The topography of people

People have two kinds of geography. The first, outwardly invisible, is that of their history in the world. The house they grew up in, cities where they’ve worked. Geography like this can be shared but is hard to learn, residing as it does in memory, in emotions tied to shades of light and times of year. This geography is the hook that songs sink in to, and perfumes. In this version of my geography “We Walk the Same Line” will always be a Kawaguchi evening near Christmas, the park cold and empty save for the glow of white bulbs strung over dark grass and bare trees. I was alone, and can describe the evening, but can not take anyone there. A visitor to the place I recall would find it different, would indeed create their own separate version of that park and city, adding to a different set of maps. The geography of memory is permanently intangible.

The second kind is a more physical topography. It can not be shared but is easy to learn, for it is layered onto each person by the world. In the scar beneath my right eye lies a story of an ultimate tournament in Hong Kong, and in my crooked nose the story of a child’s repeated foolishness. These stories require extraction, questions, to understand, but only sight to discover. Unlike the geography of where we’ve been, the geography of what has happened to us can become familiar to another.  Our geography can be learned by anyone we let close enough to touch.

We are all vaguely aware of each other’s old injuries, of the recurring impact of the years and places we have managed to survive. Likewise we know that most people in most cities have a different birth place, a history of travel and a rationale for each move. The learning of each kind is what differs so, an interesting separation. Who knows both parts of us, who cares to and who even could? How many sets of geography and of personal history do we have space for in our heads, or on our bodies?