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Archive for the ‘Urban Nomad’ Category

City of Dreams

I live in the parallel universe of a city that exists, it seems, in a dimension all its own… beyond the definition of “urban,” beyond “American,” beyond state or ethnicity or income or gender.

Nothing here is what it seems, and anything is possible. On baking hot days like today, I can almost hear the ether singing a sort of Ayers-Rock creation hymn from deep inside the fabricated monoliths and underground passageways, secret caves trickling with taboos of toxicity that leave their scent: strange perfumes of grease trap, anus and exclamation points of perfumes, all weaving into an ambrosial urban pheromone helix in the stagnant puddles above the ground. Somehow, the smell of cities, this one in particular, never bothers me. I feel the swamplike mysteries of life forming, as it secretly does, in the womb of collective thoughts and fears.

It is hot on Canal Street today, hotter than Egypt, and I am walking across the desert through the pyramids and tattered Sphinxes who gaze at me with truncated pupils as I fix my courier bag on my back. The pavement glitters. The drillers drill. Crowds congest the narrow sidewalk, making their way around construction shelters and baby strollers. All around me, vendors hawk the same just-off-the-boat wares in the same noisy storefront boxes: bootleg CD’s; knockoffs of sunglasses, watches, perfume. Ribbon-candy colored studded belts. Michael Jackson shirts. Tiny turtles the size of silver dollars, and real-looking windup puppies with canned barks. A man yells, “Do you like Movado! DG! Vuitton!” in a Caribbean accent. One storefront is boarded up due to police activity, which surprises me. Canal Street, to me, is as off the map of business law enforcement, as Antarctica.

Every place I pass, another memory. This is what is unique about walking. There is no distance between subject and object. Canal Street, Chinatown, Little Italy. A hundred memories under my feet, theirs and mine.

My own: a lover from a place in West Africa where you could hear water run and balafons all day long. He played them, perfect, indistinct from the flow of water over rocks. His skin was the blue of a ripe eggplant and his smile was the tropical crescent moon, huge and supine in his night sky face, dilated with the joy of singing. His seriousness was ancestral in magnitude, but he was so small, so soft, his face untouched by life. I was weak for his smile and smoke-stained voice, and introduced him to his first lychees before his concert at Lincoln Center while he looked at leather sandals I found ugly, yet endearingly African. He liked the lychees. He bought me pink sunglasses from this storefront…

Pearl Paint. 18 years old, I was first sent here by the artist with whom I lived with as an intern. I was young and knew very little about anything outside of my fertile, self-contained mind. I didn’t even know the store had more than one floor, and was sent back to retrace the steps of my botched errand. There was so much I didn’t know then. Later as a student at Pratt, I would dread climbing the infamous five floors to reach the graphics department. The city, in my youth, overwhelmed and titillated me. Everything was so big. I had no filters. I didn’t feel good enough for this place; everywhere I went, I felt judgement and loudness. I felt old then, up against this city. I had to prove myself, and was constantly feeling shouted down. For some reason, at almost 40, it now makes me feel young again to be here. Have I grown stronger? Or it weaker? Is civilization itself crumbling under me, making way for the birthdays of vines?

I don’t know.

I walk on.

Street food. Scallion pancakes, two for a dollar. Fried rice sticks and tofu, one dollar. The seasons of fresh Asian produce. Loquats are the most elusive of all, as they come only for a few weeks in spring. Mangosteens… whenever they come, and expensively. Lychees and rambutans in late summer. Fresh durians, which I don’t like, and jackfruit, which I do but can’t carry whole without a car. (A falling one almost killed me once in Puerto Rico). Just as I think poignantly of longans, I see a longan pit, smooth and brown as a tiny horse chestnut, on the ground by my foot. Like a dog tracking prey, I know the coveted fruits must be close by. My eyes are everywhere on my surroundings, but I am always aware, seeking with all my senses.

There is no fruit that compels me like the longan. Its powdery brown clusters resemble balls of dirt on sticks. But inside: the carob-honeyed, musky tumescence of an angel clitoris, its translucent-pearled moonstone flesh grooved with folds like a brain. Undoubtedly, this fruit is intelligent. What must it be thinking, the longan? I’ve often wondered as I peeled off its papery shell and popped the pearl of fruit into my mouth. Like all brilliant, sensitive nerds, the longan conceals its fragrance from the world. It is too painfully pure, like the cloud-fed scent of orchids. And yet it’s so unflinchingly erotic, like a Georgia O’Keefe flower money shot. I find it impossible to bite it immediately; it’s so soft against my tongue that to do so seems a violence.

If it is possible to be romantically infatuated with a fruit, I am. I love it. It disturbs and seduces me. And I have found the object of my affections, parceled out in newspaper squares on a folding table by Christie Street. Paper bag in hand, I walk on, my mouth full of moonflesh. I don’t often betray a smile while walking down the streets in this city. But right now, I am.

Tribeca. Chambers Street. More memories. I have traversed through universes with the soles of my feet today, from Union Square to Ground Zero. I am working at the Whole Foods in Tribeca today. Eight years after 9/11, the store is still the dustiest in NYC. I bring my box of nontoxic bamboo cleansing wipes, and get to work on the layer of white powder on the lipstick displays. Fallout from a fallen star. The WTC PATH train is still encased in its temporary skeletal sheath as construction continues into the next decade. Areas are shielded to the public. The Cortland Street BMT subway stop is still closed. I wonder if the rats have learned of this place, and formed secret societies here.

This city transcends not only borders and nations, but space and time. When I walk through its streets, I experience all my life—past, present, future—at once in my mind. Memories overlap and become real. I think about going back to Africa, about needing new shoes, about returning to the Brooklyn Museum. I am in a trancelike state as I navigate this city’s crowds and sidewalks, adding my footprints to the patina of human life that accumulates on its concrete veins.

But do I even really need to travel, except to see friends far away? I have everything right here. Today I have been to Italy. To China. To Mexico. To the peace and quiet of empty lots and green places. I have seen sights far more interesting than any circus: a man and his Bichon Frise with matching pink and lemon yellow fauxhawks. The Union Square greenmarket with its swirling miasma of green tents: the Bacon Hypnosis guy, the fairy rights T-shirt lady, the depressing paintings lady, the little elfin mutton-chopped man who scoops rocks of aromatic maple sugar candy from glass jars into my waiting palm.

And that was just today.

