I liked Clyde the minute I saw him. This was summer, more than twenty years ago.
I had just moved to Minneapolis and Clyde was standing at the open back of his mail truck, plucking envelopes and flyers out of white bins and organizing them into complicated sheaves.
He rarely said anything back then. But there was something about the methodical way he sorted that mail and the solid way he moved from building to building that brought me calm and relief when I saw him, as if the world was more reliable than it seems.
That first year, I wrote him a note when the holidays rolled around. We began to talk, a tiny bit, now and then: hi’s and how you doin’s. In summer he wore blue mail shorts, in winter a red, black and green winter knit cap that I think of as his snow beanie.
After a few years I had a baby and then another one and then another still. I moved to a different house. It was only a few blocks away but it wasn’t on Clyde’s route. We still waved and smiled whenever we saw each other, Clyde with his big bag of mail, me with a baby in a backpack or toddlers in strollers or in a child seat on the back of my bike.
The years went by and the kids got bigger. Clyde shaved his head. I got my long hair chopped off. He stayed big, I stayed scrawny. I published a book.
“I see you,” Clyde called across the street one day. He was laughing and shaking his finger at me. “Don’t think you can hide. I woke up this morning and saw your photo in the paper.”
I crossed the street to talk to him.
“I got a question for you,” he said. “All these years when I watch you walking around, walking walking walking all those long walks, are you writing books in your head?”
I shook my head. Nope.
“I don’t know, girl,” he said. “You might be writing them but you don’t even know it.”
Time went by and other things changed, big things, and I moved again in haste and stress. I didn’t see Clyde for a long time.
And then, about a year after that hasty move, I turned the corner when walking my dog and there he was. Beaming. He was as big as ever but there was something lighter about him. He gave off a feeling of joy.
“Girl!” he said. “Where you been!”
My heart swelled at the sight of him, at the sound of his familiar voice, and to my horror I started to cry. Clyde bent his head and closed his eyes and then he wrapped his arms around me. He didn’t say anything else. Neither did I.
I kept moving. Twice. And once more. All within a few blocks of my original apartment, but still not on Clyde’s route. Every few months I would be out with my dog or out running, and there he would be.
“You grew your hair out,” I said to him last summer. “It looks great.”
“You’re blonde now,” he said. “Are you having more fun?”
It’s been a long time now that I have lived within Clyde’s orbit. A long time now that I have watched him sifting through letters and packages in those white bins in the back of his mail truck. He has been the bearer of so much news over the course of those years, news that he is unaware of –marriage and birth and death and bankruptcy and scholarships and party invitations.
Yet maybe he is aware of what he carries in that mail pouch. Maybe that’s why he moves with such gravitas from block to block.
At the beginning of this endless winter I saw Clyde on the other side of the street. It was a bitter day.
“How are those kids?” Clyde shouted, his breath pluming out. I filled him in as he stood opposite, shaking his head in wonder at the fact that they were in college now.
An hour and a half later, I turned the corner on my way back home with the dog and there he was again. He bent his head in what looked like sorrow at the sight of me.
“Girl,” he murmured. “You been walking a long, long time.”
“So have you, Clyde,” I said. “All day, every day.”
“We’re both strong,” he said. “You know we are.”