The safest bet, when you want to be alone, is to be in a park while it's raining. This was advice given to me by an ex-girlfriend, a long time ago and in another place entirely. I'd never followed the advice until today. I don't exactly know why, but I was depressed and feeling lonely and decided that I wanted to make the emotional scenario absolutely complete by being alone. For some reason, her words, the only few of hers that I can distinctly recall, surfaced and offered me a bit of solace.
"Where were you for the last ten hours?" I had asked her that rainy night.
"At the park," she answered, still sopping wet and dripping water on the kitchen floor, looking miserable and forlorn. "Thinking."
I stared at her stupidly, not comprehending. "It's been raining all day."
"I know," she said. "It's the perfect place to be when you want to be alone and think."
"Well, what were you thinking about for ten hours straight in the park- while it rained?"
"I was thinking about what I'd done before."
She was not going to make it easy on me, I could understand that then. "Before when? What did you do?"
Her voice got very small, very fragile. "This morning... I had an abortion."
The child wasn't mine, it was my brother's. I broke up with her then and there. I wish that I could only remember the advice about the park, being alone in it, but there was so much more that is worth forgetting, which I never will be able to. I haven't talked to either her or my brother in almost a decade. That was another life.
I'm not going to explain why I'm depressed and feeling so antisocial- in all honesty, I'm not really sure. But suffice it to say that Claudia's advice was bang-on. It's been raining all day, since early morning, and shows no sign of letting up. Cars went back and forth along the road that runs parallel to the park, but virtually none of them came inside. No kids want to frolic in the wet grass. No dogs want to fetch soaked Nerf balls. No ducks want to beg for bread. No one in their right mind has any constructive use for a rained-out park. One person drove in for ten minutes to eat his lunch in his car and then moved on. He didn't even bother to roll down his window and throw out the fast-food packaging, which, I felt, served as a great inducement for litter-control. I'm almost certain he didn't see me under the community area, watching him from under its shadowy-cold canopy from some one hundred yards away. He simply ate up and then left me alone again.
I've been here for most of the day, since noon, and the force of the rainfall has ebbed and flowed like an ocean tide- sometimes powerful and torrential, other times soft and gentle, like a soft mist on an early Southern morning. It's been cold and clammy, humid and wet and my clothes are saturated with the ambient moisture, even though I haven't been directly rained on since I got here. All I've done, all day long, is just sit here, on this bench and think of nothing in particular. I've watched the squirrels in their cubby-holes that have been meticulously carved into the trunks of the surrounding trees as they chatter to themselves, probably lamenting the poor weather. None of them have ventured from their homes to inquire about me or see if I can offer them some free lunch. I marveled, for a while, at their inate intelligence- even animals detest being stuck in the rain.
I have never seen such a desolate place in a city that is buzzing with activity. The roads, as usual, are clogged and busy. The town, outside the park, is running at full tilt while I sit here and watch it in my solitude, from within. It is truly kind of eerie and peculiar. I wonder, for a while, why I hadn't done this sooner. All kinds of answers come to the surface: work, never thought of it before, lack of inspiration, haven't experienced this particular flavor of depression before, I don't normally go to the park on sunny days let alone wet ones. All kinds of reasons for not having done this before, but none of them really matter now, since I'm doing it.
I see a car pull into the park's drive, a red Neon, very clean and tidy. A young couple are inside it, the woman gesticulating wildly. She is telling the driver off, presumably her boyfriend, and he is driving along silently, thin-lipped and perhaps listening to her tirade. I somehow, at this point, slip from being "me" into the mode of a detached and objective observer. The car pulls into one of the many empty parking spaces far away enough from me that I can't hear what's being said, but close enough for me to still see the couple clearly. She really is pissed. And he really is quiet. And I really am watching this.
I've never been a voyeur before. Watching other people's lives unfold has never held any fascination for me. I know that some people get off on it, living vicariously through others, but the whole concept of voyeurism never really made much sense to me. My life is too screwed up to worry about someone else's drama. Unless you consider porn to be voyeurism, in which case I'd be guilty as charged- with marginal complicity.
The one-sided argument in the red Neon is getting more heated. Finally the guy turns to look her dead in the eyes. His head doesn't bob around angrily in response, he isn't saying anything. They're still oblivious to my watchful gaze, my existence. There is silence in that car while the rain pours down on the roof and plays a symphony in that stillness. Then, abruptly, the girl gets out of the car, shuts the door almost reverently and begins to walk away from it, getting soaked at the same time. She is not dressed for this kind of weather, but she does it anyway.
She stops, stands still for a moment and then leans her head back to shout and scream at the dark gray sky. The cry is deep and heartfelt and filled with confusion and misery. The sky swallows her voice completely, impassively, giving nothing back but more water which runs down her face and washes her tears away. She drops to her knees and begins to sob there, in the grass, in front of the red Neon while the engine continues to run, her head bent sorrowfully. The boyfriend watches this from behind the windshield, dry and safe from the deluge, and he actually jumps when she cuts loose with another tearful scream/sob.
Seconds pass, eternal seconds which are flooded with the ping-ping-ping-pat of relentless raindrops falling all around us. We three, separate people, are now in the same place, all alone with our misery. And I want to step out from under the community area's canopy, go to her, ask her what's wrong, perhaps offer some comfort. I don't move a muscle and continue to watch, however, frozen where I am. A chill runs down my spine at how dispassionate I am right this very moment.
The boyfriend then gets out of the car, leaving it running, and he seems stoic, his face unreadable. He stands behind her, says something short. Probably her name, but I still can't hear them, not even mumbling, at this distance. She ignores him.
He reaches down, picks her up gently by her armpits into a standing position and hugs her from behind, resting his chin on her shoulder, enveloping her in his embrace, whispering. Gently, lovingly, softly, patiently. More lovingly than I have ever held a woman, I realise. Something within me holds and waits, eager and doubtful and mysteriously aware of something of greatness in witnessing this expression of love. She turns and wraps her arms around his neck, sobbing into his ear, holding him tightly. They remain like this for a long time, while the rain falls upon them gently. Patter-patter-patter-drip-ping. A long, extended hiss of water that falls from the sky- and the sound of my own heartbeat. That is all that fills the park. The birds are nowhere to be seen. The squirrels have fallen silent. The cars on the road, not too far away, have drifted into a zone that is so far outside this world that they are no longer consequential. This moment is eternal and gripping.
The couple part and kiss deeply, full of forgiveness and strength. It is not a kiss of passion or lust or desire. It is a kiss of intimacy and shared pain and seeing it makes me ache inside, makes me want to cry with them, for them, to them. Over myself.
The girl straightens up finally, more resolute. She kisses her boyfriend more gently and quickly this time, a kiss of thanks and appreciation. Then she sees me, alarmed at first, I think. I say and do nothing. I remain frozen and watchful. He turns and sees me as well, regarding me for a short moment, then ignores me. They kiss a final time and go back into their car, soaked to the bone, and then drive off.
I am no longer depressed and lonely. But, God, I've never felt more alone.