I have descended from this world, into my little parallel universe via a tunnel carefully constructed under a deep river. I emerge on the other side. I live in the place where people live to be close to the city, within reach and yet outside of it. Everything is smaller and cheaper here, and more obscure. New Yorkers rarely travel across the river. When I lived in New York, Jersey seemed as vague and mysterious to me as the inside of my colon. In a way, it feels like a shadow world, reflecting the desires of the Promised Land on the other side. I think this is what I like about it. There is a striving, a clouded envy-humility I can feel here and like. I understand it. And I feel peaceful here. I can see the city here. It is beautiful, from the cliff where I like to stand at the end of each day, looking out.

I have distance here in my alternate universe. I have space. On the streets here, children play more loudly, unafraid of traffic. The houses are beautiful here too, sometimes. Immigrants sill set up their stands, longans are still sold, although they are harder to come upon. Small jitney buses drive by me, run by people who don’t speak English. They remind me poignantly of the “bush taxis” in Africa I used to like. I have learned where they all go and how to take them. Everything in this alternate universe is forged in the fire of wanting and hoping. These are easy to do in this parallel universe. It is no accident we are closer to the heat of refineries here.

From the cliff’s lookout point, I see the city blinking like a thousand eyes before me.

Only from this vantage point can I see such a sight.

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“…and then I said to him, ‘have a nice life’. Do you think that was stupid, Sarah?”

When I was 15, one of my close friends met someone at an airport while she was waiting for a plane to take off, who changed her life. She felt a flash of recognition when she met him, and they struck up an incredible conversation that went deep into the things most people take years to get to the bottom of. And then he boarded the plane and said goodbye. She never forgot this person in all the years I continued to know her, though she only mentioned him very rarely. Still, she never had any illusions (at least maybe not after a few months) about his role in her life, or whether she would ever see him again. He lived far away and was just following a different path in life from her.

I had a similar experience of a smaller magnitude once while I was riding the Chinese bus from Boston to New York quite a few years ago. Dreading the four-hour trip with blasting air conditioning and Asian pop music, I waited by the Crown Royal Bakery on Beach Street in Boston, sipping a watermelon bubble tea. All of a sudden I saw this figure leaning against the building. He seemed to have just materialized out of the mirages on the street, sleepily radiant and peaceful. He was slumped casually against the wall and wore jeans, flip-flops, and a faded green scrub shirt. As soon as I saw this person, I just stopped in mid-slurp and stared. He seemed to have a palpable glow around him, as if in the long textbook of my life, the cosmic forces had taken a highlighter pen and marked him out for easy identification. I drew a little closer to him, curious. He was beautiful, but my feelings were more a fascination than an attraction—I’m always slow to warm up to strangers.

When we boarded the bus, he somehow ended up sitting right next to me. I noticed that he had incredible black-lashed aquamarine eyes and a tiny silver nose ring, and freckles all over his arms. Technically he was stunning, but had wild black electrocuted Arthur Rimbaud-like hair which made him seem charmingly oblivious of his beauty. I sensed that he spent a lot of time in the sun doing something compelling, living on the edge. Was he a park ranger or a surfer? Did he travel to tropical places? Everything about this person was unusual and interesting, and I wanted to know more about him. What did his voice sound like? Why did he spend so much time in the sun? What did he do in his spare time? Did he like jackfruit?

After a few minutes of riding, he took the initiative and struck up a conversation with me. We started at first just talking about where we were headed, and gradually the conversation went deeper. We found out we’d both studied dance at the exact same music school in Ghana, that he was a student and buddy of one of my closest friends—an ex who was actually my roommate at the time in this weird Jerry/Elaine sort of bond—and that we had a ton of other freakish things in common. Plus, he was just such af happy person. He radiated a childlike joy that drew me in. As I spoke to him more, I started to relax and really enjoy his company. I rarely open up so easily with strangers, or feel so instantly and spontaneously attracted to people who haven’t earned my trust first, but I felt so natural with this guy, as if he were an old friend. And there was a great energy between us on so many levels. There was definitely attraction, but it was really just incidental… the icing on a multilayered cake.

Attraction doesn’t always have to mean one thing to me, one boringly predictable end result. I enjoyed soaking up the rays of energy flowing between us, but I didn’t feel like it had to land us both in bed—although to be honest, I wasn’t averse to that possibility. I would have been just as happy being his friend, though. There was no urgency to my feelings, just a light cheerfulness between us.

In reality, I consider friendship to be even more wonderful, rewarding, and mysterious than romance. The best is, of course, if both can be successfully combined, but this is rare. And so are my friends; I do not have many, but the ones I have are the shining stars in my sky, unmarred by the battle scars of long-term emotional sparring I always seem to fall into with monogamously restricted romantic relationships… I always feel caged in cohabitive, exclusive partnerships. And I find that there is always some degree of emotional ambiguity with my friendships of any gender, so when I feel these kind of goosebumps of electricity when I meet someone, I don’t automatically compartmentalize those feelings into “I’ve met my soulmate!”, or, “Let’s hook up!!”. I leave myself open to what the universe means that person to teach me, because to not do so, would be a crime to my soul.

I think that so much emotional damage happens in the world because people don’t know how to keep their pants zipped up until the right moment/person comes along and all the traffic lights say “Go.” People today (God, I sound like such an old fart) mistake every little twinge and wink for sexual opportunity, without looking deeper or getting to know someone A LOT better. Having sex prematurely can sometimes plunge people into an inappropriate relationship, and make it really, really hard to get out. My life now? CASE IN POINT. There are some times when it feels absolutely right to jump into bed with someone soon after meeting them, but not always. Neither celibacy nor promiscuity, in my book, should be orthodoxy. Only the heart and its infinite wisdom.

It’s kind of like, if you’re fixing your sink, and you mix the epoxy too soon, when you’re not sure it’s even the right kind of epoxy. If you don’t repair that sink properly, it will dry too fast and you’ll join the parts crooked and it will leak. Take your time, mix the epoxy correctly, make some plans about how you’ll do it, and then fix the sink nicely. Sure, there are types of epoxy that don’t bond at all, this is true. But I find that for me at least, I never can distinguish which is which until after I’ve already fixed my pipes. So to speak.

All right, maybe that was a silly metaphor. Love and plumbing epoxy are two completely different things. And fixing a sink is an unpleasant chore, whereas hopping in bed with a beautiful, oddly familiar stranger, well… isn’t. 

