It was summer and I’d just moved to New York. I found a room in the West Village I could sublet for a month. It was out of my price range and moving again after one month was impractical but after seeing it I couldn’t leave. I was scared and alone and this apartment felt safe. I figured it was worth the extra money, the extra hassle. I needed somewhere comfortable while I found my footing.
In this apartment by the Hudson, between a coffee shop and a bike shop, I lived with a woman named Kate. She was a designer for Ralph Lauren and had wild curls of orange hair. She wore dark blazers and white blouses and was always walking into the apartment with bouquets of flowers piling out of grocery bags. She was one of the original tenants – they were all leaving at the end of the lease because the landlord had raised the rent again. The other roommates had either moved in with their boyfriends and were subletting their rooms until the lease ended. The girl whose room I was in had just purchased a brownstone in Brooklyn with her fiancé. I don’t think it’s going to last, Emily would tell me, opening a bottle of wine on the counter.
I remember sitting on the couch drinking wine with her and her friend. They liked asking what I wanted to do, then wondering if they had any mutual friends who could help me. They liked being older sisters to me, maybe because it felt good to help a young girl who reminded them of themselves or because your late twenties are a time when you’ve been taking care of yourself for so long you get excited to take care of someone else.
I remember the early morning walks to the subway when I finally got a job three weeks later. I remember the smell of the salt coming off the Hudson as I walked the cobblestoned streets past the townhomes, peering inside if it was still dark enough, watching the maids and the kids climb the steps with that mixed tingle of yearning and curiosity.
I remember spending a Saturday on a bench in Washington Square Park. The chocolate from the croissant and the warm espresso from my cappuccino mixing and melting as I watched a jazz trio perform in the middle of falling leaves.
I never saw Emily again. I’m sure she gave me her number. It may even be in my phone but I don’t, nor never did, know her last name. Sometimes I wonder where she is now. I wonder if she thinks about me. Or if that month for her was the way the last twenty-eight months have been for me – a blur. A mix-mash of faces and colors. Snippets of conversations. Scenes from films melding with life. I wonder if when someone brings up that month with that young girl who subletted that room in her apartment, she’d say “Oh my God! I completely forgot about that. What was her name again?”
Sometimes I think I only remember that time on the Hudson seven years ago because it was the beginning of my life in New York. But it was really just another transition period. A moment between moments. Because I remember with as much clarity the tingling in the air, the smell of Central Park, the sushi I’d eat alone at the small restaurant by my next place on the Upper West Side. And the smell of French toast from the bread factory in the Bushwick apartment I’d take next. The heavy concrete of the three flights of steps I’d walk up. But I can’t remember anything in the last two years. I remember events, usually negative ones. Or a memory from a Christmas or a birthday. But I couldn’t tell you what my street smells like now or how the air feels. I can’t recall any tingling feelings, like the warm taste of a croissant or the green wood of the park bench.
Maybe because I’ve been in New York too long. Maybe I need a change. Or maybe it’s because I’ve stopped paying attention. I’ve become so wrapped up in my future and my career and my relationship, I’ve stopped paying attention to the place I’m at. Instead of living in the moment, I’m living between them. Living on the dotted points on either side of the line.
The definition of transient is lasting only for a short time; impermanent. We have this notion that transient moments should be gotten though. We grit out teeth, count the days and wait for them to pass. We don’t appreciate the days leading up to the vacation or the job or the new apartment. We just want to be there. So we close our eyes and let the days wiz past so when we open them we’re in the new spot, on the new dot.
I’ve made a pact with myself. I’m going to stop closing my eyes. I’m going to make myself document one thing a day for the next month. Thomas, my doorman’s smile and the way he says hello when I walk back in every evening. The meal I make myself for dinner. What drink I order when I meet up with a friend. Maybe after doing this for awhile I’ll stop thinking of my life as a waiting room. Maybe I’ll see each day as its own point in time. Maybe I’ll realize the line between the big dots are made up of thousands of little dots.
We all get habituated, right? You get up in the morning, have your coffee, and read your newspaper, and that’s great. Everybody loves life in its mundane, daily aspects. It’s what makes us feel secure. But I also start to go numb a little bit and I don’t see what’s around me. So I put myself in a new situation and suddenly I’m really seeing the person next to me, hearing music, and I’m smelling, and I can’t help but want to write it down. — Dorianne Laux