I often look down when I'm walking. At first, it was because I didn't want to catch others' eyes, and sometimes it was to avoid stepping in something that would probably ruin my shoes, and my day. But then I really started to look down. I started to see things etched or buried in the sidewalks. Testimonies of love, dates, messages written in permanence.
Someone once stood where I stand now, hunched over, writing R + L, then slowly scraping the perfect heart around those letters. Was it day time? Was their lover with them? Did they have to avoid getting caught by the construction workers? Did they run off together afterward, giggling; did they realize that someone like me would be looking down on it years later? I wonder if R + L are still together. Maybe they still walk by this very etching, hand in hand. I hope they didn't forget. They captured a moment in time, after the cement had started to dry, but before it completely solidified, where R really did love L.
I see a key amongst rocks embedded in the cement on 82nd and Broadway in Manhattan. I stop and stare and bend down. That key could have just as likely been layers further down and not visible, hiding. But it is here for me to see. Someone may have lost that key. What did it open? Did it keep any secrets? Was it the only one, momentarily keeping its prisoners captive, safe, locked away? How long has this key been here for, how many people have stepped over it unknowingly? Looking at the stones in the cement surrounding it, it has been here for quite some time. Cement has changed over the years, it is now white and opaque, or black. I imagine that this here section of cement is decades old. This key has seen a lot; many shops have come and gone, fashions have changed, cars have evolved and are maybe a bit quieter than when that key first ended up there.
1959. Fifty two years ago, the cement had a lot more character. I know this because where I live, the cement is dated. For whatever official purpose it serves, to me it tells a story. From the slabs dated 1959 to 2009, they become gradually less interesting, flawed, beautiful. The story begins to fade, each year the cracks between the slabs get further and further apart. Will kids soon forget the rhyme we grew up with? It plays over and over in my head: "Don't step on a crack, or you'll break your mother's back". I never stepped on the cracks.
As these sidewalks slowly get ripped up and replaced with new, cleaner looking cement, stories are erased, declarations of love are forgotten, hidden jewels become lost forever.