And anyway, who am I to talk? My life is a gorgeous, beloved mess of bad plumbing mistakes. So take this kind of like one of those driver’s ed classes you have to take if you get caught speeding. Sit through my stupid-ass talk about staying out of the no-zone and leaving two seconds of lead time when following a car. And then go out and maybe, for a few weeks, say “Hm, that was interesting,” and go out and speed again. Not right away, but eventually. I know you’ll do it. I know I will again. Just not as much as I used to. Having a kid changes your life from windy, top-down superhighway to painfully slow, cop-dotted SUV country roads overnight. Sigh.

In any case, back to my story. This lovely being and I talked nonstop the entire way, learning more and more points we had in common throughout the ride. Finally, we arrived and got off the bus. I felt compelled to ask for his phone number, but found myself tongue-tied as we stood on the street near the Chinatown fruit stand where the bus let us off. I guess I thought I’d have more time with him, but just then he smiled and announced his need to go take a whizz in a nearby alleyway. This would have been crass from anyone else, but was more charming coming from him, especially as the bus driver hadn’t been kind enough to stop on the ride at all. I waited a few minutes for him to return, pretending to examine some lychees at the fruit stand, but he never came back. I wondered if it were something I’d said, then went on my way, a little confused but also enchanted—was this man just a phantasm? A really hot but ephemeral guardian angel showing me that I still had it going on? That would be cool, too, of course.

When I returned home to Boston, I found myself telling our mutual friend about this strange guy I met, asking if he knew him and if he were for real. I was curious to just validate this experience somehow. My friend was so excited. “Wow, he’s so cool!”, he said, and explained how he knew him. He then told me some strange news: not only was he real, but he was getting MARRIED this weekend! Well, it wasn’t really THAT strange. I mean, we only had a friendly, deep conversation. He never gave me his phone number or anything, or did anything else that the relationship gods would have an issue with.

The story wasn’t over yet, though. My roommate-ex-friend said that the bus guy couldn’t stop talking about me, and my ex had passed my email address to him so we could stay in touch. Bus guy had said that I was really interesting, and he wanted to hang out with me and talk.

Now, being an odd sort of chick with ephemeral, fluid, yet ethically conscientious relationship boundaries, I don’t make assumptions about people. Hanging out and talking does not mean dating, even if there is some attraction. I really did want to hang out with him, but I have a zero tolerance policy for dating married or otherwise prohibitively entangled people. So I made this boundary clear from the start by congratulating him on his wedding sincerely. I then mentioned an upcoming outdoor concert, and asked if THEY wanted to come along with ME and A FEW OF MY FRIENDS. I really didn’t care that he was married, or even if he had contacted me ever again. I had such a great moment with him that day that I didn’t really NEED to elaborate on it, but if he wanted to stay friends, I would do it on my terms, in a socially correct way.

I heard back from him once, but never again after that.

I think I know what may have happened. He weighed perceived risk with perceived benefit, had a little talk with his subconscious, and decided he was kidding himself that we could just be friends. The attraction between us had been palpable, so that was quite likely. Or maybe, if I misjudged his character and in reality he was less innocent than I’d perceived, he was just embarassed to have been called on the carpet. Although frankly, maybe I’m the last of the naifs, but I really don’t think that was the case. He was a nice sort of fellow. I also think that a lot of men (and women) have those pre-marital moments of flirting with alternate reality before it’s too late. I know that just before I got married, about five old loves, old friends, even an old ROOMMATE (one I fought with all the time, at that…) come out of the woodwork and started pledging their undying love. It was sad, ironic, comical. And it is a very natural phenomenon.

In any case, sometimes people just streak in and out of your life like that, in a moment—like comets. And that’s OK. They are meant to teach you something. Don’t hang onto them, except for your memoirs. When someone knocks at your doorway who is meant to stay, in whatever context, the experienced and adventurous soul will understand the difference. And the stayer will be persistent. There will not be a need to make tremendous effort, to agonize over their elusive intentions. They will stick their flag in the dust of your moon and say “Here I am!” 

There are comets, and then there are stars. They both look alike, except that one is in motion and one is at rest. They are both significant in their own way. Sometimes I have wondered if the comets are meant, sometimes, to point us toward the stars. They help create the map in your sky. When you see the star, you’ll think about the comet, or a few past comets, and stand at attention. You’ll know something is up. I know that this man, to me, was a comet. He alerted me, as others have done in my lifetime, of a wavelength I seek like a homing missile, among the billions of human faces out there on this planet. He provided clues, sang a few notes of the song I would recognize like my own breath. He reassured me, as these comets do, that my polestar is out there, calmly enjoying life… as this man was.

And yet part of the danger in becoming a romantic astronomer, in staring at the comet or even at a particularly bright star out there—is that we forget that we are ALL stars. Like the completely awesome Emily Dickinson poem says:

“The soul selects her own society,
Then shuts the door;
On her divine majority
Obtrude no more.

Unmoved, she notes the chariot’s pausing
At her low gate;
Unmoved, an emperor is kneeling
Upon her mat.

I’ve known her from an ample nation
Choose one;
Then close the valves of her attention
Like stone.”

(Wow. That poem gives me goose bumps.)

So to find that north star, you have to have a sky full of stars first.

It is NOT the “true love” that is the most healing, but the “true friendship.” And the best love integrates true friendship. Friendship is the only rose without a thorn, and I believe that the highest truth of romance is in maintaining, through all the mundane trials of life, the integrity of the original friendship it sprung from.

And that loving friendship is not a locked treasure chest, to me. It is a fountain, spreading its wealth everywhere, accepting the warm and flirtatious coins thrown in from passersby. And let’s not forget about the pigeons!

Pure friendship is our St. Mark’s Square in the Venice of the soul, and these fleeting moments of connection that pass, are like sparks of light in its canals and fountains. And it’s all beautiful… comets and stars.

© Sarah Noack 2005

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I still can’t figure out why anyone would prefer to live in the suburbs… when they could live in a NEIGHBORHOOD.

I still can’t figure out why anyone would prefer to spend every moment of their spare time in national chain stores, when they could shop at NEIGHBORHOOD STORES.

And I definitely can’t figure out why people want to have virtual lives, when they can have REAL ONES… with the people that they meet each day.

I had today off from work, and so I picked Jeni up from school at 2:30 instead of sending her to the afterschool program. This is a novelty for us each week that may soon end as I add more hours to my working life—so we take advantage of it.

