Friday, April 11, 2014

121. Eye Contact

am back in New York City for the weekend, the city that was my home for 5 years before I got all flippant and did something completely different. I visited one other time, back in October (2 weeks after finishing the trail), and the culture shock came very close to giving me a panic attack. I was so used to being completely open to absorbing the energy of everyone I passed, that when I was struck with attempting to absorb the energy of 1,000s of people at once, my heart felt like it was going to stop from the sheer intensity.

In spite of this, I went for a run in Prospect Park. I made the mistake of making eye contact with an amorous young gentleman who was so taken by my figure that he literally chased me for a block, begging me to stop and JUST LOVE HIM. But I have monstrous hulk legs, so I outdistanced him immediately. The only trouble was that I was laughing so hard that it was hard to breathe and run at the same time. As we have established, my reaction to "danger" is either to freeze or dissolve into inappropriate laughter. Don't worry, if I ever hike the Continental Divide Trail, I will laugh those grizzlies right back into their caves.

This time, I was better prepared for the city. Today I have been wandering around on my own, as my friends are working. Before I left the apartment this morning, I slipped into my invisible New Yorker cloak and mask. It's an attitude costume that I haven't had to wear in a long time, but I melted into it without any trouble. Nestled inside is my soft, loving, outgoing hiker, small-town self, humming quietly to itself. On the outside is a fast-walking, no-nonsense sidewalk stomper with impeachable reaction time, who wears sunglasses, impractical footwear and gives zero hoots.

There is something satisfying about being able to access my New Yorker self. The years I spent in the South Bronx give this attitude costume an added flair of badass, which just feels kinda cool. As I was getting off the bus last night, I could almost feel my brain re-organizing itself into a grid, preparing to subconsciously navigate me anywhere I want to go without having to even glance at the map on my phone. And as I fly down the sidewalk, blending in with the best of them, I can keep my eyes pointing straight forward, just above the eyes of everyone else.

But it's happened a few times already, where my mask slips just slightly, and I find myself accidentally seeking the eye contact of strangers. I want to see them, to acknowledge them, to have my human experience be one of connection rather than hovering indifference. But we can't do that here, in this city, because there are just too many eyes to see. The aloof attitude of New Yorkers is not born of rudeness or elitism, it is born of practicality. We cannot see everyone, and so we see no one. I let them blur together and slip by me because if I allowed myself to fall into the stream, I would drown.

I once lived in a world where I would see, at most, 20 new strangers in a day. At the end of that day, I would know the name, story, and yes, even the smell, of every person I saw. Unless it was a troop of boy scouts, in which case, I would just nod politely while hiking away as fast as I could. Don't get me wrong, boy scouts are awesome. But, trying to pass them could be an hour-long investment, simply due to their sheer numbers, variable hiking speeds, and impressively gigantic backpacks from the 70's that took up the entire width of the trail. 

I liked seeing only a few new people a day. Each person became part of a spiraling galaxy of experience and stories flinging out from the central point of the trail. Every pair of eyes was a new solar system, twin suns burning with heat and life. 

There is love in eye contact. Love of those closest to us, love of the adventure of meeting someone new, love of the way that our interactions with others change us constantly and imperceptibly. The trail gave me the ability to feel that. Being here in this city, I have to wear my sunglasses to blend in like Cyclops from X-Men, because otherwise my eyeball love laser beams would be causing all sorts of chaos and destruction up in this hizzy.

Clever Girl


1 comment:

  1. Accessing your New York bad self when needed is an important life skill. Saw you flash it on behalf your brother at the movies earlier this year. A thing of beauty is a joy forever... :-)