22 February 2019
For a few years, while walking around our neighborhood and on my morning run, I would see a woman. She had a halo of fuzzy brown hair. Sometimes I heard her speaking on the phone in Italian. The first few times I saw her she was pushing a stroller with a baby in it. The air was warm. The baby had a sunny smile. The next time I saw her she wore a heavy coat and had an umbrella and a dog on a leash. She looked pregnant. As the months rolled by and the seasons changed she pushed a double stroller with two babies in it.
I would see her several days in a row and then not. I would see her in different streets than the usual streets I frequented. One time, while my wife and I were in a meeting at a new school for our child, in a building we had never been in before, the fuzzy-haired woman burst into the room, looked around, seemed to realize she was in the wrong room, and ran out.
Naturally, I looked for a pattern. Why was I seeing this person so often? Several times, as I ran past her in the morning, I looked at her and smiled. She never met my eyes or smiled back. I would see her walking and nod in greeting. She never nodded back. I wondered if she was in a parallel dimension or other plane of existence or another time.
We were connected somehow in a pattern of entanglement. What was the pattern? I attached meaning to her. When my father was dying I saw her often. I thought of her as an Angel of Death. She had some relationship, was a signal or sign, of my father’s life unwinding. After he died, I didn’t see her again for months.
A couple of weeks ago I started seeing a guy on a motor scooter. He was an older man, with a goatee, always wore a white helmet, and his scooter was also white. He had a comical birdhouse strapped to the back of his scooter. I saw him zipping by when I ran in the morning. Again and again. Different times, different streets. I wondered what he signified. What was the pattern now? What was his meaning? Maybe he had none and I was merely seeing beyond the visible spectrum into something or somewhere else. That kind of vision would be a useful storytelling skill, kind of a superpower.
It isn’t a superpower, though. It’s part of storytelling: pattern recognition. You, the storyteller, pick out events that shape the story. At first only you can see them, like the fuzzy-haired woman who appeared only to me. You use your superpower to see beyond the visible spectrum. Then you can tell the story.
The last time I saw the fuzzy-haired woman my wife also saw her. The pattern was broken or perhaps we were both seeing outside the visible spectrum. Fittingly for superpowers and spectral visions, it was Halloween. We were walking among revelers in costume. My wife was a witch. I was Steve Jobs. Our son was a tiger. The fuzzy- haired woman appeared. She walked past us. She wasn’t in costume. She wore unremarkable clothes as she walked among the revelers in their costumes of death, not acknowledging any of them, not acknowledging me when I nodded to her. But she knew me. I could tell. She may well have been an Angel of Death, at least for a while, and now she was something else, and she understood that I had grasped her pattern and was using it to tell a story.
(c) Lee Schneider 2021. Take care of each other. Subscribe.