While I waited, I talked to my new friend K. We are often the only parents who arrive early to drop off and pick up our children, who are in adjacent kindergarten classes. She is tough, very gritty, very Irish, and full of intense opinions. She doesn’t like to advertise how intelligent or educated she is, or how eccentric a lot of her ideas are within our small neighborhood. I liked her from the first day I met her on registration day, mouthing off to the complacent staff who couldn’t explain why, after four hours in a hot hallway, water wasn’t provided to the listless five-year-old children. Eight months pregnant with pre-eclampsia, she also demanded a chair—and an apology when a school administrator referred to her husband as “your baby’s daddy” and told her to use her public assistance information in order to register her child for school, because she didn’t have a cell phone bill. She was not on public assistance, and had just decided to live without a cell phone. She was like a blonde, freckled Statue of Liberty, holding up the weight of the world with her sturdy arms.

I talk to all the mothers who wait, at least all the ones who speak English (which limits the selection by about 2/3). But with K., I can be a squeaky wheel in good company. I can bitch about the school system with someone who actually cares enough to bitch about it, and then think of ways we can work around its flaws. I can talk about everything from kombucha to erotic fiction with her without getting looks. She is as open-minded as she is opinionated. I keep thinking something I’ll say will shock or offend her, but it never does. Nothing seems to offend her except complacency and laziness. She has a warrior spirit, and understands my artist’s one.

There are so many people I pass each day. As Jeni walks with me down the main street, we pass an old man wearing black pants imprinted with many colored dollar signs. I vaguely remember this same man standing on the corner, listening to K. and I talk, but pretending to be waiting for a bus. It doesn’t creep me out that this may be the same man; there are some people like that on the main drag who just are fixtures, extensions of the park benches and streets. They are harmless and ancient; part of the fabric of the city.

Jeni and I go into the Moroccan market to buy some dates. There is a boy who works there who speaks no English. I buy some water and Medjool dates. I think he overcharges for the dates, but I’d rather buy them here than at the large grocery store down the hill. When I ask him for a straw, he points questioningly at the box of straws nearby, and I nod yes.

We head into the small Italian market that proclaims to have “The Best Mozzarella in All Jersey City.” I buy some frozen, homemade ravioli while Jeni is busy talking to the owner’s child—a girl Jeni’s age. The girl, who is wearing a paper crown, invites Jeni to draw hearts on a piece of paper with her on the floor. Jeni is thrilled, and obliges as I spend time looking through the vats of sundried tomatoes, bocconcini and assorted marinated salads. The owner doesn’t understand what I’m asking when I say I want some mozzarella, so I correct my pronounciation, eliminating the “a” at the end and stressing the first syllable. She smiles and understands. I’ve learned that in this town, people (Italian and not) take their mozzarella very seriously. You don’t NEED to qualify it by asking for “fresh” because no one would dream of stocking anything less.

We head into the local kid’s clothes shop to buy Jeni a uniform sweater and socks. I’ve been feeling guilty about sending her to school in a burgundy uniform paired with exotic multicolored socks, so I’ve ponied up today to get what she needs to look appropriately conformist. This was our real reason for heading over to the main street today, and we’re done with it quickly.

“Mom,” Jeni says, skipping erratically as we leave, “I want to go somewhere FUN. Someplace SPECIAL.”

I ask her if the Italian store wasn’t special enough, if the date store wasn’t special enough. “No,” she said. “Someplace really, really fun and special.”

Today would have to be the day we entered the Birthday Store, as Jeni called it. On the nights when I pick her up from the sitter, we always pass an ice-cream cake store. I could never figure out if it looked creepy or inviting to me, with its chipping styrofoam cakes and faded mylar balloons in the window, and its pastel lemon-yellow tile walls that reminded me of a 1950’s fondant cake. Everything about the place felt so retro, even from afar. I was hesitant to explore it… the aesthetic was so old-school I didn’t know what to make of it.

When we entered in the door, bells tinkled and color hit our eyes. It was pastel, it was bright, it smelled of many flavors of ice cream all in one cloud of sweetness. Signs everywhere indicated “We Have Soft Serve,” and “Wednesdays: Sundae Dinners are Buy One Get One Free!” I didn’t even realize, until entering the place, that you could just go there to buy ice cream and even soda fountain drinks. I’d thought it was just cakes.

We each ordered a sundae, and ate it standing up. They were really good—much better than I’d expected. The lack of chairs was my only complaint about this otherwise amazing place. My eyes kept darting around between the immaculately ancient signage populated by star-kissed words and dancing ice cream beverages, and the pastel lemon tiled walls, and the ornate tin molding on the ceilings. And then I noticed… they sell clocks! Themed clocks! You could buy a hunter-themed clock, or a cuckoo or an old comic-theme clock, at an ice-cream cake store! I KNEW we’d be back.

When I moved to New Jersey, I knew I liked it here—otherwise I wouldn’t have moved. But it was new to me. I had lived in NYC for six years in my early adulthood. So when I imagined moving to NJ, it was, to a huge extent, to be close to “The City.” I think a lot of newcomers do that… the Jersey suburbs of NYC are much cheaper than any other area I contemplated living in (even Richmond, VA, which I had toyed with calling home), but there’s such an easy access to the Big Apple. And you don’t need a car here.

But I’ve found that, to me, I’m really very content these days just staying in my neighborhood. I don’t venture out that often. I like the cozy routines of my job (which I walk to), Jeni’s school (which I live across from), and shopping at the local stores and supermarkets. I have almost everything I need right here, and don’t like dealing with (or paying for) transportation of any kind. I haven’t even lived here for a month, and I have Neighbors. Something I didn’t have after living for four years in Virginia. I have people whom I can wave to when I pass them by their houses. I have people I can talk to at the playground… today I had a great conversation with a mom whose husband is a writer. I am starting to know the store owners, the diner waitresses, the strange people who hang out on the street corners here, and the cool eccentric artists, freaks and warriors who stick out like sore thumbs in this cozy blue-collar world.

Sometimes I’m struck by this irony… I had to move to the outskirts of one of the world’s biggest cities, in order to become provincial.

As Jeni and I round the bend to come up to our house, she comments on her favorite sign (for a Spanish internet cafe). The man with the dollar sign pants is still there, but strangely, he has changed park benches so he’s facing the other way. I wonder if I’m the only person who notices this.

“Mommy, we have to go up to our new apartment now,” Jeni says, tugging my hand. “It misses us!”

I laugh as I climb up the steps, into an apartment that has been uninhabited for 20 years.

It is ours now. I turn my key in the lock.

© Sarah Noack 2008

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Runways

I’ve always been obsessed with airplanes.

I don’t know why.

