a 25 block walk

December 1, 2013 |  Category:   life nyc remembering







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.

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  • Carol December 1, 2013 at 3:39 pm

    Wow, powerful! I live in another city, and several years ago I had a torrid and passionate affair with another woman. It ended very badly and we have never spoken or seen each other since. My husband and I were in NYC a few years ago and we went to the MoMA together, but he fell ill and went back to the apartment where we were staying, leaving me on my own. It was my first time being in the city alone, and navigating the streets and subways. I decided to hang out on a corner on 5th and watch the people walk by for a bit. Suddenly, I saw her. She didn’t see me. I have never even seen her in my own town, even though we worked in the same field and lived close by. So weird.

    • Jenna December 11, 2013 at 10:06 am

      Thanks for sharing your story Carol. Such a strange and random sighting. What are the odds?

  • Mrs. Jones December 1, 2013 at 4:11 pm

    Beautifully written! I completely agree with you. It’s nice when you see someone who sparks those memories or have a specific interaction – a smell, a place, a thing – that takes you back to those times in your life that make you smile. We really do live several lifetimes at once.

    • Malliling December 2, 2013 at 7:49 pm

      Yes! @Mrs Jones, that is exactly the way I’ve felt lately, like I’ve lived several lifetimes. I’m in the middle of a divorce, in a new city, and I’m planning a career change, and all my memories and experiences from not so long ago, already feel like they are part of another time….

  • ScentualSoundtracks December 1, 2013 at 10:25 pm

    I loved this post. When I think about people I’ve known before, especially out-of touch friends and former boyfriends, I also begin to wonder how my life would’ve been different had I made a few different choices. I’m happily married to a wonderful man. We have seen the worst (struggling-toward-Ph.D. days) and best days of our lives together, but I would be lying if I said I never thought about my other, hypothetical lives. Thank you for such a beautiful post. This is what I love most about Sweet Fine Day

  • annie December 1, 2013 at 11:03 pm

    Jenna, I love reading your blog because your writing is so honest. You somehow manage to put into words those emotions that feel deeply private yet are universal. Thanks.

  • Meike December 2, 2013 at 7:20 am

    thanks, jenna, for a thought-provoking post. what you’re talking about is actually one of my reasons for not using facebook etc. (apart from being a time-consuming monster) – i enjoy being in touch with the people i see or speak to regularly, but all those others – i like them to vanish, not completely, but mostly, and to have them resurface in my thoughts and dreams and random (half-)encounters like the ones you describe.

  • RebeccaNYC December 2, 2013 at 11:04 am

    Oh this brought back memories!!! I was commuting to NYC from Philly at the time. I got on the subway and saw an empty seat, which I took. The man next to me coughed, and I recognized him from his cough. It was a boyfriend from college (in Ohio!) I had not seen in 20 years. We were both going to the same place.

    My whole life changed when I moved to NYC 15 years ago. Some for the better, some for the worse. There are places I cannot walk past without thinking about what happened there. There are some places I avoid. Life is weird.

  • Malliling December 2, 2013 at 7:51 pm

    Great Post Jenna! Thank you for sharing.

  • Julia December 3, 2013 at 5:02 pm

    Thank you for sharing Jenna! The universe works in funny ways, the past two weekends I attended an old friends wedding and a college roommates baby shower. At both events I was seated with either an old boyfriend or friends I had not spoken to in years. I kept thinking how interesting it is that some people are in your life for a period of time, you never think they wont be a part of it, yet you drift apart and when you meet again its almost bittersweet as you both are almost strangers connected by a shared lifetime years ago. Talking aimlessly, but your post was great and I, as always, am amazed at your talent and ability to put down on paper your thoughts …and the thoughts of many..so well!

  • Cristina December 4, 2013 at 6:55 am

    oh these precious moments alone…I do relate…

  • JeanneW December 4, 2013 at 11:54 am

    Love this post. It’s something I’ve been really thinking about lately and so wonderful and unusual when people move in and out and sometimes back into your life. It makes one wonder.