Umbrellas for the sun

In parts of the world where they use umbrellas for the sun, too much of anything makes the body sore. The first warm day after winter feels better than sunshine all the time.

I’m flying back from Georgia into New York City and tripping across the foggy crosswalk to the taxi stand. The driver who picks me up doesn’t speak, and I don’t ask him to. I tell him where to go. The thick fog under the street lights and the streets wet with rain look the way it was every night I drove home from law school last spring. April is like this: the empty lots and Union Turnpike and the three-story parking garage. Like this: orange light reflecting off the clouds, and the clouds hugging the buildings. The headlights hoping for the earth to condense in the warmth, like I wanted my body to condense in the headlights that sifted through the city. An urban x-ray.

I look into the park and the fog and the orange between the trees, the way the city is between pavement and earth, my taxi driver so silent with his turban— Sikh— and I don’t want to talk either, so I just turn to look into the lights. I’m acutely aware of how alone we both are in this weather. If I hadn’t just landed in it, I wouldn’t know how a body shakes in an airplane seat, flying through the thunderstorm, and Queens is so gorgeous in the fog. I keep forgetting about my claustrophobia until I don’t have a window seat, and I have to breathe to keep the walls from closing in. I keep saying I’d be ok to die right now, but I don’t want to drown like this, so I breathe, and the walls stay.

I want to talk to him, but I don’t know what point I’d be trying to prove — to my taxi driver, I mean— I’m tired. I’d like to prove that I’m open and kind and personable all the time, that I am glowing, and gorgeous, and hopeful. I’m not.

I have nothing soft left. I feel stronger when I’m not asking someone to help me, but it feels so nice to cry when I get into a cab and ask the driver how he is. My voice breaks. He realizes something is wrong. He says he’s fine.

Something is always wrong — have you read the news? — I’m a basket of everything that is wrong.

But what a difference a decade makes. Here’s everything I’ve learned: the thing we’re living for is to get better at keeping people out. Keep people out. I’m on the subway on a Sunday afternoon looking at the people I’m refusing to connect with, just like how I’m only polite most of the time, but never friendly. Friends. I think about those I would have loved and laughed with if I hadn’t already learned how hard it is to do that.

If only I were fearless. I’ll never recover from these years of building up walls. Now, it’s just a matter of whether I’d rather live alone with walls or in a community with walls. Alone with walls feels like an ocean I can hear but never smell or taste or touch: “I love you” without being brave enough to put someone else on the other side of the wall with me. Never put someone on the other side of the wall. Don’t share the sound of the ocean. Make a choice every day to hold the line. Hold the line because the only thing I’ve learned from living is that it hurts to open the door. And the only difference between that and a community with walls is that a community has people to talk to about the sound of the ocean that none of us can smell or taste or touch (do you know there’s an ocean out there?).

We all want to keep someone out. Some us want to keep nations out. I’m still thinking about how it feels to write the opposite of love letters: the I’m-too-scared-to-love letters. I’ve become a master of writing letters reinforcing my fears, instead of making myself vulnerable. Every “I can’t love” letter is my proud demonstration of how strong the walls are. How strong our walls are. Some people live off promises of stronger walls. Better borders. We’re a nation of “I can’t love” letters.

All the people with love right in front of them are telling love to take a good long look at impenetrable and saying, “Don’t you even try.” Many of the lonely are looking at love, saying, “I have nothing, please climb in.” Love always tries the wall, not the window. No one wins. The open-hearted lonely stay lonely, and the walls stay walls. What love aspires to be a ladder, not a door? The people who want chances don’t get them. Those who have chances don’t take them. And that is the paradox of humanity, none of us live the possibilities we’re capable of. But we do it to ourselves. A possibility is only a possibility if we stop shielding ourselves from it. The sunshine is only a tan if I close the umbrella. My skin only drinks if I agree that I like the rain.

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