Anonymity

anonymity-1
"It seems as if nobody knows anybody anymore."

At the time of The Dismemberment, our personal and professional bankruptcies, we relocated to Washington, DC, where The Muse had found work. The settling in felt incredibly sad, with us initially sequestered in a high-rise overlooking the Roslyn, Virginia, fire station and directly beneath the approach path to National Airport. Planes passed just overhead every forty five seconds between six am and ten pm, and several sirens-blaring responses screamed out of the firehouse each day. The cats never adjusted to that apartment where the only ground they could see lay a dozen floors beneath them. They'd hop onto the railing, peer down, and scream in abject frustration. Back home, before The Dismemberment, even the cats maintained a certain reputation around the neighborhood, but none of any of that transferred for any of us. We'd become anonymous.

Anonymity imparts a ghost-like presence.
I could walk the couple of blocks to the Metro station, ride clear across town, and return to the temporary digs without feeling as though I'd been seen by anyone, though I'd probably passed by more people during the excursion than populated the small city we'd vacated to move there. I refused to carry a map, figuring that learning my way around would better emerge from hoofing it and hopping public transportation, a strategy which at first left me more frequently lost than found. I very slowly began to build an internal map of the area, cordoning off whole regions as unlivable because they were essentially unreachable by hoof, bus, or train. Sometimes I'd drive, but I quickly understood that driving would usually just get me lost faster and leave me further from home.

I slowly came to know checkout clerks, though almost none of them by name, and they came to know me under the same protocol. I was the guy who ordered the salt-cured anchovies. He was the guy who tromped back to the walk-in to fetch the huge can of them, carve out a couple of dozen filets, and wrap them up for me. I'd reliably stop by most every Friday. We'd greet each other as familiars, small talk for a moment between the next customer (Now Serving Customer Number 58), and I'd slink back out onto the street to head back to the Metro and what barely passed for home.

I found some solace in the libraries, though there, too, I maintained an essentially transparent presence. The Library of Congress issued a reader's card to me, and I'd flash that identity badge to the uniformed Capitol Police officer guarding the door. I'd try to sit in the same reader space each visit and immerse myself in the source material for whatever I was currently studying. I'd follow the utility tunnel over to the cafeteria, where I'd sometimes spot some news media celebrity taking their lunch, then wander back to my reader space again, none of the trip requiring word one out of me. I'd nod in mutedly eager acknowledgement when passing anyone on the way, hoping, I guess, to be acknowledged in return as being present, for it sometimes seemed difficult to muster a convincing acknowledgement myself. Those were mute days.

I began attending a lecture series, convened by an old acquaintance at George Washington University, where I began to meet others and be somewhat known by them, too. Over time, though this time scale came in years, I grew to know quite a few fine people, but far fewer than I'd know back before The Dismemberment dislocated us and turned us anonymous. The Muse came to know her cohorts at work and they came to know her, but she knew virtually nobody other than them, and that group would dissolve into one, two, or three hour commutes at the end of each day. I'd have a fine supper ready by the time she made it back to the rentals we finally found to call home. On Fridays, I'd sometimes meet her at her office off The Mall and we'd walk most of the eight miles home through anonymous streets, stopping for drinks and dinner along the way before finally hopping a late Metro train back to what we called home then.

Anonymity seems like my identity now, though brief trips back to the small city we were dislocated from seems to reconnect me back with my older identity again. I feel like nobody everywhere else. Nobodiness isn't the liberation some claim it to be. It offers only the freedom of unbounded possibilities when possibilities only exist within boundaries. Anonymity might in theory enable anyone to misbehave off the books of church lady looks, but few people older than fifteen ache to misbehave. Most of us just want to live, and life turns out to be tenaciously relational. It matters what history I've personally experienced. It matters who I know and who knows me, though introductions to other anonymous entities hardly qualify as relationships. Nor do the people one sees because they're in proximity. Finding myself seated at a table next to Billy Joel made me no less anonymous, not even in my own eyes.

This morning, when The Muse asked me if I was driving her down to the lab, I responded with the same, "No!" I'd offered the two prior days. I could not imagine any place I needed to go, so why keep the car? The larder's sufficiently stocked to get us through tonight's supper. I started a small project to refurbish our wine box planters yesterday morning, but I'm still waiting for the primer to dry enough so I can craft the frames. Nobody around here knows my name, either, except our next door neighbors. It seems as if nobody knows anybody anymore. The Muse mentioned that I seemed to be becoming The Invisible Husband again. I could hardly disagree.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved









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