There’s nothing like walking down the streets of San Francisco, on a cold morning, when the sodden clouds cluster just enough to shade the sad lives curled up in street corners, which they themselves want to forget. Said walk can be of any kind, but most preferably the most routine of walks: embarrassing slippers in a large overcoat, a normal-looking beverage, somewhere to go to or not, because the point is really not to go to that place, but to look up at any given instant and see something that takes your breath away. I’m talking about the glorious lives painted on the walls, walls that sweep across space and time and suddenly disappear around the corner. On the side of a grocery store, which could have been your somewhere to go, soldiers march in grand golden armors, heads held high lest they look back; sprawling on the window edges, buoyed midair and trapped in the second dimension, kids throw their heads back laughing, man plays the piano to a muted melody, too immersed to notice a fissure across his face where the brick has fallen off, tragically landing on a trashcan filled with Chinese take-outs. A narrow alley way past the grocery store—because you always forget where you intended to go—opens up the closed door of a household, in which a woman prays with her eyes close, while next to her her husband opens his shirt. It is sheer magnificence, these lives that haven’t been lived yet render unforgettable, like a woman’s first time, detached and singled out from the rest of the life lived like a debt.
I have always believed that the instant right after I died, the world would forget about me. Just as I would about them an instant before. It is easy to forget I am living, and much harder to forget the small triflings: the color of dad’s bow tie; heavy beads of rain on my face; smoky breaths on cold mornings—mornings that wrap me in a blanket, gently pick me up with a kiss on my cold forehead, and lay me down on the windowsill so I can watch the ghosts of the sleepwalkers, drowsy in the daylight, and hold my breath. Leaning on the window pane, I feel the coldness gripping my ears like an old friend whispering a secret; the vast, open landscape that used to burst with tiny daffodils, stretches in front of me like a life I could be living. I have always wanted to jump out of the window. Not because I want to die, no—it is a ground floor window—all I want is to feel enough freedom just to open the window, squeeze myself out, and run across the open field in my embarrassing slippers and overcoat. I have lived that dream many times. Once I run down that endless field and see a man who picks me up and spins me round and round, until my world whirls like a storm and he fades into the daylight. Once I run my fingers through the wetness of the grass and see a sky full of butterflies, iridescent, each one the size of clasped hands.
And I remember a time much earlier, feeling the butterflies spinning, not only in my head but in my stomach. That was the first time I stepped on an escalator. My dad said he was not one to hush, as long as I promised to eventually set foot on the goddamn step, so I took a full five minutes just watching people descending out of sight. The first man that walked past us wore a strangled expression, probably smothered by his gargantuan beard, his worn-out oxford descending on the step anxiously—not one to learn from. The woman that followed had gold dripping down her shoulders—at least that was my ten-year-old impression of her—and her pointy heel precariously touched the very edge of the step, so close in fact that she began to scream but stopped herself. The various people afterwards slipped out of my mind, or perhaps from my conscious mind to my subconscious, because of the unreal ease with which they gave themselves to the rolling monster (I have a talent for confusing reality with dreams). In fact, even though the feeling is as palpable now as it was six years ago, the image of actual me walking down the escalator is a blur. I dream about it differently each time. Sometimes I see me stepping tentatively right close to the railing, sometimes boldly pushing another passenger aside, sometimes even wearing my embarrassing slippers.