“The year after my sister died, I started to develop a strange habit. I was living in Manhattan at the time, and for the most part I was in a fog. I took to walking up and down the Upper West Side for hours every evening and stopping at supermarkets at 2 or 3 a.m., meandering aimlessly under the fluorescent lights, rarely buying anything. I remember being baffled at how busy the world could be in those hours, and how utterly unconcerned with my own private universe of grief — a fact that was reassuring and insulting in equal measure. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t sleep, then somehow couldn’t wake up. Overpriced cereal boxes and squishy produce still had to be stocked with the same urgency, every night.
“But while the world seemed oblivious to my pain, I felt more alert to others’ suffering than I had ever been. It was as if I had suddenly developed the capacity to see infrared light waves or hear ultrasonic frequencies. That was part of the reason I took to walking so much in the first place. Taking the subway in New York was unbearable. Sitting on the train, with everyone muted, isolated in their own thoughts — smartphones weren’t ubiquitous yet — I would grow hyperattentive to every emotion that seemed to flicker across passengers’ faces. I have no idea now whether what I saw then was accurate. But if a slight grimace crossed their lips I was certain it was a painful memory that had just surfaced.”