The sheer magnitude of a summer in New York City threatened to swallow me whole in late August of ’98.
Instead of going out for eggs on toast on Saturday mornings and hanging around Central Park late Friday evenings and generally having a damn good time of it – instead of all those things I’d envisioned for myself in my tiny bedroom back home in my parents’ house along the Mississippi River, what I did was this: Being in my room.
With the occasional trip down to the corner store where 115th and 26th met, two minutes’ walk from my flat which had looked great on the advertisement but not so great in real life. And the undeniable root of the problem was this: I had no one to meet.
Not in a bobdylanesque Hey-Mr.-Tambourine romantic evening light, empty street kind of way, but literally; I had no one to meet. All my friends from back home were exactly where I’d left them (home) and I was stuck here in the city of dreams, of fate, and destiny, and every other possible thing that exists or not, with no one to meet.
I wasn’t completely lonely, though.
The occasional talk with the mail man and with Joe, the bum who slept on the doorsteps next to my apartment block, prevented me from turning invisible in front of no one in particular to see.
That may sound funny now in retrospect but I remember one hot July morning, when I thought I had ceased to exist. I woke up with the sun creeping tentatively through the blinds, throwing odd shapes onto the wall opposite my bed, and suddenly I was seized by unspeakable terror, by a blinding fear that I had, in fact, died and must have been hanging around this flat with the mouldy walls as a ghost with unfinished business for the past few days. I remember getting up in a blurred panic, running out of the bedroom door, and then the door to my flat, down two flights of stairs in my pyjamas and with bare feet, with a yearning I had never felt before. The absolute need to see someone, to be seen by someone.
I was already a few steps away from the stairs outside my apartment when I heard him, Joe, the bum who slept on the stairs next to mine.
“Hey,” he’d said.
And I’d turned around to see that he was looking at me, that he saw me, truly, and a gush of relief flooded through my bones and blood. A thin-rimmed laugh made its way through my stomach, up my throat, when had I become that person?
“Hi,” I’d yapped and turned around on my heels, back up the stairs and into the cool shade of the stairwell.
That evening I put on a dress and a pair of leather moccasins, and made my first real friend in New York City, besides Joe the bum who slept on the stairs next to my apartment block.