I hear that one hundred thousand people pass through the nearest stop on the Metro every day. Numbers keep me up. I’m a quant, but that only makes things worse. Always estimating, always calculating the bounds of certainty. Very big numbers give me vertigo. I have this problem worse than most because I can relate to those numbers.
Last night, I stayed up counting. Not like “one, two, three…” More like the combinatorial explosion. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that I wanted to put myself back into perspective, set my measure up against the combinations. We can call it counting. I didn’t intend to go at it forever. I intended to awe myself to sleep. You know that sense of tininess, of urgency, you get when you are immersed in a cathedral, a symphony, a planetarium, or in a small, quiet boat at night? That’s what I wanted. So I counted for five hours. I fell asleep as the sun was rising. I saw the street lights go out. How many lightbulbs must there be in the world? I saw the dawn’s first joggers.
My last girlfriend only ever wore sneakers. She would count her steps running, walking, jumping. At one million, she would buy herself a new pair. So that Metro statistic reminded me of her. She must know exactly how many steps she has taken over the past six years. I never asked her if she remembered specific ones. The thirty-six thousandth step. The ninety thousand, five hundredth.
It’s on the escalator into the metro I’m pressed the closest to strangers. Only a hug is closer. The only direction to escape, the only open space, is in the mind. How do you measure the distance between yourself and another, between disjoint imaginations? You, outside a bar with a friend you had never thought would hold you that way. The man ahead, in a spreadsheet, now seeing that he will lose his home and his retirement years.
If I slide my fingers into your hair, how many strands of it will cross my palm? How many times will your heart flutter because it knows you could fall in love right now if you were ready?
I want the rooftop at night. I want the streets before they are full of cars, the wide open space of a museum where the exhibit is space itself. I want to count the things that matter, list and hold them, and start by counting the shivers that go with a first kiss.