Tuesday, February 06, 2007

I'm not ready for this sort of thing

On most mornings, my drive to work drives me crazy. Actually, it's not so much my drive to work, but the drive out of the city. Getting out of the Mission is often akin to playing a surreal video game, what with no one obeying traffic signals, strange jalopies double parking wherever the urge has struck them, bicyclists hopping from the sidewalk to the road to the sidewalk again, and the occasional crazed vagrant who feels crosswalks are for chumps. And then there are the 4-way stops, which probably deserve their own post. I'll just spare you that.

Oblivious as usual, I drove to work this morning a few minutes later than usual. As a result, kids were making their way to the nearby middle school. Kids and I occupy two completely different spheres of existence, as far as I am concerned. They ignore me, and I ignore them, and in that way, we have a merry peace between us. On rare occasions in the Mission, you have to deal with punks. As I stopped at a crosswalk, a boy and girl crossed in matchy-matchy uniforms. The girl was half-skipping, half-hopping across the crosswalk, turned to look at me, and, for no reason at all, waved at me, smiling broadly all of a sudden. It took me a moment to realize she'd pierced the bubbles that kept us separate. In fact, I was so baffled that I did not have a chance to wave in return, just grinning dumbly back at her instead. She did not seem to mind.

Two blocks later, a crosswalk guard was manning the intersection, as he always does. I imagine it must be hard to be such a guard in such a neighborhood, where most people think of rules as more guidelines, really. A few months ago, I was at this exact intersection when an 18-wheeler decided to throw caution to the wind and round an impossibly tight turn. The result was an Austin Powers-esque 3-point-meets-21-point turn. As the tomfoolery unfolded, the crosswalk guard and I made eye contact. I am sure I looked annoyed. But he threw up his arms with a helpless what are you gonna do? look on his face. And I immediately laughed, not just at the absurdity of the situation, but also at the sudden wave of comraderie I felt with this total stranger because of our mutual recognition of the silliness.

And that's how I managed to develop a bittersweet aftertaste before I had even left my neighborhood this morning. The crosswalk guard had given me a smile as I passed, and I became aware, for that moment, how this has truly become my neighborhood. How I take it personally when people object to my neighborhood. How I break out into hives when I am in other parts of the city. How I am not a ghost here. How fellow dwellers cast a glance of recognition at me- they don't know me, but they've seen me around. And how all of this is now disturbingly fleeting.

It is okay, I know it is okay. And I have known it to be coming for some time now. Yet it feels abrupt, my departure, my impending departure. I am still clinging to things here. I saw a blurred moon last night and I stared at it too long, thinking if I just studied it enough, I could keep it inside my mind's eye, keep the gentle fog that smudged the light so, keep the muted light it cast on the trees and apartment buildings and streets, keep the perfect stillness in a place that others think of as noisy.

I want to hold on to everything, unreasonable as that is. Perhaps that is why my apartment is in such shambles, and as much as I kvetch about it, I never seem to throw enough away. I have so much to throw away, and I know I am not actually so attached to any of it. It's just what it means, to throw it all away, what it signifies, the end that it suggests. And that takes us back to the title of this post.

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