the importance of walking with no set destination in mind
by Amy L. Hayden
Starting from Third Ave. and 6th St., I’d only planned to walk across St. Marks over to the Astor Place subway station and head back to Brooklyn, where I’m dog-sitting until tomorrow. But the sadness and fear and doubt that’s been bubbling up to the surface over the past week was at the back of my mind, leaving me with an urge to postpone going underground as long as possible. So I kept walking, down Lafayette, which turns into Centre, all the way to city hall.
Along the way I took pictures and Instagrammed them and made little notes to myself and even — I’m slightly ashamed to say — found a little hidden alleyway where I was able to relieve my bladder, an empty street the only witness to my indiscretion. For a city that never sleeps, the places I walked tonight were at least snoozing on the job if not taking a prolonged nap. Once I crossed Houston St. it was as though I’d stepped into a different dimension of NYC: all the same places and buildings and graffiti I’d seen walking those streets hundreds of times in daylight, but this time seeing maybe ten people instead of ten times (or more) that number.
I wasn’t scared, though I suppose maybe I could have been if I’d wanted to. Instead I lingered at places that looked interesting, wondered about how different the city is from a million angles and vantage points, and thought about everything that’s been weighing on my mind lately: Jack, my sobriety, my desperate lack of money, my kids, my dad, my brother and his new baby, my health; also, basically whether I’m the most courageous person I know or the most foolishly optimistic (or perhaps both). My life has been in such a state of limbo for almost two years now, at which point it stops being “limbo” and just is what it is: a day at a time in a life that, I hope, will add up to something making the arduous and often incomprehensible journey worth the effort. Meanwhile I’m still broke, I still haven’t seen my kids for two months, I’ve still got medical issues, and — worst of all — Jack’s still dead.
Walking — a lot, in winter, in Chicago — is what first helped me think I’d be okay without Jack being alive anymore. I don’t know if it refocused my energy or just tired me out, but in the weeks after he died it was “wandering aimlessly” that acted as some sort of fertilizer for the healing process. But it wasn’t until last week — when I was so angry and terrified about my living and financial situation — that I remembered how much walking had helped in January 2010. I couldn’t go home yet, because I was afraid I’d say something I couldn’t take back. So instead I walked about 40 blocks before getting on the subway further uptown, and I went home and went to sleep.
And then there’s tonight. My life is so many levels of confusing right now that I can’t even think about three things at one time without feeling hopeless. And, dammit, I miss Jack, just as I always do when my sobriety anniversary draws near and I am so, so sad that he was never able to (a) find long-term sobriety for himself or (b) see the woman I’ve become, in no small part because of the influence he had on my life.
Last night, though, I heard someone at a meeting say that today he tries to be the person he could/would/might have been had he never become an alcoholic. It made me remember going to my grandmother’s grave to make amends, when I “told” her that every day I’d do my best to be the person she’d always believed I could be. And then I thought that perhaps the next step in working through the grief process regarding Jack is a similar promise or idea or approach: why not aim to be the person I (think I) would be had Jack never relapsed, had he never died too soon? The only person who is holding me back from that is me. It’s not Jack’s absence and it’s probably not even the fact that I have $22 to last until Saturday or that I have almost no idea when things will take a turn for the better.
My grandmother thought I was smart and beautiful and could do amazing things in the world if I could just stop making stupid choices. Jack thought I was an artist and a writer and a strong beautiful woman who liked bringing joy and light into the world.
While walking — seeing the city itself quiet, nearly contemplative with its corridors and archways empty of all life — it occurred to me not only that my grandmother and Jack just might have been on to something but also that — holy crap! — I live in New York City, a place I walked several hours through, feeling not like a stranger but a companion to the odd and small places that fall into the shadows when the business day ends. The fact that I am here at all
is an improbability. The fact that I’ve been here for more than a year — with no plans to leave — is an amazement. Would my grandmother ever imagine I’d be 40 years old, wandering lower Manhattan, using the motions of my feet to quell the uncertainties in my heart? Not likely. But I’d like to think she wouldn’t be surprised, either. I know Jack wouldn’t be; he always had a knack for knowing I’d do something before I ever realized it was what I wanted. He used to tell me he knew I’d end up in NYC, and I’d just say “someday.”
Someday has been here a while now, and though I don’t believe I’ve wasted any time (or at least not a lot of it), I also don’t think I’ve allowed myself to wander around in the possibilities as much as I could have. This is where the walking helps: roaming with no set itinerary, just the knowledge that at some point I’ll stumble across a subway station or a bus route that will take me the rest of the way to where I need to go, helps me remember that life can be like that, too.