I forgot my earrings so I ran up the stairs. I was headed to the train alone, a train I had walked to and from the past four days. My earrings were in my left hand, a bag of trash in the other. I got to the corner and threw away the bag, earrings still held tightly in my palm.
The news I woke up to in San Francisco was a shooting in my backyard but I was thousands of miles away. I was sitting in someone else’s bed, reading all the information I could. Walking to the train I left my phone in my backpack. I didn’t want to see, the body count was only going up. I heard advice to never read the news, now I know why. After I crossed the street a homeless man asked me for some change. I only had my debit in my wallet. Sorry, I said, I don’t have anything. He asked what was in my hand. I showed him my cheap earrings.
“Can I have those?” He asked it so softly I thought I imagined it.
I stopped mid stride bewildered by the question. I turned to him, why would you want these? It’s just cheap nickel that I’m allergic too, that’s why they aren’t in my ears. “I like things that reflect the light.”
How could I say no, turning my palm over into his. I couldn’t wear them for more than a few hours anyway before my ears started to hurt. Next I realized I was at the crosswalk I continually got confused on. I hesitated, looking left then right. The man asked what my hold up was and I said I couldn’t remember which way to go. His mouth mentioned to go with my instincts. I laughed, this isn’t that primal of a moment, my instincts usually tell me to leave. I thought go left, so I went right. I walked three blocks and realized it was the wrong way. I ended up at the Synagogue again, the first time being when I was lost on Yom Kippur. When I was about to pass him again, he said he knew I went the wrong way.
“Some mistakes don’t matter. I’m not sure which ones are better though, the ones that matter or the ones that don’t.”
I wanted to cry, I wanted to hug him. Because there was a shooter where I live and this man collected objects that reflected the light. I am a visitor here, trying to find a new hometown. Headed to another flight this year and I couldn’t even remember if I was coming or going. When asked I always said both. It is always both at the same time, even with the stopovers. The layovers. The growing nights spent in beds that don’t belong to me.
There was an older gentlemen sitting next to me on my flight. He flew planes in WWII, flying was one of the only things he loved. He said he would look for U-boats in the ocean and knew his plane so well he could hear all the problems. It was a skill he developed, he was never wrong. His most terrifying experience was when his landing gear was stuck. “By the grace of God we crashed safely in the grass.” He loved to travel and showed me his carryon, an old tattered yellow bag. It had patches and writing covering it, numbers and letters that looked like code. I asked him what the writing meant. He replied it’s every flight he’s ever been on, every airport, every date. The bag had been through more than I could ever fathom, corners of the world I have yet to explore. He smiled telling me which ones were his favorite travels, the ones that proved to be hard.
His smile was so big it reflected the light. I wanted to give it to the homeless man.