Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Forgotten Places

At the instant that she told me she'd been raped I kept quiet. Not only did I not know what to say, I did not know what to do. I sat quietly. I heard first the tobacco of her cigarette as she smoked it. I heard the rain falling on the street behind me. I heard her heart beating. I heard my heart breaking. I wanted to hold her. Instead, I did nothing, I just stared. Later that afternoon, I called the rape crisis hotline. I was thanked for my action, or lack thereof. Apparently, when men hear that one of their loved ones has been raped, they react with violent words or actions. I just sat and listened.

The two of us had been making our rendezvous every lunch hour at the tables under the Wells Fargo building. I could consider the Wells Fargo plaza as a forgotten place.

Forgotten places are those places which hold significance for us. These places can included, but are certainly not limited to, bus benches, park side tables, phone booths, street corners. They are classified as such only because they are innocuous places where something of profound importance has happened to us, but the place is nothing special: bus benches, parks side tables, phone booths, street corners.

At the onset of the 21st century, I worked for a living. I was granted a dry place to go from 8 to 5. I got one 45 minute lunch hour. The walk between my office and the Wells Fargo plaza was three blocks, six blocks round trip. I got 30 minutes, one half hour to sit down and have lunch with my friend. Our friendship was built very slowly, 30 minutes at a time, five times a week. It went on for three months—October, November and December.

I have to wonder now, and at the risk of sounding like a sentimental old man, were the relationships of my youth more intense because of my age, or the age of the world? At the time of my rendezvous at the Wells Fargo plaza cellphones were not commonplace, the internet was something someone had at work and social networks happened at the neighborhood level. In these days, people met face to face, at bars, at parties, at coffeehouses. This is not a “in the good ol' days” rant. Quite the opposite. If you want a lunch date now, you can meet with your best friend who lives in another city using some sort of digital middleman.

It's not how I work. And I often feel lost in crowds because I am the only one in the group who isn't slack jawed and vacuously staring into an electronic devise. Hell, I'm still waiting for the lights to go out so we can all go outside and play. I feel lonely and I'm looking for an old friend in the crowd who is coherent amidst the vapid. And if I can't find that old friend, I'm at least looking for someone who might want to invest some time to become an old friend. It doesn't take long, 30 minutes a day, five days a week for three months.

In our youth we believe in soul mates and things happening for reasons, greater designs on life. Hell, many of us may still believe that into middle years and late life. But these beliefs tragically discount one thing: the serendipity of chance meetings and the magic of brief relationships. Sometimes, you learn the most about yourself when interacting with strangers. With a stranger, you are who you are, you have nothing to lose. You can feel comfortable with a new acquaintance, so comfortable that you'll disclose everything. You can give yourself. You can reach an instant intimacy that liberates you. And then the moment is gone. You've reached the end of the 30 minute lunch break, you've reached the end of the three months.

What remains? The forgotten place. The image of a friend who has said something to you that she cannot, ever, say to someone else.

I think everyone has at least one forgotten place. Everyone has at least one friend who populated that forgotten place. This person and this place have made us who we are. Call this person a soul mate, call this situation something that had to happen for a reason or that this time in our life had a grander design. It is a reason to be grateful, a blessing to be human.  

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