Hard to Meet You

Author: Erin Buckley ’08

4 Final Illustration by Oivind Hovland

I am considering whether to introduce myself to two of my neighbors. One is a man who lives in the apartment complex across the street. The other is a mother of four who lives two blocks away. I recognize each person from a different context: The man works at the same hospital as I do; the woman goes to my church. As for where to introduce myself, near our homes seems the most prudent. Otherwise my introductions would need to include some version of, “I know where you live.”

The woman appears to be in her late 40s. She has an upright posture and corkscrew curls slicked into a ponytail. I read in her the skills of a basketball point guard: agility and the ability to orchestrate a team’s movements. My impression is influenced by the hoop in front of her house where middle schoolers congregate.

I haven’t introduced myself yet because a natural opportunity has not presented itself. Last week, I thought I might have such a chance. The woman had just parked in front of her house. Approaching on the sidewalk, I predicted that our paths would intersect. As I got closer, a fuzzy voice blared from her car’s speakers as she finished a hands-free conversation. The moment passed. Several weeks ago, I saw her in the church commons. Again I prepared to make my move, but her head was cocked as she nodded to an older gentleman in conversation. I stalled a moment before exiting.

It took me longer to recognize the other neighbor, the man, after passing him a few times in the hospital and the neighborhood. He is about my height with light skin, dark brown hair and a beard. He wears the same color scrubs as the physicians do, but I intuit he is not a doctor. Once I saw him pushing a cart in the hall, which makes me guess that he’s some sort of technician.

I don’t think either of these people have noticed me popping up at two places in their lives like matching tiles of a memory game overturned on different quadrants of the board, so it is incumbent on me to initiate the introductions. But in addition to not having found the right moment, I hesitate for a more selfish reason. My evening stroll is a time without responsibility, and introducing myself would convert segments of my route into zones of social obligation. What’s the point of establishing such a loose connection anyhow, I ask myself as I walk past the woman’s home — even as a more generous part of me wonders whether she might be out weeding or edging her lawn, and I might catch her eye.

The perfect moment may never come. The man lives in an apartment, as do I. With the flip of a calendar page, a moving truck could cast a shadow on either of our doors and we could absent the scene between acts. The woman and her family live in a house, so I assume they are more settled, but who knows?

Never to make the connections would be neither a tragedy nor a sin of omission. I probably would consider it a minor lost opportunity — something that flits across my mind primarily as I pass their homes. I picture The Family Circus cartoon characters leaving their dashed-line trails wherever they go — over the couch, out the door, down the street. My routine stitches me along predictable routes: to my parking spot, toward the city, along my walking path. My neighbors’ routes are also predictable. The seams become stronger as each path loops over itself, again and again. To all these recurring, straight stitches I imagine attaching a couple of cross stitches — small additions, yet ones I like to think would strengthen the whole.

Erin Buckley lives in Richmond, Virginia, where she works as an occupational therapist.