Summer in the city - I love it. While others complain of the oppressive heat and try to stay inside climate controlled spaces to avoid roasting I can’t help but think about the brittle, crackling cold that is only months away. I've been trying to spend as much time as I can outside. I slather my tattooed arm with sunscreen (sun exposure is the only thing that can damage tattoos) and I walk. I spend a lot of time walking around the city. I walk and I sweat, I stop to eat fruit and drink water and then I walk more. Different neighborhoods, parks, across town, by the river - I walk down blocks I think I’ve never been down before and all of a sudden I’ll see a familiar building or an intersection - visual triggers that trip specific recollections. In these past few warm weeks memories have been flooding my consciousness relentlessly. I’ve been visited by things, situations, times, and people that I haven’t thought about in years. It’s as if I’m caught inside a kaleidoscope of repressed experiences where colors and shapes flash by and let loose a cascade of forgotten moments and feelings: rolling waves, without space or reason, long absent sensations and emotions, rush and recede.
Sometimes it’s little things; an exchange with a stranger, the touch of a hand, the smell of popcorn or pizza fresh out of a wood burning oven, standing on line for a movie, I don’t remember whom I was with but I remember the movie, I remember the weather, I remember the time of day.
Names come rushing back - they wash over me: Hank,Tony, Todd, Karen, Nino, Bill, Barbara, Stephen, Sean. And, of course, countless faces I no longer have names for. What happened to them? Where are they now? Did they go on to have careers and families? Did they move away and create comfortable lives for themselves or did they make poor choices? Perhaps succumb to disease, addiction, or some other misfortune, as so many others, and pass away too soon?
The other day I passed a street corner and remembered seeing Tim Kramer on that corner. Tim Kramer was a tall, blond, sexy, sun-kissed, surfer-type, gay porn star of the 1980’s with a pouty, bad-boy smirk, mischievous eyes, and tousled, flaxen hair. He was one of the early casualties of the AIDS epidemic. I saw him on the street and we had lingering eye contact on that very spot where I was standing, maybe twenty-five years earlier.
I know that close friends who have passed on remain with me: their laughter, their touch, the knowing looks that friends give one another. I feel them, they somehow still remain; they're here.
What about strangers?
New York City is truly a melting pot year round but walking around the island of Manhattan in August, I’ve become especially aware of visitors from far reaches of the globe. Midtown in August - the pot simmers and bubbles to produce an especially concentrated, international reduction; just in the distance of one block one might hear Italian, Hebrew, French, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, and Korean. Sometimes I’ll hear a conversation in a language that I can’t identify and I’ll walk alongside till I can either identify the tongue or give up. The clacking of foreign tongues, their diverse cadence and inflection, car radios, sirens, games being played in the parks, all add to the rhythm of the city. In August, even the heated traffic sounds different. I walk in an escalating tempo and notice that I'm keeping time to the beat of the summer street.
I came back from visiting my sister the second week of July to learn that a kid I have been trying to help get sober for the last 9 or 10 months, I call him a kid but he’s 30 years old, had gone out on a two week cocaine binge. He suffered some sort of a psychotic break and in order to escape the imagined boogeymen coming after him, jumped, naked, out of his third story bathroom window. He suffered three broken vertebrae, two broken legs, and was all cut up, as he actually went through part of the window. He has had five surgeries, titanium rods put in his left leg, repeated surgery on his back, and was recently moved to a physical rehab where he’ll likely stay for the next few months.
Being witness to this kind of senseless, self-inflicted suffering stretches the mind in unexpected ways. Being able to show up for him and his family, to sit through the awkward hospital silences and uncomfortable feelings - to watch everyone involved struggle through the consequences of drugs, alcohol, and bad choices reminds me that I really am one of the lucky ones. How is it that I managed to escape a similar episode? Is there such a thing as fate or is life experience just the luck of the draw? What is the difference between chance and grace?
I know that I am not alone. I guess I've not yet done what I've been put here to do and so I keep walking. Those who have gone on before me and those who are still here, they walk with me; they benefit from, and are all a part of, that same thing which allows me to walk in this continued unmerited favor.