February, and you are naked and glistening from a shower. You tower above me, I live in your complex, exciting, never-sleeping shadow. You, with your secret passageways, your impenetrable doors, and your enigmatic energy; your propensity for Sunday brunches and … Read More
February, and you are naked and glistening from a shower. You tower above me, I live in your complex, exciting, never-sleeping shadow. You, with your secret passageways, your impenetrable doors, and your enigmatic energy; your propensity for Sunday brunches and sports bars. You have so much to offer, and I’m sometimes embarrassed at how shameless you are about displaying your wares. You are not mine alone. I share you with many others, some of whom I have met, but most of whom are anonymous to me, as I am to them.
When I met you at 22, I had never seen the likes of you back home in Indiana! Much older than I, you still seemed fresh and eager and always up for – something. You watched me schlep my foam mattress onto the subway in Chinatown to my first apartment on Avenue P in Brooklyn. You saw me through my Upper West Side Brazilian roommate who made the very best coffee, and you overheard me and my roommate, Julie, in our basement apartment in Queens talking late at night. "God writes straight on crooked lines," Julie said, drinking amaretto coffee, but I didn’t get it at all at the time. Clad in a purple disco shirt with silver thread shot throughout, you accompanied me to the Limelight where I couldn’t warm up either to the drunken Wall Street guys or the men in their 30s and 40s who stood around trying to act cool. You seemed impervious to Foreigner’s "I Want To Know What Love Is" blasting loudly over the sound system, impervious to the fact that a church had been turned into a disco. How often had you heard the wail of sirens and how many small bookstores had you seen disappear to make way for a video store, how many bodegas would be transformed into a Starbucks? I understood that you could not mourn every sadness, every insult or loss because there were way too many.
Do you recall me in my severe suits with padded shoulders from the 80s? And what about Burt, remember him, my friend from City College who sat next to me, purposely, every week, because he thought I needed protection from the harsh world, just as he insisted on walking curbside to shield me from traffic? He was fond of quoting, in a dramatic and sonorous voice, "Unless she is willful, and full of disastrous genius she will sink into convention." He died, you know, of cancer, several years ago, and I sat in his apartment the afternoon he died, kissed him on the mouth and said, "Bye, Burt, I love you." To which he gruffly replied, "Bye." Oh, I know these scenes are ones you have quietly observed, again and again, people come and go, in every sense of the word, but you are the stable, ever-changing but unchanging center. I am aware that you are indiscriminate, and will give yourself to anyone who wants you, while I have been faithful (basically) over the years, though my eyes have wandered elsewhere now and again.
My family has met you and they agree that you are fun, but too crazy, too wild, too hyper and intense for them to handle for very long. They never know what to expect from you because you define yourself by whoever surrounds you. Perhaps you’ll be a curry summer Sunday or maybe a quiet, Yom Kippur afternoon. You are not their type, and they are puzzled that you are mine.
You stood by when I was pregnant, again and again and again, and you overheard the Hispanic deli guy tell me I was having a boy, which I did. Can you see me maneuvering the double stroller into Central Park, lifting my two year old son out of the stroller to put him into the swing, then nursing my infant girl under my shirt while I push my son on the swing?
For a quarter of a century you’ve contained me and charmed me and held me. My silent partner, you’ve follow me uptown and downtown to book parties, cafes, plays, bar mitzvahs and brises. You have seen me in and out of taxis, on and off buses and subways, and still, you remain a puzzle to me. Our relationship seems one-sided. I know that if I left you, you would not miss me. There would be another, and another, to take my place.
Yet, at times, I become so claustrophobic in your embrace that I have to get away, run back to Indiana where my father sits in his easy chair and watches the squirrels run up and down the trees in the backyard while my mother clips coupons or sews a quilt block. After a week, I am desperate for you again. In the end, I always return, in awe anew at your resilience, your ability to absorb so many like me and make them yours. It is here with you that I feel alive, free, and filled with infinite possibility.
February, Valentine’s Day, you glisten with water following a shower, and you are naked against the grey sky. You are beautiful, and I send hearts to you, baby. After all of these years, New York City, you still thrill me.