I remember the first night I spent in New York.
It was December, cold, bitter, the kind of night best spent in fuzzy pajama pants wrapped in a blankie, curled up on the loveseat watching Deadly OSD Housewives on A&E. Nothing here, just two suitcases with everything I owned tucked in the corner of the studio. The hard wood floor was cold to my feet, the place smelled like Pledge and I was alone. The sound of the heating pipes in the far corner cried out a plaintive squeal and cry as steam coursed through the metal thoroughfares, finally escaping via the baseboard radiators. There was a chill in the air yet it was warm, a product of poorly sealed windows. All was still and so was I.
I remember laying next to that window on the rickety bed left behind by the previous tenants. The windows were bereft of dressing, leaving the world below open to me. I remember lying there, wrapped in a flimsy sheet, staring out that window. It was nothing special, just a view of the neighboring apartment building, brick side, open windows, corner ending to a half view of the street, bar on the far corner with standard bar neon illuminating the wet pavement. Like I said, nothing special. My wristwatch read 1:51 AM but I didn’t mind. It was enchanting just staring out that window at the people settled, relaxed, purposeful, their places filled with meaningful stuff doing meaningful things. Kitchens full of utensils, living rooms stocked with chairs, tables, TV’s, bedrooms with curtains oddly open. Full of things done, challenges bested, obstacles overcome.
From my empty room, my first empty room in a series of empty rooms that would last to today, I felt terrified. Overwhelmed. My place did not have any of these things. No pots, pans, coffee tables, duvets or curtains. Nothing. Just empty space begging to be filled. Right then and there, I felt ill equipped for the task. The mountain to climb was too imposing for me to bear. And at that moment, I felt fully content to lay there on the bed that wasn’t mine, in a place I didn’t know, in a city everyone said I couldn’t last in a body I felt detached from and lie there for time infinite. Just waste away watching the world roll by.
Until a kitchen light in apartment 6D snapped to life and an angel in an ironic t-shirt came into frame.
The moment I saw Her.
She was rooting in her fridge, amongst her colanders and spatulas, looking for something to chew on. Couldn’t see what was in her fridge but the manner of her sloped back and softly shaking head was inclination enough that there was nothing of note. She just needed to move, needed to get out of her room and get away from the emptiness of her queen size. Like a clichéd Death Cab song, she had the air of long loss coupled with accepted loneliness, evidenced by the straight forward way she closed the refrigerator door and walked to the window directly across from mine. Her baby blue eyes held a world weariness, yet her brow held firm, resolute, calm. Later she would say that it was the snow made her look but something else that made her stay, some energetic force that kept her framed in that New York City moment.
Right then I knew, I had to know her. Her in her dancing potato t-shit with the slogan “Viva La Idaho” emblazoned on the front, her hair pulled back in a tie, her soft lips in a curious kind of half smile, I knew I had to know her. The notion of surrendering to failure was suddenly gone. For the first time in what seemed like weeks, I had a purpose. Why would I get a decent couch to sit on? So she could come over and be comfortable. Why would I buy a toaster oven and microwave? So I could make her Eggos and Ramen noodles when she was hungry. Why would I mop the floor once in while? So I could kiss her feet and not taste dust. Self serving as my motives were, I knew I had to have her.
And I did.
I’m typing this from a borrowed lappy from that very same room. Odd providence sent me to my old neighborhood tonight. Just wanted to get out of the place in SoHo, escape the nightmares that have been plaguing me for the last month, away from why I haven’t posted, away from all I got myself into. And it just so happened I found myself on my old street in front of my old building and wouldn’t you know it, somebody just happened to walk in as I passed and could you believe it, held the door for me to let myself in. Sadly the elevator was out, but the six floor walkup didn’t bother me as I scaled the steps to my old studio. Five years had passed since I last occupied this place and imagine my surprise to see an expired eviction notice taped to the door.
Now, I’ m not sure what compelled me to try the handle, to feel the slow click and turn of the locking mechanisms that allowed the door to creak open and it’s beyond me why I decided to enter, but I did anyhow. Easily breaking and entry, but I felt the need to visit a relic of my past. And there it was, more furnished than I remembered it, but still grimy, grungy and distinctly old. The bed was right where I left it five years beforehand and still had that familiar squeak and groan as I laid my body upon it, head resting where my makeshift pillow rested five year ago to the day. The view was the same, and there it was, that window where I first saw a vision of loveliness and decided the journey was worth embarking on. And for a small fragment of a moment, I half expected her to come to that window, wearing that damn potato shirt, smiling that half smile, to gaze at me like the last five years never occurred, the ends of time squishing together to create a compacted moment where then equals now, past equates to present.
But I knew she wouldn’t come to the window.
Not now, not ever.