I take the same walk every day. There’s the Pink House. There’s the Blue House. There’s the dying cat and the dead one. There’s the park where people gather to smoke, the clouds making you realize how big a breath is. There’s the tricky spot where a tree has blown up the sidewalk, and the tiny spot where a family has pressed quartz pebbles into wet concrete. There are the fluff trees, the audiobook, and no dogs — a narrow pinball alley carved out of the dogless parts of Oakland.
I take the same walk every day because it’s easier. There’s nothing frightening along the route, except for the dead cat, and I can always avert my eyes from the rusty spot of him. A new walk is different. A new walk is exciting, opening up windy new vistas, but it involves new sights too, new things to process. The houses here are very beautiful, Many of them were built between 1900 and 1930, Craftsmans and Victorian cottages. They have fanciful staircases installed where they’ve been lifted, or where a second-floor door has been added that would otherwise open to the air. The stucco is bright blue or gold, and the molding stark white. The beauty on these new streets — one reality to the left or right of the one I’ve come to know in such detail — is almost too much to bear. It was built in a world that had different problems. This beauty now feels leftover, redundant, from a time of excess, the brazen ghost of a more prosperous universe.
I’m talking about hope, of course. On days like this, when I vary my route just a little, when I plunge down the parallel streets or the perpendicular ones, I see hope — that I could look at new things again, that I could meet strangers, that I could travel to other cities where long-lost friends are, that I could ever again be uncomfortably close to other people. Uncontrolledly close: people negligently putting their toes on each other’s toes, brushing each other’s rough shoulders, without thinking about it. This hope is very hard.
There are other causes and vectors of hope. Two of my friends got new bodies, this week and last. Their surgeons gave them new bones and new flesh that they’d never had before — even amidst all this, sometimes, such things can take place. Sometimes I get a new cup or a rug for my room. Sometimes I get a new mask. I had one today, actually, my favorite: a quilter’s cotton front with a pattern of stars, and a flannel lining with a pattern of moons. The flannel makes me feel spooned and embraced.
I know the hope is good for me. I know it’s a vaccine, an inoculation of hope, something dead that helps my body get stronger, that helps immunize it against despair. But sometimes, as when the vaccine gives you shadow-symptoms, the faint ghost of the flu — sometimes the hope and the despair feel like the same thing.