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(looking for) the heartbreaker

It has been more than two months sitting at the little white table in the living room, writing. Pushing out pages, fixing these pages, living with these pages then waking up and chewing them apart again, then adding on a new section. It is a mill, grinding the raw ideas down to a fine powder that may somehow rise and become bread. Or it may not. So many thoughts begin with "what if". What if they get stuck in an old elevator? What if she is not home when they come the first time? What if she is coming back from the market and passes them on the stairs? What if the driver is older? Or younger? What if his brother shows up instead? The questions are greater than the results on the page, the dialogue is whittled down to nubs of something recognizable.

There are cold cups of coffee, emails that go unanswered. The light comes and goes, and most of the work is done in the dark in more ways than one. Cooking dinner helps. Playing some guitar helps. If you are not careful you forge…

(we are all) Coney Island Babies

Leaving for the airport, we watched a few Tajiks ripping all of the lilacs down. They bundled them quickly in the late morning light with stoic faces, then shuffled down the street to sell them. 

This single act - one among millions, remains with me days later. The lack of respect or compassion or sense of space - all eclipsed by desperation, by greed, by absolute simplicity. I remember their faces. If you ask me, they have no souls. 

We try to enter the cathedral on 93rd street just off of Central Park. No one answers the door bell. I look up at the vaulted ceilings through the windows, seeing the angels behind the reflections of the city. I remember the crisp white hallways, the string of rooms connected by great staircases all too well.

I brought E here in a sling when she was little. I stood in services with incense swirling around me, crying. This was the place her mother told me she was taking her from me. Here, I burst into tears and a sweet man next to me took it for a religious epiphany. I found myself running outside to the sidewalk, my child grabbing at my fingers from inside the swath of fabric I carried her in. My imagination ran wild then. I was lost.

The second Russian cathedral a few blocks away is dark, foreboding. They answer the doorbell. N goes first, as we pass narrow hallways and then up a few stairs. The door opens onto the side of the great room. Only a handful of candles are burning, suggesting the ceiling, the walls, the balcony. You must imagine them in the dim light. We pay for some candles. She stands for some time. One for her grandmother who died on this day last year.

I stare at a strip of carpet running along the center of the room, a small dais. E was baptized here, screaming the whole time. She took a shit in her white dress after being dunked in the basin before there was time to get a diaper on her. She was angry that day.

A few months later, I was baptized by the same priest. I had to bring two white shirts, the first I would never wear again, the second still hangs in my closet. I saw a red bird flying through Central Park that day. A profound omen, I am told.

I became a cook in the kitchen in the basement for some time. While Sunday services went on, we paused occasionally to recognize a small icon in the corner of the room, then went back to peeling garlic, roasting peppers, chopping onions.

The D train rumbles along, shooting up from the darkness of the tunnel at one point. Here, graffiti creeps past the windows. Lush green vines hang low in the late morning light.

We are going to Coney Island to press our toes into the sand. N wears a little beach skirt and looks at Brooklyn for the first time, swishing past the windows in its early summer glory. There is no place in the world where peeling paint and crumbling bricks hold more emotion for me. Ancient signs, the smell of slow-cooked onions, the ramshackle rooftops littered with lawn chairs and hibachis. There is a magic disorder here, where balconies are piled on top of garages, where the makeshift has become permanent, where generations grew up playing in the street, where a pink Spalding was a real prize.

A string pulls inside me. I am sorry E only saw this place once, when she was one. She has no memory of it. I took her here for myself I guess, stood in front of Nathan's and promised to buy her a hotdog here someday, trotted along the boardwalk and told her "It's beautiful here in the wintertime, you know."

We are asleep within minutes, the sounds of the water lapping the shore, children laughing, and the boardwalk games all compressed into a tiny symphony. Maybe a lullaby. The sun is going behind the clouds, it is cold. N has goosebumps all of a sudden. Two different people might roll up their beach towels and go home. But we stay, shivering a bit, our hands touching, our heels digging into the warm sand.

I dream of Coney Island, the survivor of fires. Coney Island that never surrenders. Yes, some things have changed. In truth - a lot has changed. I pray it is here for E someday, to show her where she came from.


Mely said…
This was beautiful.
I was missing your post today. It was worth the wait.

Annie said…
I did imagine.

You brought back Coney Island. That is where I first saw the ocean - as a grown up, in the winter. Yes; it is beautiful, and it was barren, only my friend and me, a few flurries of snow, and mysteriously every so often along the beach a barrel with a fire in it, and two or three men hunkered over it, warming themselves. I wondered what they were doing, who they were, but they put the finishing touches on that gray and awe-inspiring vista.

The Tajiks; it is sad, but maybe they have nothing else to sell.

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