Walking back from the Lower East Side on a hot night, the stores have reverted to their true selves – which is to say that they are mirages now again, fragile beneath the great emptiness yawning over the streets, insides scooped out of illusion. Bars disgorge the happy and drunk and the unhappy and drunk and those who can’t make up their minds. I can’t see the stars, but the sky is dark with the knowledge of them.
You’re walking me home and I’m thinking that love doesn’t know when to quit. Love is not people. People quit every time. People roll their suitcases down the sidewalk and are swallowed up by “around the corner,” by “in the distance,” not to mention “time.” People close doors behind them. People fly in airplanes, telling the flight attendant that they want another little bottle of bad red wine, instead of telling her the truth, which is that the world is splitting wide open like a wound on either side of the airplane, the wings are scraping tissue and drawing blood, and does she know that you can quit but love doesn’t come with that option.
My feet hurt. The reality of the body has a way of intruding on historic occasions. My feet hurt but I’m telling them to suck it up. Don’t fail me now, feet. Don’t make me get into a cab.
The buildings here are superimposed on reality, on immigrants, the Lenape, settlers, glaciers, Pangea, broken before it was broken, like everything that lives in the world. I like to think that you and I will also haunt these streets, because I’m vain, and because of the way you look right now, like the light isn’t falling on you as much as it is dancing around you, like it knows things about you that I thought I knew alone.
This is the street and those are the trees. This is the spring and that are all the springs from before and after, stacked on top of one each other, God handing them out like propaganda leaflets advertising life, and one day he will run out, but not yet, I think, not just yet.
The city eats money and spits out shadow, trash, streaks of puke on the sidewalk, pipe exhaust, fleeting happiness, strangers’ smiles sliding over me as they search for their intended recipients, sometimes getting stuck on me anyway, licking me like attentive dogs. This insatiable city, how thankful I am to it now, for being the bedrock beneath our feet, our stage, our firmament. Oh city, I can’t decide if you’ve given me little, I can’t decide if you’ve given me everything, I don’t want to know what you will take away.
People were watching us as we laughed and cried over dinner, and I wondered if that is the only true constant in my life – no matter where I am, no matter which worms twitch in which soil below my feet, I am made to make the people sitting at the table next to mine want to start livetweeting. Maybe that’s why I could have never married a normal man. Normal men don’t like to be turned into spectacle. Also, normal men do not exist.
I wanted to tell you, “So here we are. Heading back into our real lives now.” I’d tilted my head back at some point, so the tears wouldn’t spill, but tears imitate life, they find a way. How stupid was I to even try to say it? What could be more real than this, than me, than you? It’s just that realities are stitched together from contradictory things, patches of dark and stretches of velvet comfort, the wild, wet fur of night, dust growing on brocade in cold museums where our pasts are the permanent collection.
Many of you people will eventually find themselves walking back from the Lower East Side on a hot night, not having to rush from point A to point B, suddenly stuck with yourselves and with your everything. And I want you to know that you are lucky. You are lucky because of regrets. The blisters on your feet are marks of the righteous. You are lucky that you love people across dimensions, going wide, going deep. You are lucky in your irrelevance. It’s good luck to get older. It’s happiness to swallow the thickness of the air to sustain yourself, to bear the unbearable. You are lucky because the past demands a piggyback ride and hangs heavy on you, like a delighted kid. You are lucky that your ghost will snag and tear on these street signs, ribbons of you everywhere. I see you, tied to the world by a triumphant God. I am lucky to be our witness.
When I was younger, I loved stores, these stores, any stores. “Consumerism has got its tentacles in you,” my enlightened friends would tell me. They didn’t realize how safe stores made me feel. I adored their meaninglessness, the layouts I navigated on autopilot, the forgiving, unchallenging topography, the bright lightning, the feeling that the only thing they wanted from me was money.
It’s harder to retreat from yourself when the money is gone and the lights have gone out along the sidewalk. But easier, also, now that the world’s facades have come down around us, and everything is flat and infinite. You walk me home, you say goodbye, I’m sorry that you’re sorry, I’m sorry for everything, we hurt the ones who are closest, it’s an issue of proximity, thank you for the cashmere of life and the bone, thank you for letting me matter, thank you for the fact that you and I we are never and always walking down this same street.
3 thoughts on “Walking back from the Lower East Side on a hot night”
Beautiful writing. 💖
This is gorgeous. I am sharing it everywhere today.
Takes me back immediately to the smell of NYC, the heat and noise. I’m English and this is so familiar yet so strange.