I spend most of my time staring into other people’s windows. I imagine better versions of myself living the different lives built within those walls. I see myself trying on a string of pearls that, honestly, I find tacky – but I bet they’d look just right on the version of myself that lives there. I see expensive abstract art that visitors would cock their heads to marvel at from various perspectives. There’s me, using a crystal decanter to pour wine as I laze on an A-line mock 60’s vintage couch while listening to my true vintage record player.
Forget it, I’d hate to live there anyway.
These cement palaces built to overlook a downtown scattered with people who will never be fancy enough to get into them: voluntary solitude. Exclusionary elitism of the not-actually-that-well-off but wanting to be. My reflection in this window is exhausted by the idea of it. She’s also just plain exhausted and I know it.
So, I walk on, past my favorite brightly lit coffee shop with crisp white lines and 90-degree angles. A place with the illusion of openness as they charge $6.74 for a vanilla latte with oat milk – organic and local, of course. I look back at its light as I move toward the darkness of the freeway underpass.
Toward the seclusion of a narrow passage.
I round the corner and am hit with a vision of men, or maybe boys, walking toward me in the shadows, the sounds of traffic emphasizing my anxiety. I tense up. I put on my angry face. My you-will-regret-ever-thinking-of-it face, which is honestly never far beneath the surface of my resting face.
And as I stare straight ahead with a cruel focus on the flickering street lamp that never did anything to deserve this look, they don’t even say a word. I relax – but not too much because you never know if they’ll turn around. Every terrifying scenario that could happen in this underpass has gone through my head and runs continuous shivers down my spine. I clasp my keys, sharp edges poking through the spaces in my fingers, ready to puncture a man’s throat at a moment’s notice. Too bad I always keep them in my right hand – my non-dominant, useless and weak hand that wouldn’t even come close to landing a life-or-death punch.
But I need my phone in my left hand because what if my friend calls me back? Or I see an adorable puppy while scrolling my Instagram feed and I need to give it a double tap? These things are important too.
I keep walking through the third and final section of the freeway, keeping my head down until I’m right under that street light that I’m actually quite grateful for night after night of this walk. It’s my beacon. I pause to gaze up at it like a child under a light house. Silently, for a few seconds, I breathe out and explore the different molecules the light illuminates. One more deep breath releases a fleeting smile of peace. I cross the street.
I’m blinded by headlights, bringing me back to land. I stare directly into the windshield of a car that wants to turn right but has to wait for me. I make sure they damn well know it as I strut across. A meek power move made out of displaced anger, knowing I’m not safe enough alone in a downtown metropolis to enjoy a minute of wondrous gazing at how we all got here. It’s been a long day, okay?
I’m nearly at my car, yet always tempted to get a beer at that bar next to the Ramen shop I used to go to with my ex-boyfriend. I never do. Instead, I remind myself that I don’t miss that life with him the same way I don’t actually want to live inside the lives of the apartments I peek into. I know enough to understand both appear better from the outside. But sometimes that fogged up glass blurs the vision of the past just enough to convince me for a split second otherwise. I walk on.
One last half block and my defenses are up again as the lights dim, I return to the catwalk rhythm of sharp, calculated steps, convincing myself I’m a badass. But honestly, I’m just tired and hungry and this point because I stayed at work too late again.
My car lights flash, I remember where I parked this time. Halfway home.