Every Little Decision

I knew right away that I didn’t need my sunglasses.

The city was locked in clouds. There was no skyline to speak of, only a cool, gray drizzle. I stood there a moment, four flights from Abbi’s apartment on East 71st Street, already outside, already in my running clothes; there was no turning back. So I started jogging.

My goal — at the minimum — was the 86th Street entrance to the East Side Promenade. I knew I could run north from there, or if inspiration failed to strike, turn around and call it a short run. I struggled up First Avenue, joints aching as they always do, and then turned into the park. The week’s rain left the stone stairway flooded, so I found another entrance and headed north. A great puddle obscured the entire sidewalk just a few feet shy of Gracie Mansion. A runner in front of me slowed, then turned on her heels. I decided to push on. The water was nearly ankle deep. My shoes and socks were immediately soaked, making a squishing sound with each footfall. I continued on.

The path narrows, and curves eastward around the mayor’s house. Once past, the East River widens below Randall’s Island. I spotted an aqua green pedestrian bridge through the fog, the one I’d driven past so many times en route to La Guardia, and decided that today was the day I’d cross it. Twelve years living in Manhattan, and there are still plenty of roads left unraveled. It’s one of the reasons I love this town. It’s full of surprises.

The southern tip of Randall’s Island was completely abandoned. I ran along the edge, there between Queens and Manhattan, but, in the mist, a thousand miles away. It was like a pocket of Riven there in the middle of Babylon on the Hudson. Raindrops hissed through the leaves. A tugboat pushed a barge full of debris north towards the Triborough. A fishing boat crossed its wake.

The first three miles of any run are always the most difficult. But by the time I’d run back to 71st Street, I was gliding effortlessly. Still, I was soaked with rain and sweat. And I had promised Abbi, home in bed with a fever, a grocery run. I walked through the Food Emporium self-consciously; I was under-dressed in tights and a sleeveless Nike t-shirt. And my sneakers were squeaking on the linoleum floors. I loaded a basket with necessities (Gatorade, bread, butter, eggs), calculating my purchases to avoid embarrassment at the checkout (the tiny pocket in my running tights held two soaked twenties). A fortysomething woman in a white sweat suit and lots of gold jewelry squawked into her cell phone as we waited in line.

“Can you hear me now? I said there is no plan today, no plan. Elizabeth is home asleep. She woke me up and then went back to sleep, said something about what along workweek it had been. What. Ever. Like watching TV is work. My week was impossible. I have windows to replace, a living room to remodel, and the twins still need their dresses fitted…”

I turned to her and smiled, hoping to wordlessly communicate the collective disgust of everyone within earshot.

Finally stepping back onto the soggy street, I spotted a fruit stand on the corner. Uncertain that I had sufficient funds, I’d skipped the Food Emporium fruit aisle. But with two bags of groceries in my left hand, and ten bucks right, I decided to check it out. I stepped towards the cart from behind, barely registering a familiar face nearby. As I leaned in to examine the grapes, I felt a tap on my shoulder.

“You may not remember me, my name is Torrie…”

“Of course!” I said. “I read your site every day!”

We stood there on the corner and talked a minute in the rain. We knew details of each other’s lives, though we’d met only once. I knew she’d had a tough go of it the last few months, and wished I had something meaningful to say. But instead, in shock and shyness and fatigue, I stammered.

Climbing the stairs back to Abbi’s apartment, though, I thought of every tiny little decision I’d made that led me to bump into her. And I was glad for every single one of them.

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