I don’t remember exactly when this was; it was some years ago when a comet was in the skies. One evening I walked up the street of my neighborhood with my binoculars in hand, to try to get a better look at the comet from the cul-de-sac of the street. There were fewer suburban trees obscuring the sky there, and for a few minutes I got as good a view of the comet as I’d had that month. As interesting as the view of the comet itself — a broad, faint white trail extending some large measure across the starry night — was the unique feeling of standing in a neighborhood in the quiet of a night, regarding the scene without any care to the day to day activities that would usually warrant my being there. The street doesn’t usually serve for such moments, and as such, one feels very much like a visitor outside of time. It was as this pleasant, timeless feeling was full in my body — a feeling perhaps too strong and real for me to bear — that I nervously felt I should return to the mundane world, so I lowered my binoculars and started to walk slowly back up the quiet pavement, each soft step returning me to the safe world of the expected. It was then that I heard faintly behind me the screen door of the nearby home open up, and heard the soft plea of a young girl saying “wait… wait, don’t go.”
The girl, or young woman I should say, was the daughter of the family that lived at the street’s end. Her name was something about the desert — Mesa? Autumn? Sedona? I knew it was a name that evoked the great southwest, and though I had never met her, I always hoped that the name her parents had given her had somehow predicted her more gentle poetic, introspective soul. This may sound silly to anyone not raised in the northeast, but the northeast is such a cold, impersonal part of the country, a place of intellect and heartlessness, that to even hear a neighbor is named after the amber hues of the painted desert brings a sense of refreshment and peace to my heart.
I’d never met her, but only knew she was a few years younger than I. I was in my twenties, she’s have been in her late teens, I suppose. Perhaps it was this age difference that led me to what I regret:
I regret that I kept walking.
She may have assumed that she hadn’t made it out through the screen door fast enough …for all I know, she was dissapointed and blamed herself for not being fast enough. Or maybe she knew I’d heard her, and forever wondered what was wrong with her, or with me.
All I know now is that I missed, purposefully missed, an opportunity to meet someone who I had known to consider someone of interest by the sheer simple act of having heard her name. There is no epilogue to this story; merely once I walked past her when she was outside of a convenience store at which she was evidently getting some summer work, and I saw in her a flicker of recognition (probably not from that night; simply from recognizing those who live on the same street) and not knowing whether to say hello as a neighbor, or hello as a stranger.
I didn’t know which, either. And so by default, a stranger.
UPDATE: I want to clarify that recognizing the above event as something I regret was an incredibly positive experience. The story may be sad, but my recognition of this lost opportunity feels like I’ve been given a rare opportunity to see the error of my ways, so that I may perhaps realize a different outcome if a similar situation ever arises.