My first memory is of watching the little blue lights on a runway as I taxied around, waiting to be lifted off to my relatives in Germany. I was one and a half. I remember it so clearly, although I don’t have many memories that early.

Every dream of my past lives begins with a rush to catch an airplane. I’m running through a long airport, trying to catch a plane to Bobo-Dioulasso (the town in Burkina Faso, West Africa I fell in love with, and where my daughter’s father is from). The plane is in a rural airport in a very peaceful field of grass, full of wildflowers and crickets humming. The airport is chaotic, and I’m always in a great rush and very panicked. Sometimes I miss the plane. Most of the times I wake up before I can board it. Occasionally, I get on the plane and am taken to another place, and from the content of these dreams, I am always conscious of this being a glimpse into a past or potential future life. Sometimes these dreams will come to me at a critical moment in my life when I’m trying to figure something out, and knowledge of the relevant past life event helps me know what to do in the present.

My last apartment, which I miss very much, I used to call “The Treehouse”—because of the way its back porch balcony was nestled in the treetops, looking down on two peach trees below. It was a second-story exposed-brick unit in the old shipbuilder’s district of East Boston.

East Boston is an interesting place. It was constructed on sunken marshland, built out of nothing, for the sole purpose of creating an airport for the city of Boston. It used to be called Noddle Island, actually, and was a wetland habitat. So technically, it should not even exist. Today, East Boston is one of the last livable low-income neighborhoods in the city, as the rents have gone up so ridiculously in MA that I sometimes wonder how they manage to staff all the 7-11’s and Finagle-A-Bagels in Boston. Even the really “bad” neighborhoods are now getting gentrified, and the displaced lower-middle-class are moving in. It’s a strange scene, and part of why we moved to Eastie. The moment I visited Eagle Hill, my old neighborhood, for the first time, I fell in love. It was quiet and calm, and the townhouses were all painted bright colors. Children played ball in the streets, and many different languages resonated through the filter of trees that cradled each narrow lane. Here was a place I could not only relate to, but afford.

The main reason why I moved to Eastie, though, was its proximity to the airport. In my sick, demented obsession, I even picked the closest apartment to the airport that I could find, knowing full well that this would mean a lot of noise—and bizarre things like jet fuel mist dripping onto my garden. Thankfully, there was pretty good soundproofing in most of these dwellings, but it was still so exciting to walk outside to the bus stop every day and hear a big “WHOOSH” overhead. And then to look up and see a plane, big and white and glinting like some apocalyptic angel of death, vooming right over me, messing up my ‘do. That just thrilled me. I could never get enough of this.

My daughter and I used to go to Constitution Beach, and make a game out of looking across the narrow space of channel to watch the planes taxiing around the runway. Their logos were easily visible Sometimes I could get so close I could even see people inside the windows. You could practically tell what they were drinking.

Another thing I really miss is the sound, every night around now—just after the last red-eye flight came in—of many airplanes all gently taxiing home to their respective ports for tomorrow. There a soothing hum in the air as the lift-offs ceased, and the airplanes prepared for a night of rest.

When I went upstairs to my neighbor’s balcony (which they let me do anytime I wanted), I could even see the tiny twinkling lights of the airport, the blinking mission control tower, and the little sapphire gems all along the stretch of runway. Every time I went out on my balcony late at night to hang up my wet rags from cleaning the kitchen, I just breathed in deep and said to myself, “This is exactly what you asked for”.

Things started to go bad in East Boston. My friends (I had so many friends in the neighborhood) started moving out. We stayed. One day, I was walking down the street with my daughter in a sling. She was about seven months old at the time. I passed some commotion in the street near the high school (where Boston Public was filmed; we lived right near there). I saw a lot of police cars, and an ominous-looking van that said, “Aftermath Cleaning Services” on it. I thought about Quentin Tarantino films and shuddered, but curiosity got the better of me… I had to find out what was going on.

I asked around, and found out someone had been stabbed. Not unusual in a city, but still, this was right on my block. As I walked away, I realized I was walking over a trail of blood spots. I quickly crossed the street, my heart pounding, holding my daughter closer. I am superstitious about some things, and blood and body fluids are one. I think there are some things that are just inauspicious to see or be around, and attract bad luck. Blood would definitely be one.

In any case, my daughter developed severe gastroenteritis that night and had to go to the hospital to be rehydrated. She lost 1/4 of her body weight in one day, and was really out of it. I can’t say it was because of the stabbing incident and blood, but I do think that a butterfly wing can make an elephant sneeze from far away sometimes, so who knows? My block was full of bad energy that night, to be sure. I just hope it wasn’t MY belief that transferred onto her.

Anyways, enough about that. I don’t like to think about that incident.

One thing I miss about Eastie was my neighbor, an old-school East Bostonian; a chainsmoking ex-military wife who absolutely adored Jeni. She just sat out on the street. ALL DAY LONG on her lawnchair; she was like the white version of a Spike Lee movie caricature. She just watched people, and greeted them. The block was her life. She knew everyone. Every day, she would ask my ex-husband how his day at work was as he returned from the bus, and she would always stop to say hi to me with my daughter. She used to throw block parties, where she’d collect donations so she could buy presents for all the kids on the block. She also used to set up this kickass PA system every September 11th from her house, and at the exact time of the WTC incident, she would broadcast “God Bless America” and all these other patriotic songs, so that if you weren’t awake yet, you definitely would be then. Yikes. Whatever happened to that matriarch Ginny and her big family that sprawled across the whole block??

More than anything, I think, I miss the planes though. Oh, I’m so impersonal. The planes were the sound behind my dreams.

When I leave this life, I kind of sense that it may be through a plane crash. I’ve always had recurring plane crash dreams that are so real.

And strangely enough, as scary as that is, it’s all right with me if I go that way.

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I have kissed my car goodbye, and said hello to my shoes.

 

It’s hard to convey exactly how this change has affected me, except to say that when I say “I walk everywhere,” I mean that on many days, I walk in excess of three hours a day, in all kinds of weather. Fortunately the weather has been mostly nice lately, but we have had some hurricanes. I walked in them too. I have a bright yellow PVC raincoat and a dollar store umbrella just for those rainy days. And I pack a change of shoes in my courier bag, which replaces the dead-body-size trunk of the big green Lincoln I once drove. 

 

I walk to work (1/2 hour) and back, I walk to Jeni’s babysitter’s house (another 1/2 hour from my house), to the grocery store (15 minutes) and to other areas in town (any length of time). Occasionally I take the bus, but I’ve found that in this town, walking usually gets you there faster. Buses don’t run very regularly at night.

