The sidewalks and side streets of my youth look as they always have. I step out onto them and my feet long for a skateboard or scooter to hop up onto. I haven’t walked on them for weeks choosing instead to remain inside because of the heat wave we’ve been experiencing this summer and the construction crew that’s been out there for a month now. I’m having mixed emotions about all of it, if I’m to be honest, remembering how in my early teens I used to chase this girl who lived around here who used to wear the biggest sweaters and who had really big hair and breath that smelled like a vanilla wafer cookie.

We’d go for walks up and down the sidewalks around her house while we held hands and looked at each other somewhat mischievously, almost like we were getting away with something forbidden. Maybe we just wanted to seem taboo and were actually quite mundane and expected, I don’t know. Occasionally, she would skip and giggle, and when she skipped really high her breasts would do their thing in that sweater, and it was really hard not to look at that. She liked it that I looked, though, liked knowing that she had the power to make me do that.

I wanted to be like my grandparents who all during the time I knew them to be alive would hold hands and walk the streets around our house up on the heights, only when they walked, I got the sense they were doing it to show their secret disdain for families, like their son’s, my dad’s, the kind where parents are always hurting each other and their children because of money and so spend more time trying to stay away from each other than holding hands.

These days I’m not seeing many walkers at all, and there’s so much sadness and fear out there it’s hard to step out the door. Occasionally, from my kitchen window I’ll see a single mother or father with their children, with the parent carrying a baby and a dog dragging a leash close behind.

On the news, lovers are killing each other to make ends meet, children are being murdered, school districts are choosing to go automated rather than give their teachers a living wage, women are picketing to get their bodies back, politicians are rioting against each other, and countries are dropping missiles next to nuclear power plants as a way of counting coup. And people don’t openly want to talk about it or are afraid to in this culture war type environment that’s really come to a head,

like the first zit I noticed in the bathroom mirror at my friend’s house not too far from here, actually. I got up on my tippy toes and leaned into the mirror to get a good look at the little bugger and when I popped it and wiped the mess from the glass, I became ten years older instantly, something worth celebrating, except when I tried to tell my girlfriend about it, she said ew and asked me to stop and said she just couldn’t.

There’s a part of me that needs to tell others what I know they don’t want to hear, and I think this is because on the one hand I find joy in things they find disgust in, sure, but more introspectively, I’m pretty sure it’s because I need to feel like all the divorced parts of me I’ve left behind and stories I’ve lived through can still be there and inform all the other parts, can sort of remain a family that lives together.

In fact, I’m definitely talking about my own family history when I say that, even though its members couldn’t stand each other a lot of the time, I still hoped it would stick around and make the swollen choice to listen to one another and occasionally go for walks around the block, no matter how disgusting that mirror looked. Of course, it didn’t stick around, and I’m partly to blame for that.

Which is why tonight, what I will count on is me scrolling through profile after profile of women who like me are trying their luck on a dating site. And because I’ll be imagining my grandparents are beside me while I do this, coaching me on the finer points of loving myself before somebody else first, I’ll hastily close the application the way I usually do, and sit on my meditation cushion to remind myself of how easy it is to love everything, even the parts of me that don’t want to walk with pain or be loved. I’ll sit down and shut up and listen the way I wish my family had, and the way I wish I had, when they were here, even though I know it wouldn’t have fixed us.