Lost in the City
Maybe I shouldn’t have given you the finger on the corner of 35th and 5th Ave. as we waited for the light to change. If there is anything to apologize for, I assume it was this. Because I knew, despite the empty-stomach-drunk-buzz interfering with my normal faculties, how frustrated, how sad and alone you were feeling. I felt it too. All day we’d gone from place to place: the Port Authority to South Ferry, the Statue of Liberty to Wall Street and the World Trade Center, with no trouble, like pros. It wasn’t until we got to the Empire State Building things went sideways, and we lost an hour to the same blocks, walking in circles looking for the right subway stop.
Admit this: We tried too hard for too long to not look like tourists and should’ve asked for help. I tried to keep my head level, not to crane my head back. And I saw you, more than once, surreptitiously glancing up at glass and stone. You’re right—I almost had us headed across the Hudson River to Brooklyn instead of downtown where our friend waited for us. You’re right—I gave up, relinquished control of the whole situation, got moody and cross. I’d love to blame the two whiskeys, the Blue Moon, the terrorists, or George Bush, but it was me who was wrong.
I understand New Yorkers a little more now. I know why they keep their heads down or straight ahead. New Yorkers know that standing on the pavement staring up for too long means not seeing a person about to plow into you. New Yorkers know if they look up, the light glinting off windows could blind them. Or the sky will be so blue they might forget their final destination. Or they might catch sight of a plane flying into a building.
At the south reflecting pool, I saw a group of teenagers taking photos with selfie sticks. Why this felt disrespectful, I’m not sure. But I didn’t feel anger toward them, just sadness. My tears felt like a continuation of the water arching over the edge and down into nothing. And even though you held me against your chest, pulled me away from the crowd as I sobbed into your shoulder, I didn’t know if things would ever be right again.
Baseball games, with hot dogs and beer, used to make me feel the most American until we went down into the dark recesses of what remained of the Twin Towers. Surrounded by laughing and smiling tourists, I finally understood what had been lost. And you, you felt it too, but wouldn’t let it show. I had to learn to cry in public, to look someone straight in the eyes as I wept, because for me to hold it in is akin to holding fire in my hands: painful and dangerous. So I cried openly, gulped for air as I read exhibit signs, but you were quiet. And only when we entered the room with pictures of all the victims did I hear your breath catch.
When we left the museum, crossed the street to O’Hara’s pub, the bartender didn’t blink at our drink selection: a shot of Jameson and a Blue Moon each. Two businessmen eyed me over their beers when you went to the bathroom, looked questioningly at the alcohol. It was barely noon.
“We just left the museum.”
“Ah.” They raised their beers. I nodded.
You came back and we toasted, threw back the whiskey. The beers we wallowed over, until I felt it again rising in my throat—how much had changed fourteen years ago. We ordered another round.
All this I should’ve remembered when we passed the McDonald’s for the third time and when I was winded from walk-running behind you, barely catching sight of the back your head above the groups of school children. But I didn’t. I know you forgive me now. And I know you’ll forgive me again. But I don’t know if it will ever be right.
Monet Thomas is a reluctant Southerner. She earned an MFA in Creative Writing from the Inland Northwest Center for Writers at Eastern Washington University in Spokane. Her work can be found online at Hobart, Word Riot, & Split Lip Magazine, as well as a few others. She writes a weekly letter that you can subscribe to here. Or you can follow her on Twitter at @monetwithlove for a daily dose of frivolity & ennui.