 

Do I miss driving?

 

No, I really don’t.

 

I have lost about ten pounds since I moved here, just from all the walking. I am becoming sunburnt (no matter how much sunblock I use) and feel color seeping back into me like a restored portrait. 

 

I always have walked. I am so used to it, that being out of my walking routine for so many years was making my body very unhappy. Today, I am not working. I have nowhere I need to walk. Yesterday, I walked over three hours. I thought I would love resting my legs, which yesterday were aching to the point of feeling injured. My feet were blistered and almost bruised-feeling. But today, my legs are restless. I don’t want to be in the house moving in, unpacking boxes, cleaning up while Jeni is in school across the street. I want to be out on the street, passing strangers and living in my mind as I feel the comforting rhythm of my feet slapping the hard pavement. 

 

Feet were the original vehicles of the human race. And in a city like the one I live in now, they are still the best. 

 

I don’t have to pay insurance on them (except health insurance, which covers the rest of the body along with them at no additional cost). 

 

I don’t have to change their oil after every 3000 miles (who walks 3000 miles?) or worry about their air pressure. 

 

I don’t have to worry about get stopped by cops because I’m walking too fast or because my stickers are expired.

 

I don’t have to carry a permit to walk, or wear a license plate on my ass. 

 

I don’t have to worry about getting in an accident because I’m drinking coffee or looking at the scenery while I’m walking.

 

And I don’t have to apply special polishes and waxes to my feet to get them to shine… or, well, if I do, it’s called a pedicure and actually is a lot of fun. 

 

I was born with what the French orthotics doctors (I actually saw one in high school) call “les pieds profondement plat” (ridiculously flat feet). And I pronate badly. This means that I wear out shoes really fast, and can’t wear high heels without dying of pain. It also means I don’t have the most delicate or graceful feet and ankles in the world. I’ve always been a foot person, so I’ve always been self-conscious of my own chubby, slightly bowlegged feet and calves. But I’ve been told by doctors that these flexible flat feet are the reason I can walk long distances without any discomfort. So despite their homeliness, we’re friends. 

 

I make sure to take good care of them.

 

I love the way many shoes look, but can never bring myself to wear any but the most basic, comfortable ones. I only have a few pairs, and they are all very simple styles. Often I get men’s shoes, because they fit my oversized feet better than women’s shoes. Where many people are into shoes with straps and heels and patterns, I am into shoes with arches and cushions, soft soles and little massaging bumps. My favorite appliance that I own is a foot massager, and if I had any spare money, the first thing I would do is pay for an hour-long reflexology massage. I would not date anyone who had any aversion to feet (especially mine), and I would actually give preference to a foot fetishist, even if they were weird and obsessed about them. I understand. I believe they’re that important, too. I think feet are a microcosm of a person’s body. They have so much information hidden in them, if you know how to look. And they are beautiful. I don’t know how anyone can consider feet ugly… to me, they are the most beautiful part of the human body. I like feet simple… well-cared for, with a little polish on neat toenails, maybe (for both men and women), properly moisturized… but nothing too fancy. I like feet that walk and work and live and get worn out, not just perfect museum feet hobbled by straps and stilletos (although I confess, I definitely notice those too). I like all feet that are clean, healthy and loved. All feet deserve love, especially hardworking ones that are used for walking. I treat my feet, and feet in general, with as much care as some people treat their cars. I believe that in a way, they are sacred. 

 

On that same token, nothing bugs me more about a human body than seeing horrendously neglected feet. I don’t know how someone can let themselves get to the point of having huge corns and bunions, or cracking, crusty heels. I mean, don’t people notice when their shoes don’t fit? Don’t people know that their feet need hydration? It is much sexier to me to wear men’s shoes that feel good, and then take them off and show perfect feet… than to wear pointy toes and high heels all the time and develop varicose veins and foot deformities. I understand if people get short on time (as I do sometimes), but I mean, as a default mode, feet should be loved. It’s too easy to say “they’re just feet.” I strongly believe that when we don’t take care of our feet, we don’t take care of ourselves. It correlates. 

 

I feel like my feet are reverse antennae, picking up signals from the earth. When I walk, it helps align my body and soul. I feel more peaceful and intuitive. Driving makes me crazy. It unsettles my nerves. I feel helpless when I drive. When I walk, I can choose my route. I am not limited by one-way streets and traffic. I don’t have to sit around breathing recirculated air or obeying signs. And I sure as hell don’t have to pay $4 a gallon for gas. 

 

I do run through a lot more shoes and pants than most, but that’s okay. 

 

I love walking.

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City Juice

I walk home at night, past this expanse of glittering city. 

 

My feet have walked their first mile. To my left, trees, followed by a thousand peaks and lights. Cobblestones line the pathway below me, upon the hill under the overpass. A broken stone stairway. Switchbacks. 

 

I can almost smell the life hidden in the city’s many secret, uncountable folds.

 

I can almost hear the subtle buzz of etheric fields rubbing together, of birth and death and longing and the millions of unanswered questions spiralling up into the night sky like radio signals—sweet mysterious stars of wishes and stories punctuating the air, filling the sky like electricity—

 

My feet slap on the sidewalk as I pass by entire neighborhoods in a few bounds. All of lower Manhattan twinkles beyond the corset of Hoboken spread below me. Tears, tensions, bliss, the whisper of a thousand angels—touching this city. This has always been my vision, even as a child. 

 

A man sits on a park bench with his head in his hands, holding his cell phone. I wonder.

 

The playground is empty, but a swing moves. I wonder.

 

The trees rustle wildly, as if surprised by sudden arousal—a breeze on the neck, a kiss from behind. I wonder. I yearn. 

 

My feet slap on the sidewalk. I am going to pick my child up. She is hidden among the reeds of this mysterious place, somewhere—safe and sound and warm from the swamp of emotions around us, sticky with hope and life. Somehow, this is a miracle. I breathe it in. 

 

My nose breathes the starlit air.

 

My face is as still as the Mona Lisa.

 

I am a bridge, I am a cliff—I am the hard stone and scintillating air. I am the knife that cuts and the voice that caresses. I am breath and remembrance. I am alive.

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I am free.

