Tom walked out of his condo on a Sunday evening, suddenly and without explanation, and then he'd disappeared, and the first I'd heard of it was Tuesday, after the police had been notified and several of his closest friends had sent out a general notice letting people know Tom was missing, that he hadn't even shown up at work. And by mid-Wednesday, I was thinking less about the circumstances that led him to leave his apartment and was instead wrestling with pessimism, the suffocating kudzu of snaky tendrils up the walls of myself, nurtured by decades of nightly news. His abrupt departure, after all, could have been independent of his whereabouts. He could have left for one reason and met with misfortune for an unrelated reason.
The point is: I feel comfortable talking about all of this because later on Wednesday another general notice made the rounds, telling us that Tom had made contact, that he was alive and safe, that he'd needed to step away from his life and think some personal things through. I don't know more than that, right now, and even if I knew more the details would hardly be mine to tell.
I'm torn between my sympathy and my empathy. I understand the heartsick pain that Tom's friends felt while he was missing, agree with whatever accusations of selfishness might be floating about in bitter whispers. But I also know, too well, the feeling of wanderlust, the desire to step out the world sideways, to exist removed from one's own reality for awhile. With the arrival of warmer weather and my continuing commission on the good ship Uncertainty, I find myself looking forward to errands that get me out of the house on my bicycle, find myself manufacturing errands that force me to flit from one corner of North Side Chicago to another. I push myself to five miles, to ten miles, to twenty miles, freely weave around vehicles and pedestrians, imagine not returning for days, oblivious to the ache of my muscles, the dehydration, the journey of the earth around the sun. I don't obey the rules of the road as conscientiously as might be preferred when I bike; the only laws I ascribe to are those of Newtonian physics. I am sure to not occupy the same space at the same time as other matter; otherwise I am an object in motion tending to stay in motion.
The issue is perspective. Even if you are aware that you're considered missing, you don't feel like you're missing. You're where you are. You've been there the whole time.
And while your friends stare at the empty spaces where you should be, thinking you might be dead, you stare at the empty spaces where you used to be, and try to remind yourself why it is you are alive.
With luck, and I wish Tom as much of it as he needs, you find a way to merge these perceptions back together, and never find reason to fracture them again once made whole.