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A few years ago, I attempted to get out of the car at the same time that someone was closing the door at full speed. The results were astounding. At first, there was just some pain and a bump on my head. Three days later, when I started struggling to read, I realized that I had a concussion. The cure for a concussion is not using your brain, something I was already accustomed to. However, not being able to read was a challenge, so I went home from school, alerted my professors to my new state of being, and sat around doing nothing. After a day of being extremely bored, I decided to start walking around the house to keep my body from turning to mush. Each day, I would walk over 6 miles in the comfort of my own home, my feet sometimes blistering from the hardwood. 

After a couple of weeks of walking and rest, my brain was semi-functional (as functional as it ever had been) and I returned to campus, suddenly empowered by my ability to just walk. I grew up in car-centric Georgia, so I had never really needed to walk anywhere. Now, becoming okay with walking 45 minutes across campus to my favorite donut place or pizza spot was a superpower, freeing me from friendships with people who I only talked to since they had cars on campus. 

Beyond the functional aspects, I loved walking! When I walked places, I moved slower, obviously, which meant that I had to actually pay some attention to my surroundings. Because of my terrible sense of direction, I had to check Google Maps frequently, but after I walked around an area for a while, I’d check it less and less. And as I checked it less and less, I’d zone out from my podcasts and music and start to notice the details of where I was. And after a I walked in an area for a while, those details started to stick. I can still imagine the smell of the Indian restaurant in downtown Atlanta that I never ate at but would occasionally walk past, its aromas a punch in the face every time.

The first summer post-concuss,  I found myself living in the most foot-friendly city in the country—New York City. Even though I had newfound locomotive freedom, I didn’t know many people in the city or the goings-on in the city. So in place of evening plans, I’d spend every night after work walking aimlessly through Manhattan, turning based on which lights were green. For hours, I would listen to music or podcasts or audiobooks and take in the unique character of the cultural capital of the world. On the weekends, I’d walk between different parks in the city, taking my time to relax and loiter around the dog parks (I still think about a dog I dubbed “Salad Boi,” the pit mix who would jump 3 feet off the ground to get a bite of leaves from a nearby tree). When I think back to my many weeks there, my fondest memories are of traversing the buzzing New York streets with The Autobiography of Gucci Mane playing in my headphones.

In these times of quar, I reminisce about the freedom of walking through bustling streets, happy to observe the flurry of activity. I’ll occasionally go for walks in San Francisco and am often rewarded with gorgeous views of the city. San Francisco’s natural beauty is a respite to the busyness of life when things are normal, but now, the associated quietness is unsettling. 

On weekdays, the sun is often setting as I finish work, so I walk the length of my apartment to keep my body from turning to mush. Sometimes I walk up to 6 miles in the comfort of my own home. And just as I walked out of my home on the other side of my concussion and re-experienced the beauty of the outside world, someday soon I’ll be able to walk outside again and take in the views and sounds of a city, alive again.
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Distantly yours,

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Nikhil · 325327 Georgia Tech Station · Atlanta, GA 30332 · USA

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