Our bodies are close to and around all these other bodies all the time, on the street, in stores the aisles are always one person wide, and especially on the subway. I say “excuse me” at least a dozen times a day. Everyone does. People here have an awareness of where their bodies. And a great sense of balance for uneven terrain and bucking train cars.
My training in crowd navigation came from the upper hallway of Trinity Lutheran. I zipped through the forest of grown-ups like whichever football player dodges between people. As a child, I identified this as a great and valuable skill.
Few places in America is this all right, this shoulder to shoulder and people so close that they close their eyes to keep from staring each other down. All this closeness meaning nothing, just circumstance. Recently there was a video online of stunt-snugglers falling asleep on strangers’ shoulders on the subway. Some people move quickly away, but plenty of other subjects let the snuggler sleep.
I have stopped reaching for my keys when I walk out of a building.
When the carfull of my family pulled up to my dad’s house, I saw his front yard, and I thought, how funny, what is all that land for? Why would anyone need all that? What happens there? Well: the Easter egg hunt. Mowing. Raking. All very healthy activities.
Being back was like being awake, and being here is like dreaming: fragmented, sometimes dramatic, often blurry, and always slightly unreal.
One night I looked out the same window I looked out when I was fifteen, the prickliest creature, full of thirst and unable to tell the truth about anything, and I intended to leave Overland Park for New York and Paris, and hate the straight streets and the quiet and everyone who valued safety. There was no moon, and one car drove down 103rd Street, through streetlight after streetlight. It is no louder in Brooklyn, not on the side streets, not where people live. People sleep everywhere.
Years ago, I worked at a day care, and during naptime we placed cots around the room, put on the sleepytime music. One of the kids had to have his lammy. Some had blankies. Another had to have his back rubbed. When you are the teacher, you lie on the floor next to the cot, on a short-nubbed rug that has roads or the alphabet printed on it. My coworker, a six-foot-tall blond guy, would usually do that back rub. Usually both of them would fall asleep, the big guy snoring. I did close my eyes, and the naptime music, without melodic beginning or end, would settle me, and those were some of my most peaceful hours, but I never fell asleep. I wish I had.