I hurtle toward downtown through a tunnel that passes beneath the lives and homes of three million people. I’ve started listening to podcasts during my daily twenty-minute commute. Today continues the narrative of misfit, genius antique clock repairer John B. McLemore of Shit Town, Alabama. He lived a life in which he didn’t know how much other people appreciated him, or how much he meant to those who surrounded him. What a terrible fate to suffer.
My colleague. Perched on the white laminate counter, we’re close enough that I can see the freckles that fall across his nose. Between beers, he confesses with consummate sincerity his life goal of helping others. Last week, he posted about motivation and struggle so the kid cousins who idolize him will read how growth and progress take time. He knows the project of life is forever evolving. I tell him of my newly minted, post-divorce five-year plan that catapults me to paddling mountain lakes at dusk. He listens intently, eyes unwavering. “I didn’t know all this about you.” I didn’t know all this about him either. I tuck the moment into the pocket of my brain that’s starting to build a collection. Most pockets collect spare change and dryer lint. I want mine to keep collecting moments with people that we often let pass us by.
My ex-husband. Our bellies full, we collapse on the floor in front of the dancing flames of the fireplace. He builds a roof of crocheted wool blankets over tufted armrests and his particleboard coffee table. The pillow walls of our fort protect us from our crumbled reality. Our giggles are those of ten years ago; and then, the words he doesn’t need to say make my heart swell. But swollen muscles and joints and hearts are prone to re-injury. I should be more careful.
My college bestie. We curl into oversized, wrought-iron Muskoka chairs nestled in the corner of a watercolored neighborhood park, and press play where we left off six months ago when we last had dinner. He poses the kinds of questions I don’t want to ask myself, but thirteen years of conversations mean he already knows the answers. The warmed blueberries and velvety custard of the clafouti from our beloved bakery run down our hands and tint the corners of our smiles. Below my feet, tiny seedlings sprout from the cracks in the stone pathway. Joy can grow anywhere, even in the most inhospitable places.
My once non-platonic friend. I have a day where I feel like I’m underwater and can’t surface. He pulls me into his arms amid the gaze of straggling passers-by in the lobby of our office. My tears leave patchy circles below the collar of his pink checked shirt. He calls me after work and we talk about meaning and purpose and being better for ourselves and others. He gives me 73 minutes on a Monday night; he doesn’t have to. I hang up the phone and for some reason I recall last year when I knew the feeling of his palms on my undressed hips. A few weeks ago he left with a hug that lasted longer than it should have, because I’m not ready to let go of the moment or of him.
My serendipitous connection. I balance precariously on his stepladder because he wants to see me one last time before he moves. I level the valance and mark where the brackets go before asking him to hand me a screw. Instead, he pulls me off with a bear hug, then asks how my grandmother is doing. Our evening is a strange twilight zone where the number of hours we’ve spent together are few, but the effortlessness of the mundane with him is reassuring. On the couch, I babble about my twelve-year-old self. “You’re a really cool person, you know that?” he interrupts. The words are few and simple, but they carry the weight of truth.
My figuring-out-life friend. She leans against the wall, then curls onto my bed at the time when night becomes morning. Knees drawn to quivering chin, she’s wrapped in a towel and unraveled about a boy. If the highest form of knowledge is empathy, then I am tonight’s genius because the streaks serpentined on her cheeks are the same that carved into mine months before. Weeks later, we share quzi and pinot noir, and she tells me her jaw hurts from smiling and laughing so much. Maybe I’ve started to do things right when I can make people so happy it hurts.
These moments of brightness, those where we no longer obscure ourselves from each other, are wresting their way through the cracks left from the divorce. One day soon I’ll wake up and realize I have a forest. See, we give each other little gifts of humanity. And when we do, that’s when the world begins to bloom.
For what is the purpose of life if not to leave an imprint on another’s soul?