I sleep with my shovel and my leather gloves
I got an email last night from a friend I met through blogging. When we met, she was living, I think, in the city and working full time. I was home with a two year old trying to figure out how to keep my house clean and grow things in my garden and not lose my sanity. And now she is the one at home with a two-year-old and I am back in the city with a teenager (which is actually more like being with a two-year-old than you might expect if, that is, you’re okay with occasionally kicking toddler out the door and into a city park on his own).
She asked, as many do, how is New York. And I paused, as I always do, to decide whether it is wonderful or terrible. And so I say this: I am always falling in love with New York even as it is at its most terrible. It is a hard, hard place to live and I am constantly comparing it to my previous life and wondering what the hell I was thinking. Most days feel like battle. I have become one of those faceless subway riders who rather than deal with the existential dread brought on of spending a couple of hours a day in a tube underground, plugs in her headphones, turns up the volume, and tries to pretend it’s not even happening. The process of survival disconnects you from where you are and what you are doing. That is the point of the survival strategy. But it tends to make things worse by forcing you realize that you’re sitting on an island even smaller than Manhattan.
Yesterday, it poured all day. I used to love that. I’d go out on the porch and smell the garden, especially now during lilac season, listen to the rain dripping off the roof, watch the ducks who’d visit from the pond down the street and swim in the puddles in the driveway. But at the office yesterday, my boss walked over to look out my window and sighed and it was like she was sighing for all of us. I used to love walking around in my raincoat with my hood up on a rainy day, but in New York you are squished on subways with squelching people. Everything smells bad. Subways are late and go so slowly on the bridge over the Gowanus Canal that you fear you are in danger of slipping off and crashing into the Kentile sign or the toxic waste and you wonder if you should all be running to the left side of the train just in case. If, that is, the train were not a can of sardines and you had room to breathe, let alone move.
And yet, when I emerged into the monsoon from the stop by the park, the park was empty. Blissfully, beautifully, emerald green empty. I remembered a hot summer day a long time ago when I had walked across Philadelphia in order to take the bus home, just because I didn’t have anything better to do. And it started to rain. Instead of pulling up the hood of my raincoat, I pushed it off and tilted my head to the sky, standing next to the bus shelter feeling the rain fall. When the bus came, I saw a tiny, elderly woman had been in the fogged bus shelter. She smiled at me and said, “I used to do that when I was a girl. I don’t know why I don’t do it anymore.” And we rode in companionable silence back to West Philly, each lost in our own thoughts.
I stuffed my earbuds back into my sodden pockets. It was too cold to take off my hood, but I turned my face to the sky where a single silver plane sliced through the clouds. I looked at my feet standing firmly on the ground and was happy to be here. Choking off a fleeting thought that I might be suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, I kept walking, watching the sky. Beautiful day.