I don’t know how anyone else defines that word, freedom. Technically, my life isn’t free, for so many reasons. I am still legally married and may have to stay that way for a while due to an uncooperative ex who doesn’t know how to foward his mail. I don’t receive child support, and as I emerge from the Franklin Street 2-3 station in Brooklyn holding Jeni’s hand, I have only $20 in cash in my wallet—my ration for the week. My mail has been in forwarding limbo for three weeks as I wait for checks that never arrive, and I don’t even have anything to buy Jeni school uniforms or pay for her afterschool program tuitions. I gave up my car, my microwave, half my belongings when I moved. I don’t have cable TV. My cell phone has been turned off and I still have no internet service. I live in an apartment with no doorbell yet, so I have to wait outside for the Verizon people tomorrow to come install my lifeline to the world.

But I am strangely calm. I am not worried. I am as peaceful as I have ever been… and I am happy. This is freedom… this is the way it all begins. Sometimes all you have is the pack on your back when you start a new journey. I have always been a nomad, always been most peaceful when in flux. I feel as if I’ve been turned loose from a prison, into a wide colorful dream world where anything is possible and nostalgia floats on the breeze like the smells of smoked fish, incense and jerk chicken. I feel at home and lean over to Jeni, whispering, “This is what Africa smells like.”

This morning, we had left in a hurry. When I got on the train and saw it packed to the gills with assorted island flag garments and jewelry, I wished we had got more into the spirit, just for fun. Jeni’s father is what I would call an “elective Jamaican.” He owned a store that sold all West Indian jewelery, clothes and music. He has Bob Marley’s face on almost everything he owns. He pretends he’s Jamaican to his customers, because it’s easier than explaining that he’s from a small country called Burkina Faso, located between five other countries in West Africa that they probably haven’t heard of. He got a little too into the role, though—he went from simply catering to customers’ assumptions, to pretending he’d been the star in a reggae band back home in Kingston and that his aunt personally strung all the coconut-shell necklaces that were actually made by little kids in some factory in China. It got a little ridiculous. He even grew dreads; something he used to say he’d never do—that’s probably the one good thing that came out of this charade, although of course he had to wait until we were divorced to get them. Jeni has a lot of cute Jamaican-themed clothes and jewelry she got from him. I could have thrown a flag in my back pocket, put Jeni’s “Little Rasta” shirt and beanie on her, and been Jamaican for a day too, if I wanted, but it seemed silly. Let people think I’m a tourist; I’m not into pretending.

We’ve walked right into the parade. We make our way through the crowd, past stands selling calalou and sweet potato pudding, macaroni pie and sorrel. There are flags from every Caribbean nation imaginable. As I look at a boy’s shirt with a map of Barbados on the back of it, I start thinking about all the people I know who are from Barbados. His shirt has all the cities and towns mapped out on it; I never realized Barbados was so small… it looks barely bigger than Martha’s Vineyard. I think about all the other island nations represented here: some of them larger, like Jamaica and Puerto Rico; others are tiny, like St. Kitts, Antigua, Grenada or St. Lucia. I remember once, while living in Boston, wondering how such a small country as Ireland could have such a massive diaspora. I wondered then if there were more Irish people outside of Ireland than in Ireland, now. I wonder the same thing now about the West Indian diaspora as I see this crowd, and remember how the entire subway was packed with festival-goers. I’ve probably seen about 40 people from Barbados within ten minutes. I wonder if half the population of Barbados has relocated to this city.

The parade music is loud, too loud to talk through. I can’t get to the front of the barrier, so I lift Jeni on my shoulders so she can see it. Immediately, a dancer in a giant wheeled dragon float undulates through the street, its many yellow-green spangles flashing in the sun. I look up at Jeni and see that she’s hypnotized, and I’m happy. I wanted this to be larger than life, more than she’d ever expected when I said the word “parade” this morning as we boarded the bus from Jersey—and it is. A truck with a soca band follows, adorned with half-naked sparkly dancers. The band is so loud it shakes the pavement. I worry that the noise will frighten Jeni; I remember as a child, my mother had to put headphones on me during parades so I wouldn’t cry. Jeni is not like me at all. She wiggles back and forth on my shoulders, waving her hands in the air like the dancers and shouting along with the chorus. Everything moves by quickly, with the informality of any ultra-long parade. Dancers take breaks sometimes to drink fruit punch or simply rest, pant, laugh with the security guards. Some dancers go by on stilts; I know this is the first time Jeni has ever seen people on stilts, and I knew this would fascinate her. I wondered how many times they must have fallen and hurt themselves until they learned to dance while walking on them.

I notice how comfortable the dancers are with their bodies. They are all sizes: thin, curvy, and just plain fat. They are all beautiful to me as they walk by, but I realize as I watch them, that the fatter, curvier dancers are the most beautiful of all to me. The way they dance is the most sensual and inspiring to watch. As I watch them shimmy and swirl by, I think how wonderful it is that all these different body sizes, ages and shapes seem so exultantly happy to be alive, to be able to move and live and dance. There are more possibilities of movement and play in flesh that ripples and shakes on its own, independent of bone and muscle. The dancers know this. They don’t waste their precious time being ashamed because of a love handle here, a paunch or some cellulite there. And in truth, they are all extravagantly, ridiculously sexy. Their curves are as rich and indulgent as a creamy, syrup-dripping flan dessert. It’s not their bodies that makes them sexy, though—it’s their joy. Anyone who takes a pure joy in their body and in life, to me, is gorgeous.

There are cops everywhere, and they all seem relaxed. If I were a cop I’d be happy to be working here today. They don’t seem to care about all the blunts being lit up, and when a drunk white-glittered dancer veers off course, dragging a white flag behind her, she actually stops to cordially chat with a group of them.

Later, after a snack, we walk around… for several hours. We cut through Prospect Park, stopping to watch kite flyers and babies crawling on the grass, and come out the other side. We stop in a cafe and buy day-old pastries, 2 for $1. Jeni gets some chocolate struesel cake she devours with a glass of chocolate soymilk; I get a vegan blueberry muffin. We sit on a bench outside and watch people go by; the armrest of the bench resembles a clutched hand, which holds her cup snugly while she eats cake. The sun is hot and the sky is clear. I am feeling so much at home, remembering the days I used to live in NYC, back in the early ’90’s when I went to Pratt. Sometimes I used to take long walks and end up around here; things haven’t changed that much, really. I remember walking around in Jackson Heights where I lived when I graduated: going to the Jackson Diner near the Roosevelt Ave stop for a cheap Indian buffet lunch; meandering into the Chinese stores in Elmhurst, and taking the trains up to my Thai boxing classes in Flushing. I remember getting lost (on purpose) in Manhattan so many times; knowing every corner and bump of the city like it was my own body How can you get that familiarity with a place, when you drive?

