I get off at Delancey Street just so I can walk past some memories. I want to feel things I haven’t felt in a while.
Every corner of this neighborhood is a time capsule. I’ve had a drink in every bar, bought milk in every bodega, peeked into every shop window. The hood has changed, it’s gentrified, even more than when I first moved in. But it feels the same to me, the air breathes in and breathes out again. There’s a fluidity to my step when I traverse the old neighborhood, there’s a comfortableness to the crosswalk. It’s not that easy to kill downtown.
I think of people and places and things and souls that used to live down here, that died down here, that I miss. I pass doorways where friends once lived. Places where I’ve performed, where I’ve seen performances; all these places are so alive when I remember them, and I think how alive they are now, for the people who experience this place anew. This is the neighborhood where I lived the longest. Seven years in one spot was def some kind of sick record, and it doesn’t look like it will be broken any time soon.
Heading up and cross town. I’ve given myself the whole East Village to walk through, and I take my time while maintaining a quick stride. Walking anonymously through a city where everyone is known to someone, where everyone is queen in their own kingdom.
Sun storm but pouring. Not today, but years ago. I took off from my group. We all felt special because we’d been accepted to Strasberg’s summer acting intensive for high school students, and because our parents told us so.
My mom was super gung-ho on sleepaway camps. I wasn’t really, on account of I’m not such a great joiner. But mom had her say that summer, she thought I needed something, and an acting intensive with a pretty name in downtown New York was just the thing.
I shared a room at 3rd Ave North. I stole a baseball cap, got caught, and denied it. I had a mad crush on the cutest guy in the group, a legit pro actor from LA looking to get some New York skills. I made friends with the bad girl from Miami, and I took off one mid-summer pouring rain sunshower afternoon to search out what I was missing.
I was missing everything, and I didn’t even know what I’d lost. I was missing everything I’d ever wanted, all the potentialities of life that seemed so far, so absent, so impossible. I felt tormented, agonized. I was burning apart inside. The busses sped past and splashed puddles up onto my jeans. I had tears and they mixed in with the mess.
The thing about being a child of divorce is that when you’re at home you’re with one parent and when you’re on vacation you’re with the other. You’re never alone except in transit. Your parents feel like you’re always away from them, but you’re only ever away from one. This was the first time I’d been away from my parents, the first time I was me, stationary, not moving between one life and another.
I left the dorm and took off in any direction. The only thing that matched the madness inside was the madness outside. Walking through the city alone, my thoughts expanding to fill all the space. The city becoming imaginary the more I imagined it and my own self in it. Downtown met me where I stood. On my own maddening terms. Life had to be felt in every moment. Me and the city were at the same pressure, and I could spread out into it.
I walked as far as I dared, then turned back. I was yelled a by the counselors, for disappearing without a word, but it didn’t matter to me. I knew new things. I knew that places can feel as alive as people.
Tonight I was heading out from work to meet a friend. This happens now and then. Dave will have a weekday off, I’ll head to work, plans with friends for afters, knowing I won’t see my son until morning. I have a freedom feeling as the work day ends. I head out. I can head anywhere. I can disappear, I think, as the elevator doors open and I spill out into the great bigness of the City.
The train would pick me up right where I stand and drop me off right where I need to go, but I get off at the old stop. Delancey Street. I can’t help myself. It feels so much like home, this stop, that I’m pushed by memory to exit. Up with the crush and out into the street.
I’m reminded everywhere of the life I have now, a life that can’t be left behind.
Here’s the school that would have been my son’s school had we stuck in the LES.
Children rush to the playground.
Heading North on Essex:
A man wheeling triplets in a stroller. He looks bone tired. The kids suck on lollies.
Moms with really nice handbags and the brand new iPhone.
A discarded man eying a pile of discarded clothes in a trash can.
Tourists pour over a map, then duck into a Starbucks disguised to look like an an authentic part of the neighborhood, which of course it is now.
I head up, and over. Choosing the streets by nostalgia, by memories of bright and pretty things, of long lost nights, of after hours spots, and record shops.
I meet up with my friend. We don’t like the look of the place we’d agreed upon. Too empty. We are too early for it to be the place we are looking for. We keep walking. We agree to overdo, and go upscale. Healthy, organic, local, expensive. Expensive for us.
My friend excuses herself and I sit alone. Looking through the window at bustling Chelsea Market. I make a very determined choice to not pick up my phone and look at it. I sip my wine. I savor the flavor, the smooth texture, the change in feeling in my chest, the increased buoyancy in my head.
Two older women approach the restaurant. They speak quickly. They have so much to say. They are sat the table next to us. I swirl my Cote du Rhone. I imagine they are talking about books, or performance, or painting, not the accomplishments of their children, or grandchildren. Grayed hair curling round their ears, curling round their dark rimmed glasses.
I feel all the things. I feel feeling like a mad crush. I feel as expansive as the city, but contained, finally, within my own skin.
The pet shop where we bought our cat carrier.
I love you.
Discarded clothes in the trash.
Sitting close to me on an empty train.
A local train waits for the express in the outer boroughs.