Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Sweet Anonymity

I am in the seventh largest city in the U.S. where 1.3 million San Diegans crowd 6-lane freeway lanes, dine in posh restaurants along the boardwalk and flood the beach when the surf is high. Only about 13 of them know I'm even here, probably fewer than that remember my name; my supervisors, my landlady, my great-aunt who is probably landscaping her backyard with a swimming pool in her new hilltop abode overlooking the city as we speak, and a handful of coworkers who barely caught my name today between sips of corporate coffee and retrieving faxes.
I make a point of smiling at cashiers, produce vendors, and fellow residents in my apartment area and try hard not to convey the sentiment, "will you be my friend?" behind the grin that comes easily and, so far, is somewhat effective. I chat pleasantly with the check-out guy at Trader Joes, ask the farmer selling produce on the corner, "¿como se puede saber si un mango es maduro o no?" (how can you tell if a mango is ripe or not?) and he responds warmly in Spanish and smiles back. I met a woman in the apartment a few away from mine who works in the cancer clinic on the UCSD campus. She was dressed in a pretty sundress but looked a bit tired and told me her name was Katie. I hope I'm spelling it right and that her day wasn't too hard.
Coming home to an empty apartment isn't all bad. I no sooner do I latch and chain the door behind me, and I wriggle out of my stuffy work clothes and leave them in a heap in front of the door. I proceed to the kitchen, wearing what's left and assemble a salad made with the produce pictured here, some baby mixed greens and thai peanut dressing I concocted last night.
I know I will go to bed without having anyone to whom I may say 'goodnight' to and wake up with no one to whom I may greet with 'good morning'. That is the strangest part.
But I have no one telling me when to do something or how best I might proceed, no one to interrupt my thoughts in the coffee shop as I write letters or read (presently, am enthralled by Jane Eyre) except to ask me, "are you going to use this chair?". "No, please feel free", I reply, mentally adding, "who would I know that could occupy it?".
Perhaps some sadness will creep in later, but for the moment, all this I take in with a sort of wide-eyed consideration and am fascinated to learn what it is to be on one's own. I feel very calm and content. I feel that if that peace were disturbed, I can drive all of six minutes to the beach and watch the ocean's undulating waves licking the sand, inhale the sea scent that no man will ever succeed in bottling: the sweetness of the flowers that bloom here even in mid January, a hint of salty fishiness, of wet sand (it sort of smells like dirt but different), and that unnamable agent that distinguishes it from all other perfumes.
I miss you all, dear loved ones. Your phone calls, emails, messages, posts, and letters mean more than I can say. I don't have to be there to be "here for you", and thank you for returning the sentiment.

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