Vapor

Baby, it’s cold. The dogs’ water bowl is frozen over and the steps are outlined with frost. The trees are brittle, shivering in the wind, and the roads have dulled to gray under dangerous sheets of ice. It’s going to take some time to let my car warm up, and I intend to drive like a granny on my way to work this morning. Slowly, slowly around the turns. No long strides when walking.

I wonder how the homeless are coping out there. It’s common to see them on the sidewalks and under bus shelters in the pre-dawn hours, draped with blankets and bundled into layers of clothing, and you can catch a glimpse sometimes of a tent in the forest or a patch of litter to mark a previous encampment. Their increased number has made the city feel vaguely apocalyptic, an impression strengthened by the twitching and dancing on street corners, the way a person might become frozen in place, one arm raised, as though struck by an alien ray gun moments before being vaporized. From my bedroom window a few weeks back, I watched a man shadowboxing his way down the middle of the street with such intensity that I feared he might dislocate a shoulder.

What’s happened to these people? Drugs, sure. Poor mental health. Skyrocketing rent. But I mean, what exactly? We all are on a path, and paths involve steps. What were theirs? Was a monster behind them, giving chase? Did they misread the map? Were there forks in the road or none at all? Did they have a chance and blow it? Do they have regrets, or is it more a fuck-it-all bravado that gets them through the night.

How did they come to be where they are? How do any of us?

***

I’ve been sitting here for a while, thinking about how to end this page. Thinking about the world, and my place in it, and how much I really want to delve into other people’s pain. To know is to care, and to care is to act.

How much do I really want to know?

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