The Look of Strangers

Summer evenings arrive here with a bank of clouds pouring blue-gray over the mountains. When I swim after work, it's a race between me and those clouds, back and forth-ing with one or two other people in the warm water. Sometimes I have to swing out of the way of kids slapping the surface with their hands or those bendy foam noodles, but recently, a little girl swam right next to me, lap by lap, matching me stroke for stroke. I did breaststroke, she did breastroke. I did freestyle, she did freestyle. On the wall, she panted, and we smiled at each other before pushing off again. For a split second looking at her, I saw me there, tanned and tiny, 7 or 8 years old, and eager for everything, especially being noticed. Even if just barely. The other night, my friend Lizzy and I were talking in her car in a parking lot, and a car pulled up next to us with two strangers in it, a woman and a man. The woman had her hair piled on one side of her head. She shook it so it centered. Her tank top twinkled. He looked straight ahead. The woman looked like she had a little bit of that girl in the pool in her. She looked like a woman who was trying to get kissed.

"Isn't it weird that those people have no idea who we are and they never will?" Lizzy asked. "To them, we are nothing. But they are probably important to everyone in their lives. We live so separately from the people we don't know."

Then the car pulled away.

That night there was rain and the leaves on the trees framing the parking lot were bowed and black. Sometimes if I look at Denver in the right light, it looks like a city I'm just visiting. I don't do it on purpose, it just becomes a composite of other places--Seattle, maybe, or Boston in the spring. And sometimes when I look at strangers, I feel like I know more about them than I do. I play this game sometimes: knowing and un-knowing the things I don't know and know. As though that might make unfamiliarity easier.

Tonight while I was swimming, the storm never came. It hovered over the pool and the shadow cast an illusion that the water was being pulled west. A man in long shorts snapped a cap over his head and started swimming laps. We were both doing breaststroke. Underwater, we looked at each other. Then we both swam away.