In My Ohio

On Nineteen Things That Happen When I Walk Past Another Person

Darren C. Demaree
Our experience together, passersby, is a cursory one. The assumption is that you’re as busy as I am, and that even if you’re walking nowhere, your thoughts are somehow imprisoned in the human experience. You are too deep in it. I was too deep in it, as well, and then I saw you about to walk past me. Before you wordlessly pass me, please take note of my invitation; the proximity of my body to yours (however brief) is an opening to be two pieces together in this exhausting puzzle.
1.) I remove my headphones.
2.) I take my hands out of my pockets.
3.) I rock back from my normal toe-sprung walk. I allow my heels to join in an effort to relax my posture and slow my gait.
4.) I think about a friend I wish was waking with me.
5.) I drag my hand through my beard to negate any ornery angles the wind has given it.
6.) I straighten my glasses.
I negotiate any extra weight (work bag, groceries, stroller) I may have away from the side of your path.
8.) I make sure my children, if they are with me, are aware of you.
9.) I lower my head to you in acknowledgement of your importance to me.
10.) I raise my head to meet any return of acknowledgement.
I smile. This smile exists independent of any issue that I may be attempting to mulch through before and after you. It is a smile for you, not for me.
12.) I nod to you as our distance closes.
I say hello or good morning or good evening.
14.) I allow you to pass freely if that is your decision.
I slow down another step in case you recognize me or someone I’m with.
16.) I fix my glasses again.
17.) I fix my beard again.
I hope if you passed without engagement that you are headed somewhere that will help fulfill you in some way.
19.) I put my headphones back in and allow the deluge to return.
This is what I’ve been thinking about for the last four months. I’ve written sixteen columns, hundreds of poems, researched my next book, and the whole time, every time my mind would relax a bit, my thoughts would come back to this exchange. I wanted it to be complete. I wanted the next time we crossed paths to get it right, and it wouldn’t matter if you didn’t notice a single part of it. I wanted a good way to enter your sight, a way to exist in your eyes for that one important moment, and a way to leave you (perhaps) more whole than before. If at the very least you saw me bow my head to you, and free my hands up to wave or shake your hand, then it was worth it. I never had anything I needed to say to you, but more often than not it’s not about the words we choose for each other.
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