Bass and drum pounding behind acoustic guitar and the harmonized voices of three men rise. Outside the sky has cried for hours and the city now glistens new as a baptized child. In street lights and shadow we are night creatures, and we will leave the bar chatter and music behind us to breathe in another hour before sleep, before dreams, before the sun rises to call us to responsibility and the sacrifices made to keep our small apartments our own.
It kills you slowly, this city, but in moments of fervor and loneliness you are willing witness, accomplice, and murderer, watching yourself age in the over-lit bathroom mirror, seeing how you grow squinty, wrinkled, and gray.
My relationship with New York City is as complicated as the rental laws that govern who stays for decades and who moves in new. I came here with delusions of prestige and history, believing I might have a place in both, and I have stayed long enough for these piss-swimming streets to remind me of my smallness. I have never been so ignored, as by the thronging mass of this place. In brief moments, my nighttime adventures let me forget my insignificance; I feel then as if I were an extension of the concrete ground—suddenly sentient, but also, maybe, a necessary tool or instrument in the anonymous functioning of the skyscrapers and streets. Perhaps that is another delusion, but I forgive myself. Sometimes myths are necessary for sanity and survival.
The intensity has been good for me. Strength is a thing I have learned it is okay to use, and silence has become as sacred to me as a relic is to a believer. The worst and best in me tangle here, with my ambition an easy bedfellow beside my doubts, although I yet thrive in the quiet woods when I am away. And away is the eventual goal, even if here is unavoidable for the time being. This is my love letter and Dear John. I have no interest in a future of starless nights.
I have joked to friends that when you live here you are as much in a relationship with the city as you are with your significant other or friends. Although in Georgia and Oregon I experienced place as setting, in New York I have experienced place as plot and lover and foil. New York has required me to wrestle with humanity en masse, and in doing so, it has made me more aware of how many other human wills crowd this Earth. But it has also made it easy for me to forget the preciousness of each individual, and the value of myself. So I go to the woods, and I immerse myself in a thicker dark, among the wild creatures that do not speak in human tongues. I turn to campfires and friends. I stand beneath skies that shelter thunderheads and constellations in equal repose.
Most recently that wild was in Wyoming, at the feet of the Grand Tetons, and I do not know how I would survive the ambulances and car alarms of my neighborhood if I could not carry the mountains’ memory home. I wonder sometimes if it would be easier here if I acclimated to the noise, or somehow found greater purpose in a singular, selfish ambition, but then I wonder what else that would require of me. A surrender? An erasure? I succumb to neither. Most mornings I ride the subway and consider whether we are all incongruous here. On the worst days we seem like rats in a laboratory experiment, tested and poked to our sleepless end. On the best days we dance together in the furnace, and laugh as we burn.
It is hell and not hell. I convince myself of its utility even as I resent its perpetual lessons. How dare I crave ease? Unmentioned is the magic that flashes in park-sitting afternoons or nocturnal bike riding. Unmentioned is the way you can travel from one country to another by crossing a city block. Unmentioned is the permission to indulge, to dive into freakishness, to become utterly other. Unmentioned is that I have loved New York, for a time. Loved it enough to endure it, and to hope still to thrive in its environs.
I am an optimist, you know. I am a dedicated fool.
Laura Jean Moore is the 2014 winner of the Cobalt Review’s Zora Neale Hurston Fiction Prize. Her poetry, essays, and stories have been featured or are forthcoming in FLUX WEEKLY, VICE, [PANK], the EEEL, the Brooklyn Rail, ENTROPY, Corium, and Change Seven. She holds an MFA from Columbia University and a BA from Reed College. She is suspicious of most things.
Read All Columns by Laura Jean Moore
- On Greatness
- Whiteness, A Study
- New York
- American Dreams
- Body Talk
- Habits, Simple and Austere
- On Love