by: Patrick Gill
I didn’t want to play Legos with him. It wasn’t because we weren’t friends, well Ryan was kind of a nerd; but I was kind of a weirdo so it worked out fine. It’s wasn’t because I was terrible at Legos, seriously terrible; I could make up back stories for Lego people and places, spin an interesting but ultimately intangible tale about why this band of pirates was burying this treasure that came from that raid on this island, but I couldn’t even make their drinking shanty if I tried, let alone their schooner—I dubbed it The Singing Lady. I just wanted to look out the window. There were people out there, frequently walking the sidewalk in front of Ryan’s house, and car after car stopped at the small intersection three houses away, and we were on the second floor— someone else lived on the first, someone else and their family, and so many someone else’s there were, on this block.
I grew up in the mountains. This is both the most honest and alarming way to describe it. I grew up about a mile or two outside of what would be considered Downtown Scotts Valley, a cluster of shopping centers. This means redwood trees, reaching well past my childhood home’s roof (which was placed on stilts, on the side of a mountain, 3 stories off the ground for the most part). This means ravines carpeted with ferns, the scent of crushed bay leaves and damp earth. This means not a lot of neighbors. With a drive way that went deep off the road, we were removed from anyone close to being our neighbor—Lauren from across the street moved away when I was around 6, down another off road down a hill was a trailer home generally populated by seniors. Every time I was home it was family and the wilderness until I was 13, if you know me this might explain my wide eyed wonder with human interaction and my ability to sequester so easily.
Ryan was in my third grade class. He lived down near the Boardwalk in Santa Cruz proper, in the hills right above The Flats. I had gone over that day to play all day. We got along well, he seemed strangely astute, studied, somehow older yet unwilling to admit it to his peers. He came to me at the window, a little miffed that I was less interested in building a plastic brick world than he was. He seemed confused by my eyes, racing from person to person, to my grin. I told him I was just watching people, this, this was a neighborhood, outside of school and the grocery store I had never seen so many people in one place, milling about, getting somewhere. He shook me off, we went back to Legos soon, but I was still amazed by people living, among people. I moved to a neighborhood when I was 13, but even then it was a quiet one, deep in the hills of Aptos; people were friendly, but sparse. Then I moved to Chicago, as a somewhat adult. I moved to a city. Something big and faster than anything I could have found in my corner of California.
And I know it’s a little bit trite, maybe even more so to recognize that it has been said so much before, but I love both getting lost in and finding things about myself in the city. Yes, I forget, quite often how many people are around me and how exciting that can be. Sometimes on street corners I stop, even if I don’t have that much time, to see other people on their way. I look at windows for only a second as I pass, turn my head quick if I feel it has been a rude amount of time. I make an effort to remember what it felt like, at the window in The Flats, how mesmerizing other people can be and the energy we can give to and get from each other. I make an effort to remember the stories other people have, to be amazed by them and know that they are making their way through the city like I am. Then I move along, I have to continue on in my story. There have be a troubling amount of times where I have not left the house for a stint, unless the nessecity rang I wouldn’t leave my kitchen or bed. I forget that once I am out, once I get up and dressed and clean and ready to greet the day, which can take time, I come alive in a whole new way. People are exhausting, but damn it if they don’t bring you alive.
I love the mountains, I think about them now when I see the unyielding flatness of the Big Shoulders, when I see the sun falling behind building rather than setting over trees or on the ocean. I like to go back there, I like to visit. I am now starting to look back fondly on times I have before clouded with a few periods of darkness. But what’s missing there are the people, I have become not only accustomed to but enamored with the idea of people, always around me, not even knowing me, but still with me.