I parked at the Harp’s on Garland as I evaded the ongoing renovations to the store and parking lot. Getting out of the car and walking along the front of the building, I greeted one of the workers in Spanish. We traded comments and barbs. He pretended to hand me a shovel and said in Spanish, “If you want me to have a good day, you can have this.” I laughed as I pulled my shirt out of my waistband, revealing my exposed scar. “¡Me ganaste!” he said, even as he laughed. Yes, I did win that round.
I walked the long, challenging hills in the area, taking in the houses, plants, and people. If you want to feel your legs burn, try N. Hall Avenue or Vista off of Wedington. It was sublime, as the rising sun was overcast by clouds that diffused the light that you can only find in October. As I passed a yard whose perimeter was overgrown, I attempted to take a picture of a fox or coyote as it darted into the browning bushes with the red flowers. Its head is barely perceptible in the shadows.
I was grateful that I’d slept so well the night before; I didn’t stay at my apartment last night, and I’m thankful I didn’t. Despite seeing a counselor again yesterday for the first time in a while, anxiety crept up my spine like an imperceptible shadow. No matter how people sell you the idea of solitude, loneliness is its undesirable first cousin. People struggle against the notion that people flourish the most when they have people in their lives. I love introspection, reading, and writing. There’s a vast chasm between having people available and choosing solitude, though.
When I finished my long, circuitous walk, I passed a Razorback bus stop. A couple of dozen students were waiting impatiently. Almost all of them were staring down at their phones. When I exited Harps, I put my food in the tiny trunk compartment and left through the back parking lot, looping around the side road. On a whim, I stepped out and said, “Does anyone want a ride to campus?” I didn’t expect anyone to accept. Surprisingly, several people looked around at each other, wondering if they’d be judged for saying “Yes.” I said, “Despite how small this car looks, I can hold three of y’all in here.” Two guys and one girl stepped away from the pack, shrugging. I reached over and unlocked all my doors, as my car is manual everything. They hopped in. I said, “If you do not want to go to the same drop, talk among yourselves and decide where to go first.” They chattered away as I waited at the traffic light at the bottom of the long hill up to campus. They decided to all get out at the same building. As I drove, the girl explained to one of the riders in the back seat that she only had a slim laptop because she had photographed every page of her textbook. The two guys both had backpacks perched on their laps. “That’s genius,” one of them said. Indeed, it was. As I pulled up to the sidewalk to let them out, they thanked me. Though they probably waited for the bus without any enthusiasm, they’d been granted extra minutes for the morning. I hoped they used them well.
People ask me why I prefer old headphones instead of modern earbud ones. Part of it is comfort. But having wired ones allows me to accidentally drag everything out of my pocket clumsily when I pull my phone out. I’ve tried a few sets of wireless earbuds; so far, none have worked magic for me. It could be worse. I could choose to go old school and use a boombox. I’m not quite a boomer, though.
I have a couple of weird side effects from my surgery. One of them is an odd indentation a few inches above my belly button. The other is a valley where the scar sits. I’m eating much better, but I’m still at 150 lbs. No matter how active I am or optimistic, it’s hard to forget that surgeons removed a section of my bowels. It’s a special kind of vague anxiety that only those who’ve had it would understand.
Though I’d rather have never had surgery, I love the deepening scar. It’s a reminder that anything can happen at any time, a lesson I thought I’d mastered years ago. I was wrong. If anything might happen, it also encompasses moments of surprise and pleasure. Though I walked alone this morning, I saw beauty and felt the air around me. And by risking a bit of social awkwardness, I briefly talked to three optimistic students, all of whom are looking to the future. They probably don’t know how strenuously life will challenge them. And that’s a good thing on this October morning. There’s time for that later. Much later, I hope, for all of them and myself.