The steps are hollow sounding as I leave my apartment; concrete on all sides and the sensation is something like those videos found on hungover Sundays where a cat desperately battles to escape from a paper sack. I am contained, but seem that I will at any moment fall through the ground with a misplaced step. The stairwell is bright and empty with the sounds from my feet seemingly wandering aimless from my shoes: a scratching sound made as they grind atop the most dainty dust, which is somehow scrapping against the rubber soles with the ferocity of wolves backed into corners. These are not wolves in a barn pacing or wolves with fairytale slits for eyes as they peer out from a tree-line — wolves that are understood and expected — but wolves in the corner of favorite dreams or curled around things that were supposed to be certain. And the cicadas are in concert, echoing back with a rising chorus of “don’t worry”, but their voices are too strong, and the descending stairs might as well be a sinking ship. At any moment in life if that many people are, in unison, telling me not to worry, I most definitely will be entirely concerned about my future.
The heat is oppressive and the shadows from trees that lead the way to the bus station are cracks on a glacier, articulated and dangerous; the cheek bones of severe neighbors that yell continually at children. They do not show a pattern to illustrate the playful patterns of summer, but instead delineate two areas: one where I will sweat excessively, and one where I will sweat excessively and panic that my brain is shrinking away from my skull, like those plants whose leaves fold flat and wilt when they are touched. The moments spent in these shadows make me think about how I have, for my entire life, been this plant.
(Four days ago, I’m in a garden store looking for planters and decorative waterfalls. The entrance is lined with cages of mostly cats and dogs — 3, 5, maybe 8 — to each small cage. On examining a single cage of puppies the shop keeper grabs each roughly by the neck and shakes it from a heat induced coma. I back away slowly, shaking my hands, as the dogs eyes open and they stare out in exhaustion, awaiting the world that sits outside the reused birdcage bars, that probably looks familiar, but at this point means nothing in particular at all.)
The advertising billboards that surround the bus station afford precision geometric shade; exacto knife shadows on concrete, sunlight construction paper, pulled from boxes, and thrown by kindergarten students who have not yet thought of their parents dying or skin cancer. There is a woman starring at me with unblinking eyes, so I glance down at a trash can to give myself something to focus on, and the lip of the trashcan is smeared with all things that are not related, except that they melt when enough heat is applied. I look back up and the woman is still looking at me, blankly and without emotion, and her lips are glossy and I can imagine a small boat gliding along their surface as she whispers things to the captain while he rows the abyss between us to deliver a simple message of “hello”.
The cicadas crescendo for the half dozenth time since leaving the apartment and the bus rolls up throwing it’s own crayon shadows and loose leaf paper blocks of sun. The bus really is just a fallen building, crawling on the stream to home; a salmon peering into the murky depth of a city, convinced that, yes, this is the stream it came from; all the passengers, eggs to be left and hopefully found, but possibly forgotten. And it is from the belly of this urban fish that I see all the green. The plants springing from buildings, highway supports, and skyscrapers. A city that foliage has kindly agreed to let participate in conversation; children sitting at their parents table as the adults nod a little too pronounced, eyes too sincere, and saccharin follow-up questions leave their mouths with botoxed smiles as they listen to stories about who played most well in kickball.
And I don’t really know the last time I had a conversation that I didn’t feel the same way. The normalcy of everything that shouldn’t be normal. Whisked with a 100 people in the same direction, but me so obviously different, and yet I arrive at the same results. Just with less satisfaction. Or depth. A boy looks at me and laughs and smiles, and I point to a cloud out the window, and he quickly stops laughing and stares at me like the girl who was waiting for the bus.
I am silently explaining my perfect kickball game to him.
We exit the bus with people jolting to the side and dramatically looking up at my height. I think about how it would feel to be old and lonely. To feel out of place in a town I grew up in, next to trees that my sister and I swung from, near a field of grass next to the old rusted boat, where Laura Wiser gave me my first kiss.
I think about the sky overhead, and a person that might be looking at it from the 40th story of one of the many sky scrapers. My eyes drift down to dirty store canopies, and the cirrus clouds of sound that make up my surroundings; the shuffle of a 1000 feet, cars and construction equipment. And I am a barometer that feels the oncoming rain; the nature of rain; the shadow that will forever mean rain. And then I am in the air of the city and these sounds. The unfamiliar sounds of lovers talking, the unfamiliar sounds of friends knowing that they have almost shared a single space, the unfamiliar sound of my breathing.
At the entrance to the store, I squeeze through the slats of plastic holding in air-conditioning, and they tap and swipe my body like shoes in an empty stairwell, and the sound is perhaps on the side of hollow.