Friday, May 12, 2006

My Walker

You often hear stories about little kids who are surprised to see a school teacher out in public for the first time. Their whole idea of how life works is suddenly shattered. They'd only thought of teacher as being at school, teaching--not living an actual real life in the outside world that didn't include them. I had a similar experience today at the dump.

There is a little elderly man who we see walking up and down our street almost daily. Sometimes we see him several times daily. He has a dwarf-ish, squat face. He has a grey beard and shoulder length hair that hangs out of a tan ball cap in fair weather and a stocking cap when it's cold. He uses a hiking stick that almost comes to his shoulder. It's not purchased, I imagine he found it years ago when he first started this routine. We have seen him out walking at various times of day, and heading in either direction in many different locations on our 1.5 mile street. Though I'm not sure where he lives, I'd guess it's here. This is a nice street to hike--many people from the surrounding neighborhood use the route--but I've never seen this man on anywhere else.

We wave to him, and sometimes he'll wave back at Larry. At me he gives what I hope is a blank stare that only looks like a scowl because of his squat features. Whether I'm in a hurry and going 30 miles per hour, or taking it easy at under 20, he is startled the minute he is aware that a vehicle is approaching and jumps off the street onto either a curb or roadside dirt. He generally doesn't continue walking until our car has passed.

Today I saw him at the dump. He had his hat, but no walking stick, and without it, it took me several seconds to decide it was really him. He was putting recyclables into the bin, taking them out of a white Subaru wagon, which I must assume he can drive, along with an elderly lady with long grey hair, which I must assume is his wife. As I approached the bin with my bag of papers and cans, the woman made eye-contact and said hello. After that, her husband followed suit. I smiled and muttered hi. I have no idea if I was familiar to him out from behind my steering wheel. It was a surreal moment, if ever I've had one.

I realized that in my mind this man had become something a little non-human, like a small animal or a cartoon character. I'd come to think of him as having no other life than walking up and down my street, starting at passing cars. I thought of him as lonely, having no family or friends--or at least none who cares. I also imagined that he couldn't speak, and had no other capabilities or interests or responsibilities. He was just "the walker."

I feel a little silly. I'm certainly old enough to know that people have lives outside of our experiences with them. I also feel a little sad. I'd taken a small amount of possession of him, as if he were MY walker, mine to see and enjoy along with the lilacs and manzanita, along with the blue skies and snow-covered peaks. I fear when I see him next I'll be aware of his real life, aware that he is no more mine, perhaps a little less mine, than those lovely lilacs and beautiful skies.

But maybe if he knew, if he knew how much I love to see him walking, maybe he wouldn't mind the attachment. And maybe he'd consent to be, even just a little bit, mine.

2 fishy comments:

Jenn said...

Isn't it funny how that kind of thing throws you for a loop? Long before you actually said it, I was picturing a troll-ish cartoon character from you description. And whaddya' know - he's a real person with a real life, LOL!

Annette Lyon said...

Great story--I think we all have those moments.