WRITING, PHOTOGRAPHY: JENNA PUTNAM
My flight got in early. I stood in the cab line for thirty or so minutes as the sun was rising, everything illuminated by a light too magnificent to describe. I considered this to be a warm welcoming as I rolled my cheap suitcases slowly up to your doorstep in Park Slope. You answered with sleep in your eyes, mine were wide open with excitement. I imagine this must have annoyed you to some degree.
That night we went bowling after our friends played a show. “Open your mouth,” you yelled as you placed a blue pill on my tongue. “Now, swallow.” The lights danced all around us. We were no longer confined by the things that would eat us up every day. That was what was so important during those moments. Complete and utter freedom… the kind you’re unaware of until it escapes you.
Earlier that day, we ate at Five Leaves across from the park I’d later walk through hundreds of times, always breathing in a sense of nostalgia, like a calendar with dirt and teeth. I ordered a lox sandwich. The bagel was warm and chewy, the tomatoes bright red and juicy and the salmon of perfect tenderness. Later we walked to the East River as the sun started to go down behind the buildings. We watched the ferries slice through the water, suspended in slow motion, and giggled when the ripples reached our feet.
I walked everywhere, purposely getting lost in certain places so I could remember them by heart. It rained a lot that year and I purchased no less than ten shitty umbrellas from various bodegas around the city. They were four dollars each and after every storm they’d litter the sidewalks, capsized like dead spiders praying to an endless sky. In just a few weeks I was able to give strangers directions with certainty and confidence. I considered this to be one of my greatest virtues as a New Yorker.
At some point when the cherry blossoms bloomed we went to the botanical gardens and it reminded me of a Beatles song. We watched the tourists take selfies from long metal sticks, the cherry trees celebrities in some alternate universe just beyond our reach. I liked being around tourists, they gave me hope. Lovers kissed and grandmothers strolled by clutching their walkers and children bounced around as their parents followed, trampling on pink petals that, for a brief moment, really got to bask in their fame and glory.
The Puerto Rican family that ran the bodega across the street taught me what pride was. When a fire hydrant broke we’d all run through it, our makeup smeared, little tendrils of water swirling up into the air and exploding onto the scorching asphalt.
One night during a thunderstorm, you ran across Broadway in your bare feet for reasons I’ve forgotten. Your nipples were hard underneath your soaking wet tee shirt. That night we made love in your office as rain fell from the ceiling into little silver tins. The light from the moon made the room turn a pale seafoam green. It felt like we were underwater.
You’d slip books into my bag when I wasn’t looking… Rimbaud, Ashbery, Stevens. When you left, I repeated a poem in my head like a mantra:
“Music is feeling, then, not sound;
And thus it is that what I feel,
Here in this room, desiring you,
Thinking of your blue-shadowed silk,
Is music. It is like the strain
Waked in the elders by Susanna”
During our late nights, things sometimes didn’t feel real. I often wonder if they were. We’d get off late and stumble into morning. In the back of a taxi cab you told me something important… something about a gray eraser sky or Shanghai or how death is a straight line.
Before hurricane Sandy hit, we joked about it being another wave of drizzle, a light windstorm that would hardly knock over the plants on the balcony. When we heard about the storm destroying most everything in its path we braced for it by buying a few boxes of pasta, candles, and enough wine to satiate the entire block. We went to my place in Bushwick and since the trains weren’t running, rode our bikes across the freezing cold bridge to get back to your East Village apartment. Once we got to the top, every light in lower Manhattan was out. We flew down the bridge, spokes whirring in the wind, the pitch black wrapped around us like a blanket. You said your restaurant was flooded and we went down to the basement to rescue different types of cheeses from the fridge before they went bad. I felt so fucking alive that night.
The next morning we walked around and took photographs of all the trees that had blown over, telephone booths laying sideways on the street. The city was a ghost town. People were brewing coffee out of pots and pans and selling it for $3. You grabbed my hands and warmed them with yours. When your friend drove us around Coney Island, the boardwalk was ripped to shreds but still beautiful, like the gills of a fish after being caught. Families stood outside their homes, now piles of rust and rubble, embracing and conversing and doing everything in their power to construct a plan for rebuilding. They were so resilient.
My favorite thing to do in winter was bundle up and walk around until I felt some sort of high… a combination of the cold, adrenaline, and the fact that in some ways I had the streets all to myself. I’d walk until I couldn’t take it anymore, duck into a coffee shop to gather my thoughts and catch my breath. One of my favorite spots to do this was at Blank Cafe, a little Japanese spot with large oak tables and post-war decor. It felt like a writer’s refuge, safe from heavy foot traffic with large glass windows perfect for spanning time.
You helped me move into the apartment on Kent Street. It was snowing lightly and we drove around for a while. We drove down Orient Street, a place we’d both dreamed of living for quite some time. You explained there was a waiting list, but that one day, it would happen. I could see so vividly you strolling down that jagged street, walking up to the doorstep with a cat in the window, a bottle of wine in one hand, me in the other. I could have driven with you for eternity, virgin snow crunching beneath wet tires, the wind hissing gently.
That night I stared up at the ceiling and thought of all the ghosts we have in places we love. I imagine that’s the exact reason some of us leave and never return. Because some moments, some people are so painfully imperfect and memorable, we can’t attempt to imagine the city without them. Or rather, we don’t want to.
I drift off to a text message from you:
“After I dropped you off I got home and fell asleep on the couch. I had a dream I helped you move in a snowstorm. It was like it happened all over again. And you were right here with me. I could have sworn you were right here.”