Spring has arrived. While others admire the anxious hummingbirds and slutty camellias, I pause to mourn the passing of winter and the disappearance of men in knit caps.
In the cold, I like to gaze at them as they pass by in ribbed skullcaps and slouchy tams. These hats frame their faces—their round cheeks and chapped lips—making men less mysterious to me, like small boys. Long ago on gray mornings their mothers pulled caps snug on their heads and felt a small grief as they anticipated the day their sons would leave.
Yesterday, I passed a thirty-something man in a tweedy wool hat, ecru with a sable stripe. He had sandy brown hair, was probably once a tow-headed boy. For a moment I longed to kiss him—a desire born of dread. Then I strained to conjure images of his childhood: tea parties in Skeletor’s castle, sneakers tracing patterns on a dusty baseball field, eyes fixed on the clouds. I thought, we are similar, but he is a symptom of me.
I will think of him again tomorrow when packing my daughter’s lunchbox or knitting scarves for my sensible, married friends. They also long to kiss men who are strangers, just as the baby hummingbird longs to see another of its species in order to know itself. The bird is a window, the window a mirror, the mirror a system of half-spaces, inversions of us.
Years ago, my mother-in-law, a woman who fears abandonment so much that she preempts it, forced my husband to make a terrible decision: It’s her or me, she said, and he chose me. I long for her, too, sometimes, as I tuck my daughter’s pigtail into her floppy hat and kiss her goodbye, grateful to be spared the burden of a son.