Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Hot, Sleepless Night in Harlem

So they tell me that this is the hottest New York City July in recorded history. The warm, humid bed didn't hold me last night, and I ended up dragging my comforter to the couch in the living room, right across from the AC and right under the ceiling fan. But still, no sleep came.

Was it the heat? Was it the coffee I had at 3:30 right before my afternoon web class? Or was it that nagging sense of loneliness that I feel in my now mostly emptied apartment and that comes on me like a bank of thick fog? Yes, yes and yes.

Nothing feels emptier than a place you've lived in for over a decade suddenly denuded of everything personal. FF and I have moved the personal things out in boxes, and I had spent yesterday evening preparing the place for Saturday's open house. I vacuumed (again), washed the bathroom tiles (again), and wondered aloud (again) where the grime comes from that coats everything in Manhattan after even just a week, even when all the windows are closed. I thought (again) how many of my elderly neighbors in the building have lost or are losing their ability to remember things, how they seem so lost sometimes, and I thought (again) how I don't want ever to be an old lady living alone in a big dirty city where the soot makes you lose your mind.

I spent an hour and a half with Soft Scrub and a butter knife peeling away every burnt crust of a reminder of former meals I made on the burners of my gas stove. I became ashamed in advance of any flaws my apartment might have in the eyes of the Open House people, and I tried to protect us both, my Friend and I, from their imaginary criticism.

I went mental.

And so I could not sleep last night. I lay on the couch swaddled in my last remaining blanket, turned on Jimmy Kimmel, poured myself a glass of milk and felt around in the couch cushions for my beat up Beanie Baby, Fidelis. Can it be that I can no longer rest in New York? The constant hum, the constant light nag me. The constant low vibe I feel that there's something I should be doing that I am not doing is a feeling that I now know comes from outside of me, because when I am in the country I simply go to sleep in the blessed starry darkness next to FF. The country has a different hum, but its hum is alive: it is the melodious hum of the cicada, not monotone mumble of the generator. But on this hot New York City night, I am right back to where I was that steamy July 28 years ago when I first moved here.

Dad, send me some valium.

But Dad is gone now these 10 years. I am getting married in five weeks, and I am going away with FF somewhere, I don't care where, and we will be together and sleep in the soft darkness together. Forever.  That thought alone makes this sleepless night different from the sleepless night of the girl that came to New York in 1982 and slept on the lopsided blue foam coach in her sister's apartment in Chinatown, because then nothing was for sure, I knew nothing, and I was just at the beginning of my self-proclaimed mission to conquer this big, bad city.

I've given up on conquering New York. And it's not because I can't but because it cannot be tamed and, if it could be, it wouldn't be worth it anyway. It was worth every sleepless night and broken romance and hard knock I ever got here to realize that the only one that needed taming was me.

I turned off the TV, pulled up the blanket and snuggled my Beanie Baby up against my chin. And, at last,  I slept.

Photo: "Finestraa"  author unknown. Taken from Ani Glaser's blog space. If anyone knows the artist, please advise me.

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