Cold feet in May, double-socked, toes still stiff
warm cheeks because of something you said to me,
blood still flowing
somewhere, at least
I smell cut grass, taste the chill of night descending
What season am I in?
What life is this?
I want someone to comfort me, to tell me I’m doing right
or just to tell me to do something, and what that something should be.
I can’t take this change alone, this hurtling towards some wild what.
The world isn’t stopping so I’m holding as best I can,
holding my very best
Earlier today I sat in a dim-lit room and listened to nothing but everyone breathe
and that was everything, everything!

I have a memory of being a wobbly little girl
and tracing the curve of a smile
on the face of someone I loved.
I don’t know whose face
whose smile
or if it even happened.
But I see it clearly in my mind
upturned mouth, wrinkly crinkly eyes
someone smiling at me saying,
“This is how people who see
know that I am happy. I’m happy because of you.
I’m smiling because you’re here.”
So I learned to emulate that upslanted mouth
the open face of a person happy for the presence of another
even though I’ve never seen it with my eyes.
I know a smile by a voice
maybe giddy around the edges
always warm throughout
I know a smile by a body
relaxed and loose limbed
anticipating laughter.
I know a smile by a sigh
full-bodied or muffled behind a beloved hand
I guess my smiles are less open now
less free for the taking
I don’t smile just because some man on the street says I should
and especially if he says I’ll look prettier.
I fake-smile at people
who want to pet my dog
when I’m in a hurry.
I half-smile when someone holds the door
or steps out of my way.
I can always tell
when my eyes don’t crinkle
that it isn’t real.
For most pictures, I hope someone will tell a joke
just before the flash
so that I’ll be preserved happy.
For some pictures, I’m already smiling
before I even have time to worry.
I can smile without sight
Not only because someone showed me how
but also because life has kept me practicing.
Those moments when my face opens like an outstretched hand
inviting joy
sharing mirth
loving you
Those are the happiest moments I’m alive.

I actually had this thought while drinking my Americano this morning: “This coffee feels like a warm, reassuring, uplifting hug.” Yes, these are the innermost secrets of my brain. It’s good that it can substitute for a hug, because I doubt I’ll be getting a real one today.

I get on my second bus and the driver says, “Where ya going?” Where AM I going? I can’t remember. I mean, I know I’ll KNOW it when I get there, when I hear it called out, I’ll say, yes, yes, that’s where I want to be, that’s my place. But still, I’m shuffling and stammering and what is that stop again? Finally I say it: “Overlake. Overlake!” I laugh awkwardly, feeling stupid. He’s already moved on to someone else, which is just as well.

I’m feeling overwhelmed. It’s work and my way-too-long commute and wondering if I’ll ever have a job without a way-too-long commute and writing my thesis and feeling inarticulate and unfunny and unsmart and there’s another class I’m taking, too, which hasn’t gotten the thought and attention it deserves. It’s my relationships and trying to keep in touch and feeling like I am forever failing and not knowing how to communicate “it’s not you, it’s me”, which is absolutely true and absolutely cliche, so no wonder no one believes me. It’s that I can’t sleep because my mind is racing and when I do sleep I have weird dreams about strange men breaking into my apartment at night with knives and frying pans and loneliness, because I just read While the City Slept by Eli Sanders, and I can’t believe something so inexplicable, so undeserved, could happen in my city, in the place that I am growing to love. It’s that things like that happen in every city, in every place someone loves, and that may be the most overwhelming thing of all.

Feeling overwhelmed makes me feel ashamed, because I know that I am privileged beyond reason, that I am loved somewhere, that I only have to look after myself and my dog. That everyone is overwhelmed. I’m trying to tell myself that just because everyone else feels something, that I’m going through something millions, billions, go through, it’s still valid. It doesn’t make it illegitimate. My telling isn’t helping much.

So I sit on the bus going where I’m going, feeling overwhelmed. I play with my dog’s ears, rolling up their floppy softness like a tortilla, and she leans her head on my knee like it’s the best pet she’s ever had. I’m pretty sure it’s not, that she’s merely tolerating my ear-curling, because she somehow knows it’s making me feel a little less anxious. I give her extra head scritches, trying to make it up to her. I am intensely grateful for her tolerance. It’s almost as good as a hug.


This morning, on my way to brunch, I ran a marathon. Or, ran with a marathon. Well, actually, walked. Ok, spent a lot of time standing on the shoulder of the sidewalk, in the mucky grass, listening to the marathon chug past me, all thundering feet and labored gasps. I labored just listening.


Google tells me that the marathon was an Amica Ensurance 10 K. As I walked the blocks around Seattle Center, I had no idea what had possessed these people to run, and I didn’t fully realize what was happening until I was caught up in a wave of them on Mercer and 6th Avenue. The tide of bodies swept me up and carried me along with it, up the hill and around the corner, where Metallica blasted from some speakers unseen. I was only walking, and felt totally undeserving of that “off to never never land” song.


Still, with runners on all sides, I found myself moving faster, with Kiva pulling and wagging her tail, eager for the race. At first I resisted. It was suddenly clear to me that I knew nothing of marathon etiquette. Was I supposed to find an alternate route so as to not be in the way? Was it okay to just waltz into the middle of the pack? I kept waiting for some official marathon person to tell me I was being a jerk, but everyone on the sidelines ignored me in favor of cheering on their runners, which suited me fine.


But, it didn’t stop one marathoner from gasping as she passed me, “Beautiful dog” and another, “Your purse is open.” By “purse” she meant BrailleNote, and it was open because I was using my GPS, but anyway. The point is, people are still people, even when running en masse.


Something else happened, too, as I tripped along with the surge of runners. For just a minute, I stopped thinking and just let myself be carried. I wasn’t considering where to go, how I’d get there, how I looked, or who was looking. Spending most of my life on alert, or pushing and pulling against societal ideals, or fighting for shreds of things I can control, I felt intense relief and peace to just be held up and supported, for a few blocks, for minutes that felt light and shimmery.


I needn’t heed traffic lights, because the streets were blocked. I needn’t think about where Kiva was going, because she went where the runners did, happily, freely. I felt out of my head, for just a while. Which was good. It was getting loud and stuffy and boring in there.


And then I went to brunch, because honestly, who can watch that many people running for their lives and not want to eat a whole pastry case?


But who knows, maybe someday I’ll run a marathon, to get that feeling of pack mentality again, for just a little while.