the people I’ve encountered though various times in the past. Sometimes those days seem so removed from present life that you have to ask yourself, “did that really happen? Did I really know these people?” But yes, I did know these people and even though there is little chance that I’ll ever see most of them again, my life is so much better for having known them.