We are all so close here, piled up on top of one another. This is condo living. I deal with the proximity by clinging to anonymity. It feels safer to convert teeming neighborhood into desert. Miles to walk, an oasis forever disappearing into the horizon.
It takes willpower to override the tendency to duck and hide. Being an extrovert is no panacea. Grit is required to glance up, courage to engage in the exchange of pleasantries. Slowly, slowly, one month or three at a time, I nod or smile or even offer my hand.
When Noodle escaped the house a month ago, I posted a plea and a photo on the condo listserv. Racing home from work, I found five of my neighbors clustered around the sobbing dog walker. Heads bent, they were busy delineating zones to comb. Several others had already fanned out and were searching the surrounding blocks. For the first time, I learned the names of the men who live along my corridor and the other woman who comes daily to walk a half dozen pups in the building.
I jogged the perimeter of the complex. I asked everyone I saw for help, waving down dog owners whose paths had crossed mine for months, but with whom I had never exchanged a word. My Mister spotted the fugitive up in the woods and helped get her home. Later that evening, I opened my door to a fellow I’ve never met clutching his chest in relief at hearing Noodle’s shrill chatter inside.
As we circle the complex these days, neighbors who recognize the pooch from her 15 minutes of fame stop us to say how happy they are that she’s home.
Today, we walk over to Tee’s house to collect Bug. On the way, I pass the grandfather from the park. He’s a retired cop from Thailand who is determined to practice his English. He and I spent an hour last week talking in the park while the kids swung on the vines. This time, we participate in the requisite how-are-you-isn’t-this-weather-gorgeous exchange then amble off on our separate paths.
A little boy about Bug’s age is zipping his scooter along the sidewalks just a block from Tee’s house. I ask him if he knows Bug from up the street. He considers this for a minute then says, “Oh yeah, he’s in my class.” On our return trip, Bug and I take the small detour so the two boys can tumble around together. They hadn’t even known they were neighbors.
A block later, I see across a parking lot the mom of one of the kids in Bug’s after-school care. We gab there in the afternoon sun. Then Bug, Noodle, and I take the path through the park where I greet another mom from up the road. My boy charges off with hers while she and I hatch plans for a swim-date when our pool opens.
Another two kids from school play tennis with their dad. Hello.
The Thai grandpa now passes back through the park after his walk. Hello again.
A super-sweet new gal with preschool boys shares a batch of Wisconsin cheese curds with me and actually gives me a hug the first time we meet. Hello hello!
At home, Noodle conks out on her blanket and Bug logs his daily reading. We fill our bellies and pile dinner dishes in the sink. I am so happy to be in. We are safe, we are connected. It’s okay now to furl into my cocoon and resume the shallow breath.
“Okay, Bub. Time for bath? Maybe an early night? You’ve got school tomorrow.”
He gapes at me. “What! It’s still daytime!”
“And upstairs? Playing? With everyone?” He gestures at the door. “You know.”
Yes. How hard it is for me to hold onto this. My son does not inhabit my desert. He lives fully awake in his own lush tropics. Curling up is as foreign to him as expanding is to me. It is for me alone to do battle with the tenacious thirst for transformation to someplace-someone-sometime else. For me alone to plant the acre I’ve settled.
This right here? For my boy, it is the promised land.
“Of course! Go on,” I shoo him to the door. “The boundary is the street, remember? You stay inside the complex.”
“Okay.” He grabs his scooter. “Bye, Mom.”
Now I hear the squeals of the girls upstairs, a slamming door and then another, a tattoo of feet on the concrete landing. Roar and shriek, a massive game of tag. Silence, then a swelling cacophony of wheels and shouts that recedes into a distant clatter. The neighbor kids live the peeled-back version of what I have only begun to attempt. They cruise past hello and hurtle straight into Let’s go!
I’m learning, or maybe unearthing what’s been here all along.
Today, I remember one name. Check my pace. Ask a question.
Today, I fix my gaze on the oasis.
Walk towards it.
At last, it begins to resolve into something true.