Doesn’t it ever amaze you the you have bones building the shape of your body and muscles layered onto those bound on with tendons and sinews and there is fat pillowed around those and veins laced and woven and then skin stretched and sagging over the whole damn thing and when you glance over and see that teetering miracle of unlikely fortune, all you see is a person? Someone you like or someone you want to get out of your way, really, but isn’t it just so strange that you can only see the very outside of all a person is? It amazes me. It certainly does. It is so strange that people stop being amazed by it. When there are little babies and they’re all wide-eyed at everything because the world is so brand-new beautiful, that’s what that is. They are amazed at the folded twisted wrapped-up gift of guts and grime that is a human being.
There was this little kid I used to see at the playground when I went sometimes after work. I would just sit on the swings with a cigarette. It’s okay because there usually wasn’t anybody there that late, not when it was getting so dark I couldn’t see the black of the smoke that swept into the air and sank into my skin. This kid though, she would show up like a ghost, walking down the sidewalk and appearing of a sudden like something come to haunt me. She would come and sit next to me on the swings at eight at night, just casual, sitting with a stranger like it was no big deal.
I don’t know what kind of parents this kid had, but it must have been something strange that they let her wander around and talk to strangers like that. They must’ve been holding onto her so loosely that they nearly let her drop and fall and hit the ground. It was lucky that all she met was me, because I never did a thing, I’m not like that, but there are some real creeps out there. I told her stories sometimes but it didn’t help, she just listened all solemnly to me telling her that the pervs and murderers might be just around the corner. She didn’t even care. I’m pretty sure there was something really screwed up with her family I guess, there had to have been.
Anyway she liked to come and sit next to me like some weird friend or something, this little girl who must have been nine years old or something like that, about half my height so that she had to hoist herself up when she wanted to sit on a swing by gripping the cold bumps of the chains and pulling until her entire little body was suspended in the air, and then she would thump into the swing.
I told her mostly other kinds of stories, I mean I didn’t just tell her the ones about the crazy people who wanted to hurt her. I didn’t want to scare her or anything. Mostly I told her about me. I don’t talk that much in general, there aren’t so many people who want to listen to me ramble. It was a nice thing to be able to tell this little kid stories of who I was and watch her face all still and calm, listening to me go on. She had some kind of gift for listening, that kid, I swear she could hold herself on that swing and be so statue-still until the only thing that moved were her eyelashes when she blinked. She just listened like nobody else ever did.
Sometimes I also asked her about her life, of course I didn’t just tell her stories about me and never want to know anything about her. She didn’t like to talk about herself though, so that’s where my best stories came from. Anyway I would ask her how her day was, how things were going, and when she wouldn’t tell me or didn’t say much I would make something up. I would tell her that the reason she was so quiet was probably because she was tired from spending the whole day climbing the very tallest mountain in the world and then climbing down again. When she was at the bottom she realized that she left her fuzzy hat at the top of the mountain and had to go all the way up again. Plus then after that she had to get on a plane and fly around the world to get back to our neighborhood so she could come sit on the playground with me and my cigarette and listen to me. She laughed at that. Sometimes I think that there is nothing in the world as delicious and strange as the laugh of a little kid like that. It just curls through a person until it nudges a smile out.
The one thing she sometimes said to me, without me asking her and bugging her to tell me things, was that she was thinking about how people were made. She would say that there was so much stuff inside a person, so much blood bottled up under skin and bones pushing their way around in there. We can only see the faintness of veins wandering the paths of our body, and there’s so much of it. From that little kid I learned to look for the depths of people. I know now to look at the tangles and woven strands of a person, even the ones I can’t see at all.
I don’t see her anymore because she stopped coming to the playground. I don’t know what happened, maybe she just got too old to hang around on the swings with a stranger. Maybe she moved away. I hope that’s what happened, anyway. I don’t know. Sometimes I still go to the playground and smoke a cigarette, hoping that I’ll blink the stinging smoke out of my eyes and turn my head and she’ll be there, appearing on the sidewalk in the dark like a ghost. I don’t think she will, though. You will probably never meet that little kid, so I’m telling you to look. Pay attention to people, because all you see is their outsides, the way they talk and move and the curl of their neck as they pull in their head because they don’t want to say what they mean. That tells you something but it doesn’t tell them enough. The next time you look at a person, try really hard to see all of it, the blood moving under the skin and the softness inside and the bones holding the whole person up because otherwise she’d fall and be nothing but a pile of pulpy muck on the ground and not a person at all.