Cracks in the Sidewalk

December 29, 2008
I had started from my home as I have in the past, surrendering to the familiar urge to walk while watching the tops of my shoes. The scene around me was just as typical that evening as ever; with cookie-cutter houses facing an empty and ill-lit street, I was given all the more the reason to watch my feet treading on the concrete sidewalk.

At first watching my feet was just the product of boredom, a way to pass the time while I endured my self-inflicted "alone time", but it soon became the source of a strange sense of control. As I took each step I began to critique the step before it and plan for the one following it. I took delicate measure to avoid the numerous cracks in the sidewalk and made sure that each step taken was as graceful and idyllic as the last. I did this for quite some time until a speeding car that seemed unaware of my presence nearly struck me as I hastily walked across the road. After a brief moment to compose myself, a curse word, and a chuckle at the thought of walking gracefully in a world full of bad drivers I realized that I had left suburbia and entered a part of town that I did not recognize.

The road was even more dark and dreary in this strange new place than that of the world I had left behind me with perfect steps. A street sign was visible in the distance, stating that I had been walking on "Life Road", but even knowing this failed to give me an idea of how to get back to the comforts of familiarity. My heart was beating almost as quickly as the thoughts raced through my head as I trekked back the way I had come. After a good half-hour I was pierced with dread as I became increasingly aware of the fact that I did not know two crucial things: where I was going or what my destination looked like. I suddenly became very angry with the home builders who created the houses that looked so alike that I thought I had found my home three different times; from then on I just kept walking, hoping that god, kismet, or what have you would grant me the simple gift of something I could associate with home.

A few minutes later my request was granted as I came across the ancient blind lady that I knew lived a few houses down from myself and her equally ancient seeing eye dog as they walked together. At seeing this I began pondering at which was the one really being walked, but quickly brushed the thought out of my head as I had more serious things to think about. My pulse began to slow as I realized that the old lady and her dog were my ticket out of this unfamiliar place and to the confines of my bedroom walls. I walked behind her at a safe distance so to avoid conversation but close enough to never lose sight of her. As the three of us walked I began to notice things I had never noticed before: a stream set next to a forest that looked as if it might of served as a muse for a Kinkade painting, an old house with missing shingles and chipped paint that looked shockingly perfect in all of it's imperfection, and an empty field that laid out endless opportunities as to what might one day be there and what had been there in the past. Although all of these places had existed far longer than I had been sucking in air or pulsing blood through my veins and even though I had passed these places countless times in my idle walks I have never truly witnessed them. Strange that a blind woman should be the one that forced me to view them.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw the old lady and her old dog turn from the sidewalk onto a driveway and through a front door which must have belonged to her. I knew I was close and paused to scope the houses around me. At first they again seemed to all look the same. It took a great deal of thought to remember simple things about the place I had left only hours before that might give me some indication as to what mine and what was not. At last I saw the house that had failed to take down it's Christmas lights despite the warming weather of early March, with the beat-up Saturn in it's garage, and the orange tree in it's front yard. I mouthed a silent "thank you" to the woman and her dog and walked toward the house I knew all too well and yet could hardly pick out of a line up. As I neared the doorway of the house, the doorway to all I knew, I stopped. I turned to face the empty street once more, walked a few paces, and sat on the damp grass. For an hour I mentally traced every detail of every house within my vision, straining my eyes to pick up the slightest detail despite the growing darkness around me and aided by a street lantern on the corner that I had never noticed before. When every detail had been noted and every flaw appreciated I retired for the evening.

I walk to that once unfamiliar place everyday, down to the Life Road street sign and back again; I never look down to the cracks on the sidewalk or make note of how graceful my steps are, instead I observe the stream and the forest, the perfectly imperfect house, the empty field and all the people and places between them. Sometimes I even see the little old blind lady and her dog as we walk up and down the same stretch of road.

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