I first saw her cry before anything else.
It was outside Martin’s Market, this shabby hole-in-the-wall down the street from my apartment. I’ve often wondered if the alliteration was intentional; perhaps the shop-owner’s name is really something evocative, like Amir or Isaiah, but he decided to name his store “Martin” to fit in. “Well” I thought, he was doing a good job. Like everything else on my block it was swathed in old wood and flaking paint, and it was seemingly held together with the force of sheer will.
She was sitting on this little wooden bench, christened by many eons of high-schoolers who carved insignia and initials. Her small tears, like acorns, soaked into the white bread of her three-dollar-sandwich.
That day the heat fell upon us, smothering from all sides, and the cracks in the sidewalk seemed to exhale with every step. Monday was hot, Tuesday worse, but today the deities were especially angry. Maybe it was the state of the world — two bombings last night in Israel and Belarus rocked the world. It’s 2016, but two bombings in one day would surely drive even the most omnipotent beings to extremes. It was a claustrophobic kind of hot; strangulation was the word that first came to my heat-addled mind as I walked down the street, trying especially hard not to do any work that day. My phone buzzed in my pocket, but I ignored it. Sometimes, I thought, it’s the small victories.
Yesterday my boss described our product as creating “magic moments”. What is our product, you ask? An avocado slicer, with a special, rubberized handle made for an easy grip. We saved people from the dreary task of slicing with a knife. I spent an extra twenty minutes in the bathroom stall after that meeting, endlessly scrolling through Facebook as I tried to quash the existential angst that threatened to eat me from the inside like a voracious beast. It felt like the cumulative weight of their “magic moments” was crashing all around me.
In that moment I had to make a decision, and decisions, as you are well aware, have consequences. When I look back on my life I can see the decisions I made, and their consequences, but I am blind to the consequences of the decisions un-made. In this case I resolved to commit to my glorified accountant role for another six months, and surviving today was the first consequence of that decision. That meant taking a walk for lunch, even in this heat. As I walked, I relished in the symphonic chatter of a middle-aged couple having lunch over prosecco and the hum of the summer cicadas. I passed the garage where I take my aching Ford Taurus (still clinging to life), an endless stream of Spanish flowing from within the garage’s cavernous walls.
I wondered to myself: do I believe in magic moments? Still to this day I can’t decide. In stories, life is magic moments. But one thing I‘ve learned from adulthood is that stories have a way of telling a lie that masquerades as the truth. The more the lie is tightly wrapped in layers of truth, like a wasp in the petals of a rose, the more likely we are to love the lie. The fact that we all deserve magic moments is a lie. It’s a lie we tell ourselves to sleep better at night. A lie that we use to raise our children with a sense of purpose and direction. A lie we cling to in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. In reality, these moments are betrothed to chance, and chance is hardly fair. Chance is our taxi driver: sometimes we get to where we want to go, sometimes we end up dead in a river.
I decided there on that spider-cracked sidewalk that I believe in reincarnation out of necessity. The idea that people would miss beautiful opportunities because of the fickleness of chance was too crushing to admit. Please give me at least one do-over.
Today a hundred-thousand of me walked down this street and only saw a shadow, an imprint of what could have been. It could have been me if I hadn’t ignored the angsty buzzing of my phone; I wouldn’t have seen her, acorn-tears and all. If she hadn’t decided to go to Martin’s Market, she wouldn’t have been sitting on that bench eating her three-dollar-sandwich. If it was raining instead of sunny. If I had left for lunch 5 minutes later. If I had stopped to chat with the salt-and-pepper-haired woman with the adorable puppy. If there was an especially large moving truck parked in front of that specific bench, on that specific street, helping a young family move into their apartment while sweaty movers attempted to over-stuff their possessions into their tiny apartment. I would have walked on by, only occupied with my own thoughts.
But today, I first saw her cry before anything else. The second thing that happened was that I sat down next to her.
“How fickle,” I would think with a half smile, many years to come.