Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sunny Day in May

On Thursday night around 10pm, I heard loud, male voices in conversation outside our door. I could imagine all sorts of unwanted situations. I pictured burglars in black-and-white striped PJs sliding in flat against the walls of our apartment, all tiptoes and eye masks and five o’clock shadows, trying to steal my little plants. I recalled a time in college when it was not unusual for peers to drunkenly break into the houses of strangers and fall asleep; one guy smashed a window in the tiny post office of our small, upstate NY college town and fell asleep on the floor. (Felony charges were dropped.) This all seemed innocent enough at the time. However, at this point in my life, the idea of someone stumbling in to my home—whether a frat boy or a homeless wino—is unsettling. I was so unsettled that I said, “We should lock the doors, any weirdo could just walk right in,” and subsequently fell asleep immediately, without locking the doors, another point for The Lazy Team.

Friday morning, I woke up, made my usual 6 cups of coffee and checked on my plants. Recently, a big gardening project has begun behind our building. I decided to photograph some of my little dudes against the backdrop of the green goings-on. I marveled at the sight if my Cherokee Purple heirloom tomato plants, small but striving toward their larger cousins in a cooler-like greenhouse out back.

Will the leaves be red? Or purple? Purple would be awesome.

The fruit of my Lemon Cukes will grow to look like shiny yellow tennis balls, but will share the same crisp, undeniable crunch as the Green Uncle of their surname, the pristine Cucumber. (As in “cool as a…”) For now, they look like newborn bearded dragons.

I ran out of half-and-half for my third (and most important) cup of coffee, so I slid on some flops and glided out the door.

The fluorescent orange was shocking enough to draw my eyes to the sticker on our neighbor’s door. It spanned the lock, door, and the cracked doorframe, Light always crept through that door’s defects; the lights inside were clearly left on. It proclaimed that the apartment was the site of an official Police Investigation Site of the 34th Precinct. Our neighbor, a 40-something single mom with an 11-year-old son, had died that night. The hubbub in the hallway must have been the aftermath.

At the mailboxes, an upstairs neighbor dazedly listed all of her memories of the woman, as if I were a witness to her verbal recognition the woman’s existence: I saw her riding a bike with her son last week, yesterday she was on the street, talking on her cell phone, looking healthy.

I remembered my own interactions with the woman. On Halloween, she dressed meticulously as a Pirate-Barmaid, and seemed to be returning home after taking her blonde son and his chubby little friend trick-or-treating. The boys, who could hardly be considered “costumed” but for the blue paint sprayed indiscriminately over faces, heads, and sweat suits, ran ahead to the building cackling like little ghosts. I sat on the stoop, keyless, watching her hobble up the street in her fitted bodice, fishnets, and seriously uncomfortable-looking pirate boots. She acknowledged me with a nod and held open the door of the vestibule. The very nanosecond I crossed the outdoor-indoor threshold, noxious-smelling fumes assaulted my nostrils. The boys snorted and wailed hysterically. She cupped her hand over her mouth and nose as she fumbled for her keys, reprimanded the boys, apologized to me for their behavior, and unlocked the door. The boys ran up the stairs and stood at top of the landing, their coltish energy only serving to highlight her resigned exhaustion.

I chose not to share this tidbit with the upstairs neighbor, and instead bemoaned the grim uncertainty of the boy’s fate. We proceeded to introduce ourselves formally, awkwardly laughed that this was a terrible way to meet, agreed that it was a horrible, strange thing to happen, and parted ways.

I was shaken when I returned to my side of the wall. Tragedy had unfolded just steps away from me, and I didn’t even know it. What I was doing when she was dying? I wanted to know how it happened, and vividly envisioned several potential scenarios while simultaneously trying to stop myself unsuccessfully. Bad thoughts can’t be willed away without replacing them with better ones.

For better thoughts, I walk out my door, glanced at the ominous orange sticker, and stride into the May sunshine.

Instead of frequenting the dependably breathtaking Ft. Tryon, I walk toward the Hudson and head South. I figure that I’ll walk until something turns me around.

The George Washington Bridge is truly majestic. It looks like the drawbridge to a castle in the sky.

Despite its stature, I find myself drawn to its under workings, and hug its graceful curve.

Suddenly, an image registers. Déjà vu. It is as if I’ve dreamt of this spot, as if I’ve been here before. The memory is strongly visual: the sight of the gravelly hills beneath the bridge evokes a vision of myself, young and alone, in the very spot. A sensation both vague and familiar creeps over me. This is the sight:

I happen upon some secret places.

Who's responsible for the fake plastic gopher carrying a pocketbook in this otherwise neglected space? I'd like to shake the wo/man's hand.

I call this one “Pairs:”

Basking in tranquility and late afternoon sunshine:

I think of my neighbor’s blonde son. I wonder if he will forever associate sunny days in May with loss.

I figure the sun is strong enough to bleach any stain.

My replacement thought:
How sad to die and miss such a beautiful day.

I turn around.

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