It’s strange how people think that life in NYC is expensive and impersonal. I just never understood that. Sure, maybe if you live in one of those sterile exclusive communities you see advertised everywhere on the subway, but for me, the urban hunter-gatherer, life in the city was as rich and abundant—a private Amazon full of secrets, smiles and connections. Money is everywhere to be earned if you’re smart enough to figure things out; studies are everywhere to be learned, and everywhere there are things to see without burning all your cash. Museums have donation days. Parks are free. Cheap local farmer’s markets abound. Stores are exciting enough to just browse at without buying anything. I used to belong to the Carmine Street recreation center/pool in the Village, which cost $25 a year (back then) to join. And… transportation. How could I ever have complained about the costs of public transportation, or commute times? There were days a 45-minute ride from DC to my town in VA took as long as 3 hours one way, and burned around $15 worth of gas. How can anything top that? I could ride the subway from Washington Heights to Far Rockaway (that’s a heck of a lot of stops…), and it would take only about 2 hours—and cost only $2.50. If I’m going to be traveling and it’s going to take the same distance either way, I’d much rather walk or take the train. I don’t like to be stuck inside an air-conditioned exoskeleton. I like to feel the pavement under my feet, the sun or rain on my face, exchange a glance with someone passing by—even run into the occasional drama or quarrel. When I walk, I feel in control. I feel like I own the city, because I am free. I am not controlled by the laws that govern vehicles or the paths that subways and buses take. Of all modes of transportation, walking is the best in the world. And it costs nothing at all.

I never realized, never remembered just how much I loved living here. Why did I forget? Now that I’ve moved back here, I don’t even know why I moved away. Yes, this is a city of heightened alertness. At times that can wear on me. But in all the six years I lived here (knock on wood…) nothing bad ever happened to me. I witnessed a few petty crimes here and there, but I’ve seen them in other cities too. I loved Boston when I lived there, but it was the familiar love of a place I grew up in. In a way I feel like the whole East Coast is my home. I grew up in Boston, and that will always be my first home. But I have a lot of family in Long Island too and I lived here for many years, so this is also home to me. And I lived in the DC area for four years, so that too has become a kind of home, although less so. Richmond, farther south, is a city I felt an immediate affinity with, and so that too is home to me. I am sure that I would feel at home, really, all the way down to Atlanta and maybe even farther south. I like to be a resident of no-where. “I hope you don’t keep moving around every few years,” my ex warns me over the phone as I’m packing. “It’s not good for Jeni.” Well, my own family stayed in the same house in a small town north of Boston during my entire childhood, and I became so restless I started blowing things up in parking lots. I wanted to move around, not stay still. I was okay with goodbyes and transitions. I wanted to explore the world, and I don’t want to deny Jeni this. I want her to know that she owns as much of the world as she wants—not just one small town, one corner of it.

But for now, as the sun grows heavy in the sky, I am home. I have arrived. I am happy. Why do I need to move when I can have everything I need within a subway and bus ride away? I can visit microcosms of any nation, go to parks and beaches and museums, hear free concerts and see art on the streets and subways for the price of a ride. I can go to entirely different worlds in a matter of minutes, and if I feel like going on a real vacation, I can go on a ferry and pretend it’s a cruise. And what’s more, my soul has roots here. I used to have dreams about my past lives in Manhattan—I have lived here quite a bit, my history here is long. I’ve lived here in different eras and watched it progress. I am quite positive (based on dreams and research I’ve done on their content) that I lived here as far back as ancient times, long before the white man ever set foot in the New World. (I wrote a blog post about this once, which I’ll have to repost one of these days). This is a power center for me. I always get charged when I go here, and changes happen quickly. I also tend to, in an almost uncanny way, run into past life connections around here as well. I always feel like I belong here, because I have been here long before this was even a city. I feel a natural ease and poetry in myself here; the city’s noise silences the critical part of me and coaxes my lyrics awake. This is the place where, in this life, I first sought freedom from my parents when I was 18. And this is the place as well where, aeons ago as a naked long-haired boy, I used to climb the rocks at the northernmost tip of the island with my friends, where we’d watch the sea turtles coming in to nest.

I always thought of this city as very much ruled by the ocean, although sometimes it’s easy to forget. The ocean surrounds everything here. Two of the boros are actually islands. There are tiny residential islands as well, off the map of most tourists: Roosevelt Island, City Island… and dedicated islands like Ellis, Governer’s, Riker’s. There are places here like Coney Island that are obviously Neptune-centric, and there are also forgotten places like Broad Channel, which is like some land-that-time-forgot Cape Cod fishing village in the middle of nowhere—except it’s in Queens. There are so many little secrets like this here.

I wonder to myself as we walk down to the train, seeing more Barbados flags in back pockets, how so many people in one place could possibly have migrated from such a tiny island. I think about how all the diasporas have, like seeds, expanded here and flowered into something else, something beyond what they left behind. I think about how there is no culture in New York City, and yet there is—there’s a culture of multitudes, of possibility, of secrecy amid chaos. There are no seats on the train, and Jeni starts to cry. She hasn’t learned to deal with standing and holding on yet. A woman in an African boubou gets up and talks to the older woman next to her in Bambara, Jeni’s father’s language—and I understand what she’s saying: “Let’s leave the seats for the kids.” I wonder if she would have guessed in a million years that I understood her. Then I wonder what other secrets people around me keep, what they might deduce about me by looking at me, what things we share in common. Jeni thanks the lady as she sits down, and the lady smiles back.

As Jeni falls asleep against my shoulder, I think about the harbor we’ll come home to, and feel happy. I am free. I don’t know what freedom means to you or the next person, but to me, I am free. Even without money, a phone, or cable TV. I am free because anything is possible here, and I am going home to a house that is mine, that was only ever mine since the last tenant left it 20 years ago… to a house I will soon share with a roommate. I am going home to a place that has never heard me fighting with my ex, never felt my despair and frustration, never leaked and peeled and rotted in front of my eyes. I think I deliberately chose this apartment because it is new and old at the same time. It has a history, but nothing which still has any potency anymore. When I opened my refrigerator for the first time, the warranty papers were still in the crisper drawer—but my bathtub still has its claw feet. I like this.

I am supported here, like the waves that hold up the boats that pass invisibly over our heads as we cross under the water. I am not worried about how the bills will be paid anymore, because there is more to life now than bills. I am not worried about anything, because I feel myself adrift in a river of possibilities. As long as I have a roof over my head, I will make it.

I am free.

© Sarah Noack 2008

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