Saturday, a gorgeous spring day, I was sitting, maskless, on a Cambridge Common park bench chatting with a new friend when I stopped mid-sentence: “Oh!” I crowed happily as a bicyclist zipped past us. “He made it.”
“You know him?” my new friend asked. Politely, I think. My “he,” a dark-skinned, straight-haired older man, had flown by us so fast I doubt she’d had time to take him in.
How to explain? Because, no, I don’t know Bike Guy—although I think I may have seen him perform, years ago, in a locally-produced play. A Harvard Square regular, he might be a waiter, too. I do know that in the summer he wears the skimpiest of running shorts. Lipstick red. Sometimes, in tacit acknowledgement of our inter-connectivity, I wave as he breezes by. Sometimes he waves back.
Like the older and dark-skinned and theatrically-dressed Sombrero Woman, who weekly pushes her laden shopping cart past my house while combing my neighborhood’s recycle bins for redeemable cans and bottles, Bike Guy is my regular, too. As is Goldilocks, a heavy-set, pale-skinned older man with shoulder-length ringlets always found on a park bench outside my neighborhood’s skating rink. Bike Guy, Sombrero Woman, and Goldilocks are touchstones in my life. Their routines overlap with mine. When I don’t see them I worry. Especially these days.
I have’t seen Goldilocks for months. And maybe he’s happily settled somewhere; maybe he moved in with his grown daughter in Florida. But maybe he ended up on a Somerville Hospital ventilator. Maybe he didn’t make it. Like thousands of others this past year, maybe Goldilocks died of COVID. Alone.
How do we collectively acknowledge our missing regulars? How do we